Bill Jones: Three poems

billjonesloc.jpgBill Jones at the Library of Congress, 2018

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POEMS

Answered Prayer
Roundup at the Bar B Bar
Fixation

 

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ANSWERED PRAYER
by Bill Jones

Jake, the rancher, went one day to fix a distant fence.
The wind was cold and gusty and the clouds rolled gray and dense.
As he pounded the last staple and gathered tools to go,
The temperature had fallen and the snow began to blow.
When he finally reached his pickup, he felt a heaviness of heart,
From the sound that the ignition made he knew it wouldn’t start.

So Jake did what most of us would do if we’d have been there
He humbly bowed his balding head and sent aloft a prayer.
As he turned the key for the last time he softly cursed his luck,
They found him three days later, froze, in the cab of that old truck.

Jake had been around in his younger days and done his share of roamin’
But when he seen Heaven, he was shocked—Hell, it look just like Wyomin’.
Oh, they was some differences of course, but just some minor things,
One place had simply disappeared—the town they called Rock Springs.

The BLM had been shut down, and there weren’t no grazin’ fees,
And the wind in Rawlins and Cheyenne was now a gentle breeze.
All them Park and Forest Service folks—they didn’t fare so well,
They’d all been sent to fight some fire, in a wilderness in Hell.

Though Heaven was a real nice place, Jake had no peace of mind,
So he saddled up and lit a shuck, not known what he’d find.
Then one day up in Cody, one October afternoon,
He seen St. Peter at the bar of the Old Proud Cut Saloon.
Of all the saints Jake knew in Heaven, his favorite was Peter,
(This line ain’t really necessary but it makes good rhyme and meter.

So they shared a frosty mug or two, or maybe it was three,
Nobody there was keepin’ score—in Heaven beer is free.
“I’ve always heard,” Jake said to Pete, “that God will answer prayer,
But the one time that I asked for help, well, He jest plain wasn’t there.
Does God answer prayers of some and ignore the prayers of others?
That don’t seem exactly square, I know all men are brothers.
Or does He reply randomly, without good rhyme or reason?
Maybe it’s the time of day, the weather or the season?
I ain’t tryin’ to act smart, it’s juset the way I feel,
And I was wonderin’, could you tell, Pete, what the heck’s the deal?

Pete listened very patiently and when ol’ Jake was done,
There was a smile of recognition and he said, “Oh, you’re the one.
That day your truck it wouldn’t start, and you sent your prayer adrift,
You caught us at a real bad time—the end of the day shift.
And 10,000 Angels rushed to check the status of your file,
But you know, Jake, we hadn’t heard from you in more than jest awhile.
And though all prayers are answered—God ain’t got no quota—
He didn’t recognize your voice, and cranked some guy’s a truck in North Dakota!”

© Bill Jones, from There Ain’t Much Romance in the Life of us Cows, 1989
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission

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ROUNDUP AT THE BAR B BAR
by Bill Jones

Every year about this time
I get a welcome call
It’s Ol’ Dick, my rancher friend
“Would you help us out this fall?”

His place is just outside of town
From home it ain’t that far
I always like to lend a hand
Down at the Bar B Bar

The wages they are kinda low
To tell the truth there’s none
Except a real good home cooked meal
And a “thank you” when you’re done

This fall Ol’ Dick was troubled
He’s short about nine pair
They could be strayed or rustled
Or layin’ dead somewhere

Now to a small time rancher
Nine pair ain’t quite forgot
Your guts they burn with worry
And your banker calls a lot

To Dick there might be somethin’ worse
Than not gettin’ them cows back
But the only thing that comes to mind
Is a fatal heat attack

We rode up the mountain
And crossed the sagebrush flat
‘A tryin’ to solve the mystery
Of where them cows was at

We spent two weeks on horseback
And searched out every draw
But much to Dick’s misfortune
Them cows we never saw

Dick talked to all his neighbors
And called some on the phone
The whole deal started lookin’ like
A plot from the “Twilight Zone”

Saddlin up one mornin’
To go out once again
Ol’ Dick he was real quiet
And wore a big strange grin

“Bill,” he finally blurted out
“No use you bein’ here
I checked my books real close last night
And I sold them cows last year”

© Bill Jones, from There Ain’t Much Romance in the Life of us Cows, 1989
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission

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FIXATION
by Bill Jones

The fiery crash growls
Low and evil sounds
Rattle the earth
A fighter plane
Follows tracer round
Into a red hillside.

