Tag Archives: National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Veterans Day

 

the-vietnam-veterans-memorial-washington-dc-ilker-goksen

courtesy Claire Palmer Photography

The Wall

 

breaking chains by Rod McQueary
               for Bill Jones, and the others.

I run, hide, backtrack, but—
They know all my tricks.
They find me, eventually,
and beat me, and haul me
to some clearing
in the jungle.
There are a dozen or so, about a squad.
With broken teeth, and battered eyes,
I can hardly tell
what they tied me to,
but I know what’s next.
It’s a dream Sauvagio said he found…
One night, while drunk, he told me—
What they did to the two GIs
one white, one black, they caught
(too bad, I think, to tell here).
Sauvagio found ‘em.
They cut ‘em down,
cut the stitches in their lips,
put back the body parts traded,
started trying to forget.
Sauvagio—
mentioned it
                Once.

This dream, they chuckle,
take their time, joke with each other,
show me the knife, and laugh
this dream. I mean to show ‘em
I’m no goddamn girl,
I’m no goddamn kid anymore
for the Corps, for my Country,
for my family.
I’m 2612933
and I pray
God, ogod, ogod
let me die now.
  Jesus, it hurts
                don’t let ‘em see.
Please,
                don’t let ‘em see
                        I’m weeping.

Covered with sweat, panting
shaking with fear, and fatigue
I wake again, exhausted.

Last night, April 25, 1991
they came again.
It’s not good jungle.
It’s not very hot, but—
it’s the same squad.
I know them all.

I am astounded to see I’m holding
a 60. I don’t want a 60, it’s heavy,
it’s     slow,
no extra barrel,
no glove,
the link belt is too short for this work.
I get a 16      50 shot banana.
I like a 16,
they don’t kick, just sort of flinch,
spit    fire    fling copper,
jitter left from the ejector throwing cases right.
The tall one is close, smiling,
shows me his knife again.
I pop him, tentative-like to see what he’ll do.
One neat little 5.56 hole between his eyebrows.
His hat flies off,
his skull blows up,
(Who you gonna crucify now, asshole?).
He falls down dead.
I shoot them all.
Last one runs
I’m calm now, doing business,
shooting good now.
I let him run a ways, then shoot him
in the butt to knock him down
just because I can, and
‘cause I got a few things to tell this bastard.

For Con, whose dreams are green
and stink
and are so evil
his mind won’t record them.
I going to tell this bastard
for Bill, for Joe, and the others
who NEED so bad to let it go, and can’t,
for our families, who tryandtryandtry
to understand, and can’t.
I’m going to tell this bastard
for poor Artie and the second 58
who folded
early
whose names are on no Black Wall List
…anywhere.
I’m going to tell this bastard
for all the wives and parents, who sent
men
and got animals back
and for them who will neverNeverNEVER
see justice in this world.
I’m going to tell this bastard,
M-16 barrel jammed up his goddamn
nose,
I’m going to tell this bastard
…Joke’s over.

© 1993 Rod McQueary
BLOOD TRAILS
Dry Crik Press

 

 
FIVE DAYS HOME by Bill Jones

My father and I
Sit in the shade
Of a chinaberry tree
Talk softly of the last good war.
A time of ration cards
And Gold Star Mothers.
“A uniform meant free drinks
And a lot more,”
My father says.
“But they kept me training pilots
Stateside…
And wouldn’t let me go.”

In the lower pasture
A phantom chopper whines
Rotors thrash hot wind
As it wobbles upward
With another half-dead cargo.
I blink the image away

“I won’t ask if you killed anyone.”
My father says,
“Because I don’t want to know.”
Just as well, I think angrily,
My personal count is a little hazy.

Like the pregnant woman at Gio Linh
(She never should have run)
Zapped by a battery of howitzers
Raising puzzling questions.
How do I mark her?
One and a half? Two?
“Drop 100 meters,” I whisper.
“Fire for effect.”
“Roger that,” the RTO replies.

Arm in arm
My father and I
Walk awkwardly toward supper
And the 6 O’clock news.

The chopper drones
Tilts plexiglass nose
To a hospital ship.
The woman at Gio Linh
Seeing her chance
Dashes like a sprinter
Legs pumping furiously
For a stand of scrub oaks
Behind the barn.
“It’s a shame,” my father says
Climbing the back steps,
“You didn’t get to serve
In a real
War.”

© 1993 Bill Jones
BLOOD TRAILS
Dry Crik Press

 

 

lander evening by Rod McQueary

from Gloria

     Bill used to mention
     Vietnam sometimes—
     Snippets of story
     I heard but never
     felt.
     He might have been describing Mars or
     Disneyland
     It was an untouchable
     Part of his past.

     Last October
     Our pastor told the Bishop
     About Bill’s poetry.
     While he was here, he
     dropped by.
     Bill did his funny ones
     Two or three
     And mentioned in passing
     He had written some
     Serious Poems
          About his war.

     The Bishop asked to hear one, so
     Bill went away and came
     Back with
     “Body Burning Detail”,
     Halfway through it
     He broke down.

