photo of Buck Ramsey © Kevin Martini-Fuller
(also known as “Bum Thinking Nowhere Near a Horse”)
by Buck Ramsey (1938-1998)
If you see me sittin’ sorrowful, all busted up and stove-up
And you wonder how a puncher gits that way,
I can tell you at the start-off to avoid all work aground
If you rope and ride ahorseback for yore pay.
It’s all right to shoe yore horses and to braid and mend your tack,
All that work aground that keeps you in the saddle.
But yore mind gits misdirected if you try yore hand at chores
Beneath stomping out the broncs and punchin’ cattle.
Now and then old Majordomo, he’d come roust me during slack
And suggest I patch his roof or plow his garden,
Or do some posthole diggin’ or go scale some tall windmills,
But I’d always tell ‘im, “Please, I begs yore pardon.”
But it so happened that one Sunday I was early in from town
And was holdin’ down the bunkhouse all alone
When the boss, he done convinces me that if I’d pull one chore,
Tackin’ hack hooves next day would be quicker done.
“All them shoes are in a whiskey barrel up in the barn hayloft,
Standing right beside that hayloft pulley door.
Though it took us five to hoist ’em up, I figures comin’ down
All that gravity is worth them four men more.”
Wal, I’m nowhere near a horse, so it makes good sense to me.
I go don my chaps and spurs and gits my rope,
Then I ambles to the barn and up the ladder to the loft,
Thinkin’ I can git this job done in a lope.
So I straps a big old jug knot tie around that whiskey barrel,
Runs the rope out through the pulley to the ground.
Then I delicately balances that barrel on the edge,
And I rushes out to gently let ‘er down.
Well, I runs the rope around my tail and takes a hitch in front
To control the downward progress of the barrel.
Then I gives the jerk that tilts the barrel out of that hayloft door—
And that’s the insult that begins our little quarrel.
See, that barrel of horseshoes had to weigh a good four hundred pounds,
More than twice what I would weigh all wet and dressed.
So when I tell you that my rope hitch HITCHED and slipped up underarm,
Then I figure you can guess most of the rest.
I plumb parts with earth quite suddenly, ablastin’ for the sky,
But I meets that barrel ’bout halfway up that barn.
This wreck, it slows my progress some, but it ain’t slowed for long
‘Fore I’m headin’ for that pulley and yardarm.
When that barrel hits the bottom and my pore head hits the top
And it rings that pulley like a midway gong
Where those fellers swing the hammers for to show off with the girls—
Wal, you might think that it’s over…But you’re wrong.
See, the crashin’ of that old stave barrel all weighed down with that steel
Caused the bottom to bust out and dump its load,
So I’m plummetting from heaven now about the speed of sound,
And I’m speedin’ on a dang’rous deadend road.
But that devil barrel, it slaps me blind and sideways one more time
As it flies up and I’m acrashin’ down.
THEN you’d think this stubborn accident would be about played out
When I breaks a few more bones upon the ground.
No. The rope goes slack. The hitch unhitches. I lie gazin’ up.
Then I close my eyes and gives me up for dead.
‘Cause the last thing that I see before I wakes, all splintered up,
Is that cussed barrel acomin’ fer my head.
© Buck Ramsey, used with permission
Tomorrow is “Buck Ramsey Day,” a celebration of the man called cowboy poetry’s “spiritual leader.” Find more on Facebook at the Buck Ramsey Memorial Page.
Buck Ramsey—cowboy, poet, songwriter, musician, National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow, and National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Wrangler Award recipient—continues to inspire poets and songwriters.
Hear Andy Hedges’ excellent recitation of this poem on his COWBOY CROSSROADS episode 8 (with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Part Two).
Watch Buck Ramsey sing “The Goodnight-Loving Trail” at the Western Folklife Center’s 1991 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering on their YouTube channel, where there are
many great additional videos.
In a 1993 book, introducing the epic poem for which he is best known, Grass, Buck Ramsey wrote, “For some years back there I rode among the princes of the earth full of health and hell and thinking punching cows was the one big show in the world. A horse tougher than me ended all that, and I have since been a stove-up cowpuncher trying
to figure out how to write about the cowboy life. Some consider this poem to be the peak so far in that effort…”
A book of the entire Grass was published by Texas Tech University Press in 2005. It also includes photos, friends’ recollections, Buck Ramsey’s original short story on which he based the poem, and a CD of the original 1990 recording of Buck Ramsey performing Grass in John Hartford’s home studio in Nashville, introduced by Andy Wilkinson.
Top poets and reciters Joel Nelson, Jerry Brooks, and Andy Hedges recite Buck Ramsey’s “Anthem,” the prologue to Grass, in an impressive film interpretation, Between Grass and Sky: Rhythms of a Cowboy Poem, which begins with Buck Ramsey’s voice.
Find “Anthem,” more poetry, and more about Buck Ramsey in our features at cowboypoetry.com.
This photo of Buck Ramsey is by noted photographer Kevin Martini-Fuller, used with his permission. He has photographed participants of the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for over three decades. Last year, an exhibit of his photographs was mounted at the gathering and throughout the town of Elko, Nevada, home of the gathering. Find the “Portraits of the Gathering” exhibit site at portraitsofthegathering.org, which also includes poetry by the included poets.
Find more of Kevin Martini-Fuller’s photos at his site.
(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but please seek permission for any other uses.)