Monthly Archives: March 2019

Wit and Wisdom at the 35th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering



Wit and Wisdom at the 35th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering





Evening conversation dwells
on a thin cow, vaccine
protocol and the dog’s limp

without a hint of politics
beyond the barbed wire—
beyond this ground and grass.

We don’t want to know
what makes the news—
what makes the outside world

tick with greed and power.
Evening conversation dwells
on more important things.


How America’s food giants swallowed the family farms



How America’s food giants swallowed the family farms





It could be heaven
if the girls across the canyon
cared, if they worried

about the time of day
or year when green
turns straw-blond dry.

They are spared
the human condition—
graze until they die.





                                                                                What will you do? She asks. I will
                               continue north, carry the past in my arms, flying into winter.

                                                  – Jack Gilbert (“BRING IN THE GODS”)

Might we say

we leave the past on the page,
chapbooks bundled in our arms
heading north into the storm—

                    time-faded faces,
                    moments tagged
                    into poems.

We know their names
and cherish visions
with vibrant clarity

like a bell chiming
on a wind gusting
across the canyon

of time behind us.
Three score and ten
more, I am reluctant

                    to let go
                    of this life
                    in exchange

for something more
like fulfillment





The tourists came
from Germany,
parked outside the pen

along the road,
brought cameras
and watched us

head and heel,
stretch and throw,
cut and vaccinate,

burn a brand
in a swirl of smoke.
We held our breath,

exchanged languages,
said goodbye
in pleasant tones

we understood
as universal
between bunches.





The Elko undercurrents
often missed by journalists,
the thoughtful streams
of love and long respect
retained for old friends—
those profound associations
not secreted away,
but obvious.

My right hand offered
held in his both
as he contemplates
my eyes, and I his.
We breathe deeply.

Two gray old men
standing silent,
face to face
stretching time
within a loud crowd,
we block the aisle
beside a tableful of friends,
warm food and wine.

We know we are rare
birds in these fast times,
reading, writing poetry—
reaching for what we know
exists: like the language
of horses, cattle and people
who live on the land
it takes a lifetime to learn
and understand.

                                  for Joel Nelson


‘Losing Ground’



                                                          “Losing Ground”


Craig Ainley Branding


Terri Drewry photo


There’s a lot to be said about not knowing when you were born. But I just checked Toby’s papers to find that this Montana Doc son was born in 1994—me 1948.

I tried every way possible to wriggle out of helping Craig Ainley brand his 4-5 weight Wagyu X calves at Mankins Flat, an hour’s 4-wheel drive from the asphalt to patched board corrals. I reasoned that the calves might be too big, too much work for old men in muddy pens. But we owed him for his help branding our own calves, and with all our other neighbors busy helping one another brand on the few days between rains, and he short-handed, I had no choice, no lame excuse for horse or me.

Craig wanted our whole crew, Robbin, Terri, Allie, Bob and me. Terri Drewry and I roped with Garth and Audrey Maze, Corrine Ainely Manes and Donnie Castle, finishing up an hour before the forecast 2” storm while wind gusts lifted snow off the Great Western Divide, the Kaweah Peaks and Sawtooth, seemingly a stone’s throw across the North Fork—a fun and beautiful, overcast day!

Shoulders sore, the old men recuperated while it rained.





When Zinfandel heavens part between rains,
we lift a glass of Cabernet at dusk
towards their fleeting magnificence

before the storm, beyond our reach
or responsibility, helpless but to bask
in the fading light of certain truth.