Later, a pilot tells what happens
“You get tunnel vision, ” he says
“Become obsessed with the target
Forget to pull up.”
We sit silent
In sandbagged reflection
Chavez makes the sign of the cross
“At least,” he says
“He has on dry sox.”

It is an omen
Dark and subtle
Of our own Nam madness
Mission successful—target destroyed
But in the end
We kill ourselves.

© 1993, Bill Jones, included in Blood Trails; this version from The Body Burning Detail
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission

 

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Chances are you’ve seen a version of “Answered Prayer” with “author unknown.” It has been printed in many places and recorded. Bill Jones comments, “‘Answered Prayer’ is based on an old joke I heard as a kid. I put its story line along with the rancher Jake…Bill Clinton used the story in a speech years ago—my version.”

Bill Jones has several books of his humorous poetry and prose (including The Pretzel Hold, The Dude from Hell, and There Ain’t Much Romance in the Life of us Cows). Some of his long-running Lander Wyoming State Journal columns are also found in the books.

Many will know another side of Bill Jones’ writing and poetry, which draws on his combat experience as a Marine in Vietnam. Blood Trails, with his poetry and that of the late Rod McQueary, was a groundbreaking book, bravely published in 1993 by John Dofflemeyer of Dry Crik Press. At the time, there was some controversy about the inclusion of such poems (and most were in free verse) in the world of cowboy poetry. The book has withstood the test of time.

Find one of Rod McQueary’s poems from the book at cowboypoetry.com. Read more at Dry Crik Journal,  where Blood Trails remains available from Dry Crik Press.

Earlier this year, McFarland & Company published Bill Jones’ book, The Body Burning Detail; a memoir of a Marine Artilleryman in Vietnam. His talents are on impressive display, with prose and poetry that is close to the bone, unforgettable work that is by turns disturbing, irreverent, diverting and insightful. John Dofflemyer characterizes it as “real, honest and profane.” Fellow veteran, writer, poet and filmmaker Ken Rodgers of Bravo! the Project calls it “incisive and illuminative writing.

Colorado poet, writer, and rancher Vess Quinlan first put Bill Jones and Rod McQueary together, after each had sent him one of their Vietnam poems. Times change and veterans’ issues are embraced today. Vess and Bill, with others, continue to offer workshops to veterans during the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Recently Vess Quinlan commented that for him, the veterans workshops are the most valuable thing to have come out of the gathering.

Last year, Vess and Bill, along with Patrick Sullivan and others, took part in presentations at the The Library of Congress, lending their talents to a program recognizing the anniversary of WWI, through the Library of Congress American Folklife Center’s  Veterans History Project. The mission of the Veterans History Project is “…to collect, preserve, and make accessible the personal accounts of American wartime veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and understand the realities of War.”

This November, they, along with Jerry Brooks and others, will participate in an “occupational poetry” program from the American Folklife Center.

(Please respect copyright. You can share these poems and photos with this post, but for other uses, request permission.)

 

JEFF HART, by Charles Badger Clark, Jr. (1883-1957)

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photo ©2015, Ken Rodgers, bravotheproject.com

 

JEFF HART
by Charles Badger Clark, Jr. (1883-1957)

Jeff Hart rode out of the gulch to war
When the low sun yellowed the pines.
He waved to his folks in the cabin door
And yelled to the men at the mines.
The gulch kept watch till he dropped from sight—
Neighbors and girl and kin.
Jeff Hart rode out of the gulch one night;
Next morning the world came in.

His dad went back to the clinking drills
And his mother cooked for the men;
The pines branched black on the eastern hills,
Then black to the west again.
But never again, by dusk or dawn,
Were the days in the gulch the same,
For back up the hill Jeff Hart had gone
The trample of millions came.

Then never a clatter of dynamite
But echoed the guns of the Aisne,
And the coyote’s wail in the woods at night
Was bitter with Belgium’s pain.
We hear the snarl of a savage sea
In the pines when the wind went through,
And the strangers Jeff Hart fought to free
Grew folks to the folks he knew.

Jeff Hart has drifted for good and all,
To the ghostly bugles blown,
But the far French valley that saw him fall
Blood kin to the gulch is grown;
And his foreign folks are ours by right—
The friends that he died to win.
Jeff Hart rode out of the gulch one night;
Next morning the world came in.

…Charles Badger Clark, Jr. from “Sun and Saddle Leather”

On this Veterans Day/Remembrance Day and the the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I, we recognize those who have served with Badger Clark’s timeless poem, written during WWI. It was printed in Collier’s Illustrated Weekly in 1919 and in other newspapers and periodicals of the time. It was added to later editions of Clark’s Sun and Saddle Leather, in a section titled “Grass Grown Trails.”

Clark got his cowboying experience in Arizona. He became the Poet Laureate of South Dakota, where he was born and where he lived for most of his life.

The South Dakota Historical Society Foundation holds Badger Clark’s papers and offers his books for sale.

Read many more poems and more about Badger Clark at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photograph is by writer, poet, teacher, filmmaker, photographer, and Marine veteran Ken Rodgers. He told us, “I took that photo on a summer day in Roseberry, Idaho, a small town north of Boise in Valley County. Roseberry is semi-ghost town whose heyday is long past. The town was settled by Finnish folk in the late 19th Century. The flag was fluttering in a mild summer breeze out in front of the old Roseberry General Store. I liked how the wind whipped the flag in juxtaposition to the old gas pump…”

Ken and Betty Rodgers’ outstanding and important documentary, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor explores the experiences of the men of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines during the 1968 siege at Khe Sanh, Vietnam, where Ken Rodgers served. The award-winning film is available on DVD and streams on Amazon.

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The Rodgers’ latest project is I Married the War, a documentary about the wives of  combat veterans.

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Find poetry and more for Veterans Day at CowboyPoetry.com,
(Please respect copyright. You can share this photograph with this post, but for other uses, request permission. This poem is in the public domain.)

WINTER HOSSES by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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photo © Ken Rodgers; request permission for use

 

WINTER HOSSES
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

You wake up in the mornin’
and you get yore coffee made.
The thermometer is ten degrees
‘bove zero in the shade.
But when once you get the taste
of good strong coffee in your throat.
You don’t mind the frosty mornin’.
You don’t even wear a coat.

You do put on yore overshoes
fer wadin’ in the snow.
You fill up all three nose bags
and then yore set to go.
The hosses come a nickerin’
and snuffin’ from the shed.
Each one reaches fer the nose bag
when you put it on his head.

You go back into the shack
and git youre breakfast started cookin’.
But you don’t furgit the horsses.
You have got to keep a lookin’.
When they finish, you have got to take
the nosebags off their heads.
Or they’ll grab ’em off each other
and they’ll tear ’em all to shreds.

Hosses act a heap like humans,
and they ain’t so much to blame.
There is shore a lot of people
that is doin’ jest the same.
And it’s mighty hard to stop ’em
at the stunts they try to pull;
Gittin’ sassy and destructive
jest because their belly’s full.

So I reckon there is some one
that has got to take a hand.
Lookin’ after brainless critters
that don’t seem to onderstand.
There’s hosses, cows and people
that you dassent leave alone.
They’d go plum to ruination
if you left ’em on their own.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

Master poet Bruce Kiskaddon was a great observer of livestock and humans.

Bruce Kiskaddon worked for ten years as a cowboy, starting in 1898 in southeastern Colorado’s Picketwire area. He published short stories and nearly 500 poems. His poems are among the most admired and the most recited in the “classic” cowboy poetry canon.

Much of what is known about Kiskaddon and his work comes from Open Range, Bill Siems’ monumental collection of Kiskaddon’s poetry. Bill Siems also collected Bruce Kiskaddon’s short stories in a book called Shorty’s Yarns. Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.

This impressive photograph is by documentary filmmaker, teacher, poet, writer, and photographer Ken Rodgers. Ken and Betty Rodgers are co-producers of I Married the War, a documentary-in-progress about the wives of combat veterans. They also created the award-winning film Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. Find more about I Married the War at imarriedthewar.com and on Facebook, and more on “Bravo!” at bravotheproject.com and on Facebook.

Find more about Ken Rodgers at CowboyPoetry.com  and here on Facebook. Follow his daily photo posts on Instagram.

INSIDE WAR by Joel Nelson

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photo © 2016, Ken Rodgers

INSIDE WAR
by Joel Nelson

We read stories of Wars
Hist’ries written on pages
And records of battle
Drawn on walls of the cave
Read of Glory and Honor
And Right through the ages
And all those who fell
‘Neath the crest of the knave

The themes are eternal
Of wars on the ocean
Of axes and swords
On the Otterburn Plain
The ninety gun Frigates
The horsemen in motion
The bleeding has stopped
But the stories remain

There are terms of Armistice
And flags of surrender
This war fought for freedom
That war saved a race
Twixt savages cruel
Or soldiers yet tender
The scholars record them
And each has its place

Some go unrecorded
Wars fought self-contained
Conflicts never ending
No respite or truce
For the foe lives within
Lashing out unrestrained
And the warrior wears thin
From the battles’ abuse

The shelling subsides
Then intensity quickens
With most unaware
Of the state of the war
Leaving soldier and loved ones
With Conflict that thickens
Outsiders observing
The scene from afar

There is only so long
Any warrior can battle
‘Til he must succumb
To the enemy inside
So loosening the reins
Stepping down from the saddle
Heaving sigh of relief
He will cease his long ride

His allies left standing
Gather somewhat uncertain
Refraining from judgment
United by love
Acknowledging peacetime
And drawing the curtain
Leaving all in the hands
Of the Maker above

© 2008, Joel Nelson
This poem should not be re-posted or reprinted without permission

In observance of Veterans Day and Remembrance Day, we’re honored to share the words of Texas rancher and horseman Joel Nelson. He served in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division. A National Endowment of the Arts Heritage Fellow, Joel Nelson is respected for his writing and his reciting.

Find more about Joel Nelson at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photograph, by Idaho filmmaker, writer, teacher, and photograph Ken Rodgers, was taken last year at the San Antonio Veterans Memorial Plaza and Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

This year, Ken was the Grand Marshal of the Boise Veterans Day parade. See a great photo here on Facebook.

Ken and the equally talented Betty Rodgers are the creators of the award-winning film, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, about the men of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines during the 1968 siege at Khe Sanh in Vietnam, with whom Ken served. Find more about it  on Facebook and at bravotheproject.com, where there is an engaging blog.

Their latest project, a work in progress, I Married the War, tells the stories of the lives of combat veteran spouses, from WWII through today. Find more about it at imarriedthewar.com and on Facebook.

Find poems and more for Veterans Day at CowboyPoetry.com.

ELKO by Colen Sweeten (1919-2007)

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photo © 2012, Betty K. Rodgers; request permission for use

ELKO
by Colen Sweeten (1919-2007)

They came to the mid-winter gath’ring,
Leaving haystacks and dehorning chutes.
Dressed true to old west tradition,
Levis, Stetsons, and high heeled boots.

A few were in casts or on crutches,
Some looked like I’d seen them before.
Each wore the hat no one touches
And had high polished boots on the floor.

The faces were brown as a saddle.
Some mustaches wide as a door.
And they walked with a half-cocked straddle,
Like the part that they sit on was sore.

Their poetry, sprinkled with sagebrush,
Was not meant for the city galoots.
And there each one sat in his ten gallon hat,
And a cow and a half worth of boots.

© 1987, Colen Sweeten, used with permission of the Sweeten family

The Western Folklife Center’s 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, often referred to simply as “Elko,” is taking place this week (January 30- February 2, 2017) in Elko, Nevada.

During his lifetime, Colen Sweeten was a part of every Elko gathering, except one. He had an enormous repertoire of poems, stories, wisdom, and humor. He always had a kind and cheerful word for all, and as he often said, so many friends that he “wasn’t even using them all.”

Colen Sweeten appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1991, and you can watch a video of the performance, which also includes the late Rod McQueary.

Find more about Colen Sweeten and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com
and also see tributes to him..

Find some other poems about Elko at CowboyPoetry.com.

Idaho photographer and filmmaker Betty K. Rodgers caught this image of Montana rancher and poet Wallace McRae’s boot in 2012 at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Betty K. Rodgers is co-producer (with Ken Rodgers) of I Married the War, a documentary-in-progress about the wives of combat veterans. They also created the award-winning film Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, about Ken Rodgers’ company of Marines during the siege of Khe Sanh in the Vietnam War. Find more about Betty K. Rodgers in a feature at CowboyPoetry.com. Find more about I Married the War at imarriedthewar.com and on Facebook, and more on Bravo! bravotheproject.com and on Facebook.

INSIDE WAR by Joel Nelson

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photo © 2016, Ken Rodgers

 

INSIDE WAR
by Joel Nelson

We read stories of Wars
Hist’ries written on pages
And records of battle
Drawn on walls of the cave
Read of Glory and Honor
And Right through the ages
And all those who fell
‘Neath the crest of the knave

The themes are eternal
Of wars on the ocean
Of axes and swords
On the Otterburn Plain
The ninety gun Frigates
The horsemen in motion
The bleeding has stopped
But the stories remain

There are terms of Armistice
And flags of surrender
This war fought for freedom
That war saved a race
Twixt savages cruel
Or soldiers yet tender
The scholars record them
And each has its place

Some go unrecorded
Wars fought self-contained
Conflicts never ending
No respite or truce
For the foe lives within
Lashing out unrestrained
And the warrior wears thin
From the battles’ abuse

The shelling subsides
Then intensity quickens
With most unaware
Of the state of the war
Leaving soldier and loved ones
With Conflict that thickens
Outsiders observing
The scene from afar

There is only so long
Any warrior can battle
‘Til he must succumb
To the enemy inside
So loosening the reins
Stepping down from the saddle
Heaving sigh of relief
He will cease his long ride

His allies left standing
Gather somewhat uncertain
Refraining from judgment
United by love
Acknowledging peacetime
And drawing the curtain
Leaving all in the hands
Of the Maker above

© 2008, Joel Nelson

On this Veterans Day and Remembrance Day, we’re honored to share the words of Texas rancher and horseman Joel Nelson. He served in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division. A National Endowment of the Arts Heritage Fellow, Joel Nelson is respected for his writing and his reciting.

You can find Joel Nelson next weekend at the 18th annual Monterey Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival, November 18-20, 2016 in Monterey, California. The event has a great outreach with local schools and libraries, and includes a great a Western art and gear show.

There, Joel Nelson joins a stellar lineup of Dave Stamey, Mike Beck, Don Edwards, Randy Rieman, Peter Rowen, Skip Gorman and the Waddie Pals, Connie Dover with Tom Sauber, Juni Fisher, Janet Bailey, Rich O’Brien, Rex Allen, Jr., The Hanson Family, R.W. Hampton, Bruce Forman & COW BOP, Karen Ross, Jim Ross, Ross Knox, Hot Club of Cowtown, and Whit Smith.

Find more about the Monterey Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival at montereycowboy.org and on Facebook.

Find more about Joel Nelson at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photograph, by Idaho filmmaker, writer, teacher, and photograph Ken Rodgers, was taken last month at the San Antonio Veterans Memorial Plaza and Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Ken and Betty Rodgers are the creators of the award-winning film, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, about the men of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines during the 1968 siege at Khe Sanh in Vietnam, with whom Ken served. Find more about it  on Facebook and at bravotheproject.com, where there is an engaging blog.

Their latest project, a work in progress, I Married the War, tells the stories of the lives of combat veteran spouses, from WWII through today. Find more about it at imarriedthewar.com and on Facebook.

Find poems and more for Veterans Day at CowboyPoetry.com.