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See the Art Spur introductory page here

It's been said that a picture is worth a thousand words...we know many that are worthy of a poem or a song.  In Art Spur, we invite poets and songwriters to let selections of Western art inspire their poetry and songs.

Our thirtieth piece offered to "spur" the imagination—in celebration of the National Day of the Cowboy—is "Dust," a photograph by Colorado photographer and working ranch wife Nikole Morgan

© nikole morgan, www.wildoutwestphotography.com; reproduction prohibited

Nikole Morgan tells about the photograph, which was also featured in Picture the West in November, 2011:

"Dust" was taken on a ranch in Northern Colorado. A hot, dry day of preg checking cows led to one of my favorite photographs. It has the romantic cowboy look, but any cowboy knows there is nothing romantic or even pleasant about a long day of work in dusty corrals. It goes right along with "the cowboy riding off into the sunset"; what people don't realize is that cowboy still has two more hours of searching for a missing pair before he gets to unsaddle for the day."

Find Nikole Morgan's own poem, "Dust," below.

Art Spur subjects are meant to inspire poetry and songs; we look for poems and songs inspired by the piece, not necessarily for a literal description of the image or its subject. 

Submissions from all were welcome through Wednesday, July 25, 2012. Submissions are now closed.

Selected poems are posted below.

About Nikole Morgan

photograph of Nikole Morgan by John Michael Leppert

Professional Colorado "Western Life" photographer and working ranch wife Nikole Morgan has commented on her work:

I take a lot of my pictures from the back of my horse, just documenting what we do day in and day out. Our way of life has so many wonderful photogenic qualities about it.

The scenery is the stuff movies are made of but the people are very real and they wear their emotions on their sleeves. You can see "everything" on a hard working cowboy or cowgirl's face. It makes for very strong feeling-evoking photographs and that is definitely what I am going for when I take them.

From her artist's statement:

I have quite a long history of “cowboys” and “cowgirls” in my family. My Great Great Grandfather was A.B. Snyder, also known as "Pinnacle Jake," who as a 20-year-old broke the horses that went to England with Buffalo Bill in his Wild West Exhibition, not to mention the rest of his very interesting life! My Great Grandmother Nellie Snyder Yost was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and received a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum for her western writings. She spent as much time working and driving cows in a side saddle as she did a western saddle. So, I’m especially proud to call myself one, “cowgirl,” that is!

(See Yvonne Hollenbeck's photos and commentary about the Snyder and Yost families here in a Picture the West entry.)

Read more about Nikole Morgan and see additional examples of her work in our feature here.

Find more about Nikole Morgan and more of her work at her web site, www.wildoutwestphotography.com and on Facebook and Etsy.



If you enjoy features like Art Spur, please help support the BAR-D.




© nikole morgan, www.wildoutwestphotography.com; reproduction prohibited


When the snow doesn’t come—
When the high country stays bare—
When the wind is all that winter fared.

When the ditches run dry—
When the rains aren’t enough—
When the year has been “to say the least” rough.

When the hay doesn’t grow—
When the cattle walk far—
When cowboys yearn to “belly up” to the bar.

When the stock tanks are empty—
When the well doesn’t flow—
When ranchers greet with a look they all know.

When leaves fall ‘fore they turn—
When the ground has dried to a crust—
THAT’S when you worry, ‘bout the hooves that kick up…

 © 2012, Niki Yost Morgan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.



Counting the Days by Ken Cook of South Dakota
Dust by Del Gustafson of Washington
Branding at the Bunch Ground by Wilma Rich of Arizona
Dust by Susan Matley of Washington
Dust by R.V. Schmidt of California
Waiting for Answers by Patricia Stephenson of Georgia
Dusty Old Sun by Glen Enloe of Missouri
Dusty Trail by Bette Wolf Duncan of Iowa
A Ridin' in the Dust by Kathy Westman
The True Grit by
Jean Mathisen Haugen of Wyoming
A Bloke Has to Laugh by Merv Webster of Queensland
Dust-Covered Rider by David L. Carlton of Texas
Dust by Charles (C.W.) Bell of Utah

Dust by the photographer, Nikole Yost Morgan of Colorado

A few additional contemporary "dust" poems


Counting The Days

Two hundred thirty seven days devoid of cloud or burst,
the dust has even got too dry to blow.
And when a lonely puff appears
some cowboys stop and stare,
while others place their bets on where she'll go.

Two hundred thirty eight's dawn broke just like two thirty nine's,
every hour is dusty dry and trailing slow.
The cows and calves are dropping pounds
some yearlings thin as rails,
now selling out's no longer such a foe.

Two hundred forty, still no rain, the trucks rolled in at dawn,
hell should have sold two hundred days ago!
Those memories of days long past
with pastures green for miles,
are buried in the dust of drought's big show.

Two hundred forty one, last mark, a thunderhead has burst,
the dust and dry are rolling with the flow.
And when the sky poured out that gold
those cowboys played like kids,
in puddles where the grass will someday grow.

© 2012, Ken Cook
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.


I keep my eyes on the clear cloudless skies,
But drop my gaze when I must.
To slap a rope to the rear of a slow moving steer,
As we move in that billowing dust.

Dust from my hat to boot toes, dust up my nose,
A powder the color of rust.
Those thin boney steers from their tails to their ears,
Look alike in their coating of Dust.

We couldn’t plant cotton or grain for lack of rain,
Another year and I think I’ll go bust.
We sold the tractors and plows to buy feed for the cows,
They couldn’t survive on just dust.

The wind blows it around till it falls to the ground,
Where it settles to a hard barren crust,
We need rain I know to make the grass grow,
But all we get is more dust.

My loan payments are due and my taxes are too,
And I feel it is really unjust,
What we produce on this land has no demand,
There just is no market for dust.

The Preacher said friend it will come to an end,
Stay strong in your faith and your trust,
But I’m afraid when I die it will still be bone dry,
And I’ll return as just more blowing dust.

© 2012, Del Gustafson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.



Branding at the Bunch Ground

The morning of a branding day
Begins a-way ‘fore dawn.
By daybreak men are mounted,
And by sunup they are gone.

To gather up the mavericks from
Their holes of hide-and-seek
And bunch them near the ledges
On the winding Nine Mile Creek.

Several canyon ranchers
With their families are involved
In gathering the cattle
And in subsequent dissolve.

Fires are lit for branding irons
And for the coffee pot.
Cowboys start to cut the herd
While brews and irons grow hot.

Ranchers and their mounted sons
Ride slowly through the herd
And nod each time they spot a brand,
Yet seldom say a word.

A mutual shake is all it takes
To know which cow to cut.
The ranchers know by instinct
And a feeling in their gut.

The thronging cattle disapprove
This senseless human game,
Like fighting, cornered cougars
Fiercