Gary McMahan and “Cowboyin’ Day, at the 1989 Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Morning is just a thin line to the East As you steps in the corral
and captures a beast. Cold saddle blankets,
hey cock-a-doodle-doo — You buck now, you booger;
you’ll break me in two. And your head starts working
on the last pass around; Saddle horses are wrangled,
draft horses cut out. You shuts the gate
and you steps to the ground — It’s hot, black coffee
you’re thinking ’bout now. Biscuits and gravy and eggs over light, And the foreman’s wife
is a beautiful sight. Jokes and jabs and the cowboss’s orders, A chew and a toothpick,
and you’re out the door. And you saddle a horse
you’ll use for the day, Makin’ sure your riggin’s got
no extra play. You steps aboard light
with him all gathered up ‘Cause you know first hand
this critter can buck. Ease him out at a walk
and head north towards the dump. You’ll be askin’ a trot
when he loses his hump. You hits a slow lope
on the badger highway; It’s a cool morning,
blue-sky cowboyin’ day. And the brooks are babbling down
through the holes, And the meadowlarks sings
the songs in your soul, And the wildflowers
blaze any color you s’pose As the smell of the sagebrush
and pine fill your nose. Now the horse that you’re on
is big, and he’s lean — Quick, tough, smart,
and a little bit mean. His saddle’s no place
for the meek or the green; He’s a sho-nuff rip-snortin’
cowboyin’ machine. And the place that you’re headed
is pretty intense; Continental Divide is the back fence. There’s ten thousand acres
of mountain and rock there And twelve hundred head
to check and to doctor. And to make matters worse —
or better, you think — They’re all yearling heifers —
unpredictable dinks. They’ll run and they’ll hide
’til hell freezes twice Then kick up their heels
as you skate on the ice. But this ain’t no colt,
and you ain’t no kid, So you jerks out your rope
and you pulls down your lid, And you climbs and you cruises
the sagebrush and aspen ‘Til you finds you a cow brute
what’s droopy and raspin’. And you tags ‘er just ‘fore
she gits to the brush And trips ‘er and ties ‘er in a big rush And packs her with sulfa and penicillin. She’ll turn for the better,
the good Lord a willin’. Lots of footrot and pinkeye today, But that don’t mean
the boogers can’t play. They’ve ducked and they’ve dodged
’til who laid a chunk, But you managed to capture
a pretty good hunk. A line-backed old heifer
with a sly side dart Almost upset the whole apple cart, And a bald-faced old bag
sure slammed on her brakes When we dived off a ledge
and got in her way. It’s the heat of the day now —
sun’s straight overhead — And you and your horse
are packing some lead. You hanker for rest and a biscuit or two, And you figures you got
that much coming to you. Now your horse likes the grass
that grows ‘neath the aspen, And the shade there is welcome
as peace everlastin’. So you finds such a place
with a creek close by To soothe the bruises of a hard ride. Hobbles him, unbridles him,
loosens his girth Then sets yourself
down in the cool, green earth, Surrounds your grub and drinks your fill And takes a siesta way back in the hill. A catnap is all you require; Still, you lay there
and ponder your thoughts … The world sure has its briars. Take, for instance,
this good old cow-hoss — He was a wild-eyed, ring-tailed dandy. Heck, they give up on him
‘fore they give him to me, But it’s the same
for horses as it is for men — He just needed a job
and a kick in the shin. Well the afternoon’s spent
with the usual flair: A close call here, a catastrophe there. But still you saved more
than a couple of hides; That’s why you get paid
for making these rides. A storm blew through
for about thirty minutes, And you’d swear
that Satan hisself was in it. You’re sure glad your pony
is seasoned plumb through — Close lightning’s unloaded
a few buckaroos. You’re wet as a fish,
but you ain’t gonna melt, And the sun feels the best
it ever has felt. You’re all steamed up
like an overdue freight, But you’re dry as a duck
time you go to the gate. Now, there are those who thinks
a cowboy’s a crude, ignorant cuss. Truth is, we no-savvy them;
they no-savvy us. But there’s one chore
that sticks in my mind When a cowboy’s job cuts into sublime. It’s when you and your horse
form a leathery feather And drift two, three yearlings
out of a gather And trail ’em up someplace
they don’t want to go When they’re needing a vet
or whatever, y’know. You set ’em just so
when you go through a gate, And don’t rile ’em up, for heaven’s sake. Those that have tried it
say it’s kind of an art To set ’em in the home corral before dark. And we’re trailin’
two of ’em home this night. We’ll prolly ship one;
the other’ll be all right. But one wrong move now
the air’s turning cool, And these two yearling heifers’ll
make you look like a fool. Punch ’em into the catch
with a “whoop” and a smile. You been walkin’ on eggs
for the last two miles, And if one woulda broke,
the fur woulda flew — No tellin’ when you’da got
another crack at them two. Your horse rolls in the dirt
while you put up your tack, Then savors his grain
while you scratch his back. It’s an evenin’ ritual you both enjoy; You don’t covet nothin’
when you ride this ol’ boy. He heads for the timothy down by the lake And you saunters to the house
for soup and steak To mix it up with compadres
and finish your pie Like folks do when they’re satisfied. When supper’s done,
there’s little time for play — You sleep hard all night
if you work hard all day — And ‘fore you fall off your log
to float in the air, You may have time for a little prayer: “Lord, I thank you for this cowboyin’ day. I had me some fun a-earnin’ my pay, And I like to think
I keep meat on the table For a country that needs
to keep fit an’ able. But a cow with no horse,
Lord, is boring as hell, And a horse with no cows
don’t ring my bells. It’s a good life,
this game of horses and cattle, And thanks again, Lord,
for my day in the saddle. Amen.” (Applause)

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