Until I landed on a farm and became acquainted with animals who had never been part of my life, I thought cowboy poetry was just a bunch of dorky rhymes. Living with livestock and the vicissitudes of country life taught me the value and power of this branch of the poetry of work. Bull riders, barrel racers, and cattle drovers all told their stories through the medium of poetry. They made me laugh and cry and took me into the deep rivers of a way of life I would never fully comprehend but learned to appreciate.
Though I never considered myself a cowboy poet, I did try my hand at writing some pieces about farm life. I had talented teachers in people I met on the cowboy poetry circuit, people whose written and oral expressions of lived experience shattered my stereotypes.
Rhyming poetry is still the norm in cowboy poetry, though many poets also write prose poems. What’s critical is what they express, not their meter. Still, the heart beats in rhythm. Songs rhyme. Dancing is rhythmic. We humans are attuned to rhyme, and I came to appreciate it in cowboy poetry.
This poem is one I wrote to tell the story of my first Christmas Eve as a small-scale farmer. I still feel the magic of that night.
Stock Talk Christmas Eve
One wintry night the relatives
Were gathered in our barn.
They’d all come from their city homes
For Christmas at the farm.
‘Twas Christmas Eve, and just before
The wassail was passed ’round,
We donned our coats and headed down
To hear the magic sound
Of animals at midnight,
For then the power of speech
Is given to all sheep and cows,
Or so I’d heard it preached.
My husband, he was skeptical,
The relatives amused.
They figured I’d gone round the bend
Since donning country shoes.
But to the barn they gamely trooped.
They’d humor me this time.
We flipped the switch and walked into
A scene that was sublime.
The sheep were calmly bedded down.
They looked, then turned away,
For we’d disturbed their peaceful rest
And hadn’t brought them hay.
I thought of tales of talking beasts.
“Let’s sing to them!” I cried.
Embarrassed silence met my plea.
“Let’s not,” my husband sighed.
No word came from those woolly heads.
I blushed and murmured low,
“They prob’ly talk when we’re not here.
I guess we’d better go.”
Then coming from a darkened stall,
We heard a little cry,
Soon followed by a throaty one
That pulled us to draw nigh
And watch a newborn struggle up
To reach her mother’s teat.
She crumpled, rose, and tried again
On tiny cloven feet.
While ewe and lamb crooned soft and low,
We cleared our throats and sang
Of friendly beasts and silent nights
And bells that angels rang.
Then all the livestock in the barn
Began to bleat and crow
And oink and quack and gobble
In the languages they know.
The relatives fell silent
Till one softly observed,
“That’s the closest thing to talking
This city dude has heard.”
So maybe friendly beasts don’t speak
In English or Chinese,
But if you listen close
You’ll hear them talk on Christmas Eve.
©11/94 Cathryn Wellner
This poem appeared in American Cowboy in November/December 2001. Since sheep are not a normal part of cowboy culture, I changed them to cows for that publication. But the real story features those woolly friends.
As Valentine’s Day nears, hearts are appearing everywhere. My favourite chocolate shop has brought out the heart-shaped molds. The card shop a few doors down from it is a sea of red. Just beyond those shops, a bakery is readying heart-shaped cookies.
So the timing is right for Folkheart Press to release a new e-book: LOVE Potions, Lotions & Lore. Download it from Amazon’s Kindle Store for your sweetheart, and send it as a gift to friends and family. At 99¢, it will cost you less than a card and offer more lasting pleasure.
The e-book is an anthology of essays, short fiction, poetry and art exploring the many facets of love. Like a box of chocolates, it offers a mix that will appeal to a variety of tastes.
It is likely a reflection of my decades on the planet that some of my favourites mingle love and loss. In “Circle of Life”, David Templeton shares his struggle to help his young children deal with their mother’s death. He stumbles onto an explanation that answers the most troubling question they pose to him—why their mother died when she promised she wouldn’t.
J. Dietrich Stroeh, who lost his beloved wife later in life, learned to embrace joy and love again. His experience particularly touches me because I think it could help ease the heart of a friend who lost her spouse and expects to spend the rest of her life in mourning.
Among the short stories sprinkled through the collection, I was particularly drawn to Karen Pierce Gonzalez’s “Dreamland Café”, with its intergenerational love between the narrator and Aunt Ellie. The art works of Sara Bell, Ron Petty and Pia Barksdale add touches more delicious than cherries atop a Black Forest cake. Poetry is the icing between the layers.
Karen Pierce Gonzalez weaves the folklore of love through the collection. Read them and you will understand why monasteries banned chocolate in the 17th century and what apple stems reveal about prospective husbands.
The other contributors add to the tastiness of the collection. As with any anthology, some readers will be drawn to the bitter chocolate, while others will prefer their choices sweetened.
Download the e-book before the day of love. Pick your favourites, and share them with loved ones. Less costly than a card, with fewer calories than chocolates, LOVE Potions, Lotions & Lore also offers love in another way, with proceeds going to the National Center for Family Literacy.
The time has come,
the octogenarian said to himself,
to write my own obituary.
Leave all that stuff to my kids?
My real self will emerge
with piece of mind and a clear list
of priorities, plus all in complicated legalese.
Please read the fine lines and then the finer print.
A living will, power-of attorney, a health
care directive, life and disability insurance,
my registered will and executrix along with that
elusive key to my bank safety deposit box.
Then follow with organ donation forms,
complicated health care directives,
bank managers, lawyers, morticians, cremation forms,
pin numbers, bank numbers and noms des plumes [“doctor ex”].
Who am I? what have I become?…
An eight digit social insurance number
with easy access to revenue canada [ press#1 for English] and my charitable donations – $ to go?
What will happen to my facebook?
who will be my friends in my darkest hour?
Will my twittering be 140 characters or fewer
in my personal arena, as my weaknesses are revealed.
Have I lived vicariously? Which canadian
celebrity have I adopted to represent
my ideals in the after world? Mind boggling,
all these shenanigans just burns me up.
Please… just remove my hearing aids,
open the oven and roll me in,
sunny side up.[See also Sterling Haynes’s poem, Momma Does Milk, on Catching Courage.]
Sterling Haynes has just launched his new book, Wake-Up Call: Tales from a Frontier Doctor.