ANTHEM, by Buck Ramsey (1938-1998)

buckrooster

 

ANTHEM
by Buck Ramsey (1938-1998)

And in the morning I was riding
Out through the breaks of that long plain,
And leather creaking on the quieting
Would sound with trot and trot again.
I lived in time with horse hoof falling;
I listened well and heard the calling
The earth, my mother, bade to me,
Though I would still ride wild and free.
And as I flew out in the morning,
Before the bird, before the dawn,
I was the poem, I was the song.
My heart would beat the world a warning—
Those horsemen now rode all with me,
And we were good, and we were free.

We were not told, but ours the knowing
We were the native strangers there
Among the things the land was growing—
To know this gave us more the care
To let the grass keep at its growing
And let the streams keep at their flowing.
We knew the land would not be ours,
That no one has the awful pow’rs
To claim the vast and common nesting,
To own the life that gave him birth,
Much less to rape his mother earth
And ask her for a mother’s blessing
And ever live in peace with her,
And, dying, come to rest with her.

Oh, we would ride and we would listen
And hear the message on the wind.
The grass in morning dew would glisten
Until the sun would dry and blend
The grass to ground and air to skying.
We’d know by bird or insect flying
Or by their mood or by their song
If time and moon were right or wrong
For fitting works and rounds to weather.
The critter coats and leaves of trees
Might flash some signal with a breeze—
Or wind and sun on flow’r or feather.
We knew our way from dawn to dawn,
And far beyond, and far beyond.

It was the old ones with me riding
Out through the fog fall of the dawn,
And they would press me to deciding
If we were right or we were wrong.
For time came we were punching cattle
For men who knew not spur nor saddle,
Who came with locusts in their purse
To scatter loose upon the earth.
The savage had not found this prairie
Till some who hired us came this way
To make the grasses pay and pay
For some raw greed no wise or wary
Regard for grass could satisfy.

The old ones wept and so did I.
Do you remember? We’d come jogging
To town with jingle in our jeans,
And in the wild night we’d be bogging
Up to our hats in last month’s dreams.
It seemed the night could barely hold us
With all those spirits to embold’ us
While, horses waiting on three legs,
We’d drain the night down to the dregs.
And just before beyond redemption
We’d gather back to what we were.
We’d leave the money left us there
And head our horses for the wagon.
But in the ruckus, in the whirl,
We were the wolves of all the world.

The grass was growing scarce for grazing,
Would soon turn sod or soon turn bare.
The money men set to replacing
The good and true in spirit there.
We could not say, there was no knowing,
How ill the future winds were blowing.
Some cowboys even shunned the ways
Of cowboys in the trail herd days
(But where’s the gift not turned for plunder?),
Forgot that we are what we do
And not the stuff we lay claim to.
I dream the spell that we were under;
I throw in with a cowboy band
And go out horseback through the land.

So mornings now I’ll go out riding
Through pastures of my solemn plain,
And leather creaking in the quieting
Will sound with trot and trot again.
I’ll live in time with horse hoof falling;
I’ll listen well and hear the calling
The earth, my mother, bids to me,
Though I will still ride wild and free.
And as I ride out on the morning
Before the bird, before the dawn,
I’ll be this poem, I’ll be this song.
My heart will beat the world a warning—
Those horsemen will ride all with me,
And we’ll be good, and we’ll be free.

© 1993, Buck Ramsey, used with permission
Called cowboy poetry’s “spiritual leader,” Buck Ramsey was a cowboy, poet, songwriter, musician, National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow, and National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Wrangler Award recipient. His work continues to inspire cowboy poets and songwriters.

This is the day affectionately known as “Buck Day,” an annual celebration of his birth. Buck Ramsey would have been 81 this year.

“Anthem” is the prologue to Buck Ramsey’s book-length poem, Grass. A book of the entire poem 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” in an impressive film interpretation, Between Grass and Sky, which begins with Buck Ramsey’s voice.

The Western Folklife Center, home of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, recently posted a great video of Buck Ramsey from 1994. In it, he comments on the oral tradition and recites his poem, “Bad Job.” Watch it on Facebook.

Find “Anthem,” more poetry, and more about Buck Ramsey in our features at CowboyPoetry.com.

Visit the Buck Ramsey Memorial Page on Facebook, which is maintained by Buck Ramsey’s daughter, Amanda Robin Ramsey.

buckschool

These photographs of Buck Ramsey are by Kent Reeves, Cowboy Conservationist, from a landmark book that Between Earth and Sky: Poets of the Cowboy West, by Anne Heath Widmark, with photographs by Kent Reeves. The photographs were made in the spring of 1993. One shows Buck Ramsey visiting the one-room school house he attended. In the other, the fiddler with Buck Ramsey is Rooster Morris.

Kent told us about his experiences in photographing Buck Ramsey, “One of the more enjoyable times working on the book was getting to visit with Buck Ramsey and his family, Bette and Amanda. We traveled through the Texas Panhandle where Buck had worked and grew up. I got to drive the van and I was forgiven for bumping his neighbor’s car when we pulled out of Amarillo. We visited the one-room school house where he attended grade school where he talked about daydreaming during class and looking out across the great Texas panhandle. There was an impromptu concert along with more of Buck’s stories. Always stories.

“He talked about listening to baseball games on the radio in bunkhouses with other cowboys gathered around and that they were all St. Louis Cardinals fans. At the time there weren’t any teams as far west as the Cardinals and no Texas cowboy was gonna cheer for some team from a big city in the east. Over the years I have talked to other punchers, buckaroos and cowboys of that era and yep, Cardinals were a cowboy’s favorite. It was a grand day and the best way I can simply end this short tale is with what Buck wrote in my personal copy of ‘Between Earth and Sky,’ ‘…Thanks and keep out of the wire –'”

See a gallery of photos from the book on Facebook.

Find more about Kent Reeves at CowboyPoetry.com and at his site, cowboyconservation.com.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but please seek permission for any other uses.)

THE MEN WHO RIDE NO MORE, by Joel Nelson

joelkrphoto of Joel Nelson © Kent Reeves, www.cowboyconservation.com

THE MEN WHO RIDE NO MORE
by Joel Nelson

“Bronc to Breakfast” calendars hang fading on the walls
There’s a lost and aimless wandering through the corridors and halls
Of slippered feet that shuffle on a waxed and polished floor
And vacant stares of emptiness from the men who ride no more

Men who once rode proudly—men with long straight backs
Men who covered hill and plain with steel shod horses’ tracks
Now pass their idle days in rooms with numbers on the door
With orderlies and nurses for men who ride no more

Time was when spur rowels jingled when boot heels bumped the floor
Dawns with hot black coffee and saddling up at four
With feet in tapaderos and broncs between their knees
And silken neck scarves snapping as they turned into the breeze

From full-blown living legends true to riding for the brand
To the scarcely mediocre who could hardly make a hand
They would gather for the branding or the shipping in the Fall
Now it’s walker, cane, and wheelchair in the antiseptic hall

And they all have their mementos on the table by their side
Like a cracked and fading snapshot of a horse they usta ride
Or standing with the wife beside a thirty-seven Ford
A high-heeled boot hooked nonchalant on a muddy running board

Just instants frozen from the past that somehow give a clue
To who and what they were before their riding days were through
Horseback men with horseback rules from horseback days of yore
Their one and only wish would be to somehow ride once more

To once more rope a soggy calf and drag it to the fire
To long-trot for a half a day and see no post or wire
To ride a morning circle—catch a fresh one out at noon
And trot him in when the day was done to the rising of the moon

To put in one more horseback day and have just one more chance
To ride home to a pretty wife and drive her to the dance
To take her hand and hold her close and waltz across a floor
Before the time to join the ranks of men who ride no more.

© 1997, Joel Nelson, used with permission
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Texas rancher Joel Nelson is highly respected as a poet, reciter, and horseman.

This poem appears on Joel Nelson’s CD, The Breaker in the Pen, the only cowboy poetry recording ever nominated for a Grammy Award. Baxter Black has commented that the recording “raised the bar for cowboy poetry for 1000 years.” The poem is also on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Four.

Joel Nelson was named a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow in 2009. See a biography there.

Read an excellent 2010 profile of Joel Nelson by Ryan T. Bell, “Joel Nelson” The Horses and the Words.”

Find a number of video performances on YouTube, including this video from a 2012 appearance at the Blanton Museum.

Find more about Joel Nelson, including this poem and others, at CowboyPoetry.com.

Joel Nelson is a part of the stellar lineup for the Texas Hill Country Cowboy Gathering in Fredericksburg, November 8-10. He will join Amy Steiger (Amy Hale Auker), Cowboy Celtic, Mike Blakely, Dom Flemons, Pipp Gillette, Andy Hedges, Waddie Mitchell, Randy Rieman, and Trinity Seely.

This c. 1993 photograph of Joel Nelson is by Kent Reeves, from the landmark book Between Earth and Sky: Poets of the Cowboy West” by Anne Heath Widmark, with photographs by Kent Reeves.

Kent Reeves writes in the book’s Acknowledgments, “…I owe my work in this book to all the poets who allowed me to interrupt their lives and who took me in for a few days. I do not feel that I ‘took’ these photographs; I believe that each poet gave them to me.” In addition to Joel Nelson, the book includes chapters with Buck Ramsey, Wallace McRae, Rod McQueary, Linda Hussa, John Dofflemyer, Shadd Piehl, Paul Zarzyski, Sue Wallis, Vess Quinlan, Henry Real Bird, and Drummond Hadley.

See a gallery of photos from the book on Facebook.

Find more about Kent Reeves at CowboyPoetry.com; at www.cowboyconservation.com; and on Facebook.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but please seek permission for any other uses.)

BAD JOB by Buck Ramsey (1938-1998)

buckrooster

© 1993, Kent Reeves, cowboyconservation.com

 

BAD JOB
(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

Called cowboy poetry’s “spiritual leader,” 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 one excellent recitation of this poem on Andy Hedges’ COWBOY CROSSROADS Episode Eight (Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Part Two).

In a 1993 book, introducing the 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.

Visit the Buck Ramsey Memorial Page on Facebook.

This photo of Buck Ramsey is by by Kent Reeves, Cowboy Conservationist & Photographer, from a landmark book, Between Earth and Sky: Poets of the Cowboy West, by Anne Heath Widmark, with photographs by Kent Reeves.The photographs were made in the spring of 1993.This photograph shows Buck Ramsey and fiddler Rooster Morris.

Kent told us about his experiences in photographing Buck Ramsey,”One of the more enjoyable times working on the book was getting to visit with Buck Ramsey and his family, Bette and Amanda. We traveled through the Texas Panhandle where Buck had worked and grew up. I got to drive the van and I was forgiven for bumping his neighbor’s car when we pulled out of Amarillo. We visited the one-room school house where he attended grade school where he talked about daydreaming during class and looking out across the great Texas panhandle. There was an impromptu concert along with more of Buck’s stories. Always stories…”

Find more about Kent Reeves at CowboyPoetry.comwww.cowboyconservation.com, and on Facebook.

 

EQUUS CABALLUS by Joel Nelson

kentreeveshorses927

photo © 2017, Kent Reeves; request permission for use.

 

EQUUS CABALLUS
by Joel Nelson

I have run on middle fingernail through eolithic morning,
I have thundered down the coach road with the Revolution’s warning.
I have carried countless errant knights who never found the grail.
I have strained before the caissons I have moved the nation’s mail.

I’ve made knights of lowly tribesmen and kings from ranks of peons
And given pride and arrogance to riding men for eons.
I have grazed among the lodges and the tepees and the yurts.
I have felt the sting of driving whips and lashes, spurs and quirts.
I am roguish—I am flighty—I am inbred—I am lowly.
I’m a nightmare—I am wild—I am the horse.
I am gallant and exalted—I am stately—I am noble.
I’m impressive—I am grand—I am the horse.

