SADDLIN’ UP TIME
by Andy Wilkinson
I never looked forward to the end of the day;
Or to evening, drab and melancholy-gray,
Or to featureless shadows of purple-to-black,
Or to work finished-up or simply put back
While the business of living slowly unwinds;
I was always awaitin’ for saddlin’-up time.
I slept of necessity, not pleasure and not
For the comforts of night, when the bosom of God
Cradled mortality in immortal dark,
Nor for the shroud of cool starlight whose spark
Like the lamp of the firefly silently chimed;
I took my pleasure in saddlin’-up time.
And I worried the hectic commotion of morn,
The commerce of mercantile and courthouse lawn,
The meetings and greetings on sidewalk and street
Where horseback-opinions and auguring meet,
And I argued their rhythms, swore at their rhymes,
But was playful as a pup, come saddlin’-up time.
For ’twas then before ever light angled to fill
The round corners, we’d clamor like wolves at the kill
With horse-talk our yap, with our nip and our bite
Latigo leathers snapping cinchas down tight
In the summer’s wet dew or the winter’s sharp rime
As we readied our horses at saddlin’-up time.
When the morning night air was marble we breathed,
Heavy and smooth and as cold as the breeze
That skitters across the new snow-covered plains,
One hand on the horn and the other, the reins
We stepped aboard stirrups, young bucks in our prime,
Salty as the Pecos at saddlin’-up time.
Though I’ve lived for this moment most all of my life,
Beginnings, not endings, put the edge on my knife;
And I’ve cursed too damn much and I’ve never prayed well
And it may be God figures to send me to Hell,
Riding drag for the Devil to pay for my crimes,
But I’m damned if I’ll go ‘fore saddlin’-up time.
© 1994, Andy Wilkinson, used with permission
This poem by respected poet, songwriter, singer, playwright, teacher, and editor Andy Wilkinson is a part of his “Wrangler award-winning Western folk opera of the dreams and visions of the legendary cowman, Charlie Goodnight” (titled Charlie Goodnight). His great-grandmother’s great-uncle was Charlie Goodnight. The late J.B. Allen recites “Saddlin’ Up Time” on the album.
Andy Hedges has his own fine recitation on the current “Cowboy Crossroads” podcast, with an extended interview with Andy Wilkinson, filled with engaging history and thoughtful, interesting stories about Charlie Goodnight and his times. Find the podcast and the previous gems of interviews of “music, poetry, and culture from the working cowboy West and beyond” here.
Another outstanding recitation of this poem, by Jerry A. Brooks, appears on her Shoulder to Shoulder CD and on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Seven.
Andy Wilkinson dazzled his audience with his keynote address at the 2017 Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The presentation, which focused on the gathering’s theme of storytelling, was a celebration in brilliant poetry, with a few musical interludes. View a video to see why there was a clamoring for a printed version.
Now, the piece, Storyline, has been published by John Dofflemyer at Dry Crik Journal. Find more, including Andy Wilkinson’s introduction and order information here.
This 1939 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) is titled, “Cowboy throwing saddle onto horse on cattle ranch near Spur, Texas.” It’s from the Farm Services Administration (FSA) collection at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.
Russell Lee taught photography at the University of Texas, Austin, from 1965-1973, and is best known for his FSA photos. Find more about him at Texas State University’s Russell Lee Collection.
For more on FSA photographs, see Charlie Seemann’s recent book, WAY OUT WEST: Photographs from the Farm Security Administration 1936-1943.