     I just remember him
     Sitting there
     Shaking,
     His agony
     His anguish
     Pouring down his face
     And suddenly
          For me
     It was real.
     I could feel
          with my heart
          and soul
     What he could never
     Describe.
     I think
     I began to
     Understand.

from the Bishop

     I have a natural connection
     With Bill
     My Great-Aunt was born
     near the ranch where
     He works.
     I like cowboys
     Love Poetry,
     enjoyed his story
     about coming to Lander
     to Recover.
     He recited some funny poems,
     We laughed and laughed.
     It’s all great.

     Then Bill said
     There is something I’ve never
     Read before. I wonder
     if it would be all right.
     He took it out
     began to read.
     It became quiet
     By the time he had to stop
     We all were weeping.
     When it was over
     We sat and talked
          and prayed.

     I have used Bill’s poem
     Several times
     Since then,

     and I carry it with me.

from Bill

     I almost couldn’t get through
     “Body Burning Detail.”
     I tried
     But I couldn’t
     Speak.
     The Bishop said
     I’m so sorry
          so sorry,
     You don’t have to
     finish it
          and I said
     Yes I do
     Yes
          I do

© 1993 Rod McQueary
BLOOD TRAILS
Dry Crik Press

 

 

THE BODY BURNING DETAIL by Bill Jones

Three soldiers from the North
Burned for reasons
Of sanitation.
Arms shrunk to seal flippers
Charred buttocks thrust skyward
They burned for five days.
It was hard to swallow
Difficult to eat
With the sweet smoke of seared
Flesh, like fog,
Everywhere.

Twenty-five years later
They burn still.
Across seas of time
The faint unwelcome odor
Rises in odd places.
With a load of leaves
At the city dump
A floating wisp of smoke
From the burning soldiers
Mingles with the stench
Of household garbage.

Once, while watching young boys
Kick a soccer ball,
The Death Smell filled my lungs.
As I ran, choking
Panic unfolded
Fluttering wings
Of fear and remorse.
A narrow escape.

A letter, snatched from the flames
The day we burned them
Is hidden away
In a shoebox
With gag birthday cards,
Buttons, string, rubber bands.
A letter from home?
The Oriental words,
Delicately formed,
Are still a mystery.

© 1993 Bill Jones
BLOOD TRAILS
Dry Crik Press

 

Blood Trails

 

AT MACHI’S

 

 

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

 

Ramblin Jack Elliott

 

 

One of a kind! By my reckoning, it was over fifty years ago when I first heard Jack at the Ashgrove. Amazing!

 

Hard To Believe

 

 

Kevin Martini-Fuller has been taking photographs of all the poets and performers at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering since its inception in 1985. Many portraits were exhibited this year in the Wiegand Gallery at the Pioneer Hotel, headquarters for the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada. I’m flattered to have been paired in the exhibit with Glenn Ohrlin (1926-2015), a NEA Fellow and friend.

I have been certainly blessed to have spent most of my life on this ranch, 31 years of which have also been associated with cowboy poetry and music, a fork in the road that has changed my life, acquainting me with many, many friends scattered across the West. Looking back, it’s hard to believe, but the emotional proof is among the hundreds of images on these gallery walls.

 

I Found Myself in Elko


As we were leaving Cowboy Joe’s with coffee, Bob spotted me this morning in downtown Elko, on Cedar Creek’s store window—an aged portrait by Kevin Martini-Fuller with my poem “Our Time”, dedicated to our neighbors at home, Virginia and Kenny McKee.

By scanning the bar code in lower left hand corner, you can hear my recitation of the poem or see ‘Audio Poems’ in the menu above.

WELCOME WINTER

 

 

How I welcome winter now
as the sun slides south
towards Arizona,
towards old friends
that graze red rockpiles
we will meet in Nevada—
too far away to worry,
livestock on its own.

I can hear the harmonies
reverberate, cat gut
atop thin slices of spruce
from Canada—I feel
my heart lift away
from the maladies
our fears and guilt have made
insurmountable.

How I welcome winter’s
gathering, branding smoke
on weather-slick roads,
bull-stretched fences
and dear neighbors
gearing up-for one last holler
to all the gods
that have sustained us.

 

Gail & Amy

 

20170203-2017-02-03-11-42-37

 

This iPhone photo inexplicably popped-up on my computer this morning, reminding me of how much fun we had in Elko for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

It’s been 6 days since any rain and the ground is drying out in places. We crossed the creek yesterday in the Kubota, 175 cfs, water in the floorboards. It’s time to go to work.

 

Elko Sunset

 

image

 

Familiar faces gather,
make camp where it’s warm
in the middle of Nowhere,

Nevada for a song
before the winter sun sets
and the lights come on.

 

En Route with the Point and Shoot

 

image

 

It’s been years since we’ve seen much snow in the Great Basin, and despite its potential hazards and inconvenience, it’s a heartening sign of better health. January is a time of daily feeding for cattle ranchers in Nevada with temperatures hovering around zero — a pretty tough breed of man and beast!

 

image

 

image

 

image

 

image

 

RAINDROPS

IMG_2496

 

Following fifty tons
through light showers
across Nevada,

big alfalfa bales
towards our dry
California home,

we focus on raindrops
streaking reality
after a week of poetry

and song, to feel
our poor possibilities
grow by the truckload—

heavy with an endless
emptiness in our bellies
beneath the straps

of seat belts
before another wreck.
We hang on.