I have suffered gross indignities from users and from winners,
And I’ve felt the hand of kindness from the losers and the sinners.
I have given for the cruel hand and given for the kind.
Heaved a sigh at Appomattox when surrender had been signed.

I can be as tough as hardened steel—as fragile as a flower.
I know not my endurance and I know not my own power.
I have died with heart exploded ’neath the cheering in the stands—
Calmly stood beneath the hanging noose of vigilante bands.
I have traveled under conqueror and underneath the beaten.
I have never chosen sides—I am the horse.
The world is but a players stage—my roles have numbered many;
Under blue or under gray—I am the horse.
So I’ll run on middle fingernail until the curtain closes,
And I will win your triple crowns and I will wear your roses.
Toward you who took my freedom I’ve no malice or remorse.
I’ll endure—This Is My Year—I am the Horse!

© 2002, Joel Nelson
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Texas rancher, horseman, poet and reciter Joel Nelson wrote this poem for the Year of the Horse in 2002. He commented on the poem in an interview with the National Endowment for the Arts, of which he is a Heritage Fellow: “….[it is] a tribute to the horse because he’s been so important to me throughout my life…To maybe help a little in the understanding of the piece, I’ll talk about the ancestry of the horse a little bit. Evidence that scientists have unearthed over the years would indicate that the horse was not always as he is today. He was at one time a little terrier-sized animal trotting around the face of the globe with toes on all four feet. And it wasn’t until probably the Eocene Era that the middle digit of each paw had evolved into what we think of as the horse’s hoof. And the digits to either side diminished and are now what we refer to the splint bones in the horse’s leg. But this poem is a tribute to that great animal that I ride.”

Paul Moon’s WESTDOCUMENTARY includes footage of Joel Nelson reciting
the poem.

Wylie & the Wild West put “Equus Caballus” to music on their “Hooves of the Horses” album. Listen here on YouTube.

Joel Nelson’s The Breaker in the Pen album is the only cowboy poetry recording ever nominated for a Grammy Award. Baxter Black has commented that the recording “…raised the bar for cowboy poetry for 1000 years.”

Find images and links along with the poem and more about Joel Nelson and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

This striking image is by packer, poet, photographer and more Kent Reeves. He’s particularly known for his photographs in the landmark book, “Between Earth and Sky: Poets of the Cowboy West,” by Anne Heath Widmark.

Check out the recent page about his great grandfather and his diaries, James B. Frew, The Story of a Young Saddler. Frew was the company saddler for the 5th Cavalry and he eventually opened a saddle shop that became the largest saddle company in the Ozarks.

Find more about Kent Reeves at CowboyPoetry.com;  at his site, cowboyconservation.com; and on Facebook.

DUNDER DEFINING by Buck Ramsey 1938-1998

buckschool
© 1993, Kent Reeves; request permission for use

 

DUNDER DEFINING
by Buck Ramsey 1938-1998

(Being a one-sided conversation with the Kid about his daddy)

“Yeah he’d be called a ‘daisy hand’
If this was bygone days
Before the meanings changed their names
And cowboys changed their ways.

“Those punchers out of real old rock
And of the long, long shadow,
Those graduates of the camp and trail
Who shunned the fenced-in meadow

“When all the range was grass-side up
And all the cows wore horns—
They’d call your dad a ‘ranahan’
Well to the leather born.”

Old Dunder, augering the Kid,
Was brushing on the paint
In strokes that made the Fiddle look
A downright cowboy saint.

He paused, and then commenced to rake
His hand across his whiskers,
But realized that rasp he grew
Might raise some awful blisters.

He soothed his palm upon his knee
And gazed the air a hole
And gave the Kid the look that showed
The secrets of his soul.

“You set out definin’ you’re ridin’ for boggin’—
There’s not a pure way to describe
The reason and rhyme of the cowpuncher callin’,
The jist of the cowpucher tribe.

“But say we start up with an idy of Santee—
Like Russell, a cowpuncher saint—
The best you can say is, he’s good to his horses,
The worst you can say is, he ain’t.

The kind out of old rock and of the long shadow—
Your daddy is of the same leather—
You’d say of his makin’s his water runs deep,
And he’d do with to ride the wild river.

“You can’t call his rank by the crease of his hat,
By his get-up, now matter how fine.
You go by the moves that he makes on his horse—
Is he in the right place the right time?

He knows what the mother cow says to her calf,
He’s a regular Webster on cattle,
He hears what the wind says and listens to grass—
He’s plumb simply at home in the saddle.”

© Buck Ramsey, used with permission
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Buck Ramsey’s friend, rancher and poet Darin Brookman, has written,”Buck Ramsey was a cowboy, musician, poet and historian. He had a definite opinion on most subjects and a gentle nature that made you want to hear them. In the ranks of cowboy poets and singers, he was our leader and our conscience.” Hal Cannon, Founding Director of the Western Folklife Center, named Buck Ramsey cowboy poetry’s “spiritual leader.”

A biography at the National Endowments for the Arts tells about the accident, when he was just 25 years old, that confined him to a wheelchair. They write that Buck Ramsey, “…worked as a cowboy and rough rider on the big ranches along the Canadian River. In 1963, while he was working on the Alibates Division of the Coldwater Cattle Company, a bit shank snapped and the spoiled horse Ramsey was riding threw him to the ground. What he later called ‘just landing wrong’ left him paralyzed and in a wheelchair for the remainder of his life.”

His life and art continue to inspire and his work continues to be recited, sung, and celebrated. Buck Ramsey was a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow. His recordings were awarded two Western Heritage Wrangler Awards from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

Andy Hedges has a fine recitation of this poem in the current episode of his COWBOY CROSSROADS podcast. His guest, Chuck Hawthorne, has some Buck Ramsey
stories.

Find more about Buck Ramsey on Facebook at the Buck Ramsey Memorial Page,
and in features at CowboyPoetry.com, which includes poetry, reminiscences, and more.

This photograph of Buck Ramsey is by Kent Reeves, Cowboy Conservationist & Photographer. It appeared in the landmark book, Between Earth and Sky: Poets of the Cowboy West, by Anne Heath Widmark, with photographs by Kent Reeves. This photograph, made in the spring of 1993, shows Buck Ramsey visiting the one-room school house he attended as a boy.

Find more about Kent Reeves at CowboyPoetry.com; his site,
cowboyconservation.com; and on Facebook.

Thanks to Bette Ramsey for her generous permission.

BAD JOB by Buck Ramsey (1938-1998)

buckrooster

© 1993, Kent Reeves, cowboyconservation.com

 

BAD JOB
(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

Called cowboy poetry’s “spiritual leader,” 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 one excellent recitation of this poem on Andy Hedges’ most recent COWBOY CROSSROADS episode (Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Part Two).

In a 1993 book, introducing the 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.

Visit the Buck Ramsey Memorial Page on Facebook.

This photo of Buck Ramsey is by by Kent Reeves, Cowboy Conservationist & Photographer, from a landmark book, Between Earth and Sky: Poets of the Cowboy West, by Anne Heath Widmark, with photographs by Kent Reeves.The photographs were made in the spring of 1993.This photograph shows Buck Ramsey and fiddler Rooster Morris.

Kent told us about his experiences in photographing Buck Ramsey,”One of the more enjoyable times working on the book was getting to visit with Buck Ramsey and his family, Bette and Amanda. We traveled through the Texas Panhandle where Buck had worked and grew up. I got to drive the van and I was forgiven for bumping his neighbor’s car when we pulled out of Amarillo. We visited the one-room school house where he attended grade school where he talked about daydreaming during class and looking out across the great Texas panhandle. There was an impromptu concert along with more of Buck’s stories. Always stories…”

Find more about Kent Reeves at CowboyPoetry.comwww.cowboyconservation.com, and on Facebook.