Back at the Ranch: Cowboy Poetry & Music / Contemporary Voices

Black Mornings
Written and recited by John Dofflemyer
Audio Source: 2000 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering / Western Folklife Center archives

Photo by Robbin Dofflemyer

Photo by Robbin Dofflemyer

BLACK MORNINGS, John Dofflemyer

           folded in raven feathers
I dream I am awake
and there is no other world beyond
            these dear, dark moments
            sheltered and protected
            by a chisel beak and wings.

No thump of industry,
no urgent lights –
no other place left in time
to repair the soul

            at the center
            of this canyon
            in a tangle

of fences and finances
to keep it whole.

Black mornings, moments
            when no man owns me
and I may dream that I am walking
some odd detail of her landscape
            and I can linger
            where I want

            and leave
            no track.

© John C. Dofflemyer, Draft 2 – 1999

Written and recited by Linda M. Hasselstrom
Audio Source: Buckaroo - Visions and Voices of the American Cowboy
Edited by Hal Cannon and Thomas West. Callaway/ Simon & Schuster, 1993

Artwork by Tom Thorson, Black Hills, South Dakota. Tom also visited Linda's ranch when a calf needed to be pulled.

Artwork by Tom Thorson, Black Hills, South Dakota. Tom also visited Linda's ranch when a calf needed to be pulled.

CAROLYN, MIRANDA, AND ME, Linda M. Hasselstrom

Carolyn comes from the city in March,
bringing a transfusion of bagels and lox,
expresso for breakfast;
helps load bales and feed my cows
instead of feeding her children,
worrying about teaching, and her husband’s business.
Her questions remind me why I’m here.
We talk poetry, politics, women’s rights,
while we tend cows and sneeze hay dust.
Her teenage son wants to help humanity.
We discuss that, sitting on upturned buckets
in the barn at midnight, waiting for a cow
Carolyn calls Miranda to have her first calf.

Under a pile of planks,
a skunk waits
for us to discover him,
or leave so he can hunt.
Carolyn’s son is acting in commercials,
making more money than either of us;
we discuss that too, watching the cow’s sides heave
as she pushes the calf out.

The skunk washes his whiskers with clawed paws.
I reach inside the cow,
realize the calf is too big.
We dip chrome chains in warm water,
hand them on the gate, rope the cow.
I tie her with a bowline knot
so she won’t choke.
She’s pushed for three hours;
head hanging, feet braced,
she’s too exhausted to kick me
when I loop chains
over the hind feet of the calf inside her.
The bottoms of his hoofs point up’ he’s coming backwards.
If we pull him fast enough, he won’t smother.
I crank until I’m gasping;
Carolyn finishes the job.  The cow bawls
and staggers as the hips jerk free,
then the shoulders.
With a waterfall of blood and fluids,
the calf’s head hits the floor, bounces.
Carolyn drops the calf-puller—on my toe—
leaps to clear his throat, shoving his tongue
back inside his swollen mouth,
shouts, “Breathe, dammi!”
I clear his nostrils.  She lowers his head
to drain fluid out of his lungs,
says, “This is just what I did
with Joshua when he got pneumonia.”
She dries the calf with a sack;
I bully Miranda to stand.
We watch as she licks her son,
murmuring acceptance.

Wiping my hands, I see the skunk.
He backs away.
We name the calf Jesse Jackson.
Walking home uphill, we talk about stars,
birth, children going their own ways.
The skunk, brave again, marches
toward the compost pile.
Miranda begins eating afterbirth.
Carolyn has hot cocoa;
I put a shot of whiskey in mine
wonder if I should have had a child.

© Linda M. Hasselstrom

Undoing of Heaven's Match
Written and recited by Linda Hussa
Audio Source: 2005 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering submission / Western Folklife Center archives

Photo by Jonas Dovydenas

Photo by Jonas Dovydenas


She’s returning books
borrowed against the echo of an empty house.
Never read them, I bet. Doesn’t
tastes the coffee I set before her,
doesn’t feel the pick-me-up of it’s intention.
So deep in the blues.

Husband’s gone from a marriage
that took her
from one end of her 30s to the other.

It’s suppertime. She says,  Can’t stay.
Red silk blouse says
she’s on the hunt of something in town.
But no good time will get close
without a collision on the sorrow she wears.

Grew up on ranch, married a rancher.
A team going from dark to dark
building a place. We saw it, the way neighbors do
when there’s miles and miles of work between you.

At brandings they snaked calves from the bunch –
careful but fast – God’s gift
and purely loving to rope. Head catch
with an ocean wave, heel with a backhand
over the hip, a yip and a yowl!
The ground crew timed their look-ups
just to see their dancing loops.

They lived close in a casual way.
Both wore the grease, both wore the pants.
When it came apart
it was like trying to bale feathers.

He was there for the work
but he’d found himself a towngirl,
polish on her nails and time on her hands.    

I walked her to her truck.
Before she turned the key she asked the night,
Wasn’t I woman enough for him
or wasn’t I enough of a man? 

Pride Goeth
Written and recited by Waddie Mitchell
Audio Source: 2000 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering / Western Folklife Center archives

PRIDE GOETH, Waddie Mitchell

Dad-gum the luck, this dad-burn truck has up and broken down
A'way out here in no-wheresville at least ten miles from town
And I'll have to hike, cuz it ain't like I'm apt to hitch a ride
This late at night, cuz folks that's right are snuggled tight inside

And wun'cha know, it's gonna snow and me without a coat
Oh, ain't this bliss? It's times like this that really get my goat
Now, let me see, there just might be, if I remember right
A real good chance that there's a ranch around the bend a might

And, there she lay, oh, glory day! I'll not be walkin, back
For up ahead's a small homestead and welcome sight at that
I know the time but he shoun't mind. Most ranchin' folks take pride
In doin' deeds for them in need. I'll ask him for a ride

But, I suppose, the way it goes I ain't the first to ask
For help this way and he just may be jaded towards the task
There's prob'ly them that's bothered him on nights like this before
Come slinkin' up like hungry pups a'beggin' at his door

Then, never say "I'd like to pay ya for your help and time"
No, they just take and never make amends of any kind
Can't blame the guy for thinkin' I would be like all the rest
It's well past ten, here I barge in and make myself a pest

And he'd be right cuz his whole night of peace would be disturbed
If it were me, I'd surely be a little bit perturbed
But keep in mind, I'm not that kind, I'd make it right by him
I'm cold an soaked, my pick-up croaked, I'm miles from a friend

And what's prob'ly more, he'll get the door and meet me with a frown
Make me feel like I'm a heel and cuss me up and down
And treat me rude and talk real crude and act like he don't care
Might get his gun and think it fun to run me out of there

Or sic his mutt, or charge me what would be a hefty fee
I'd pay his price if he was nice but, he ain't gonna be
I've had enough of that guy's guff, I won't be made his clown
I won't lower myself to ask his help, I'll hoof it back to town

Yea, just for spite, I'll walk all night, ta heck with that guy's ride
True, maybe I will freeze and die, but I'll still have my pride
I know to some that must sound dumb, it even has me guessin'
But then again, if I give in, he'd never learn his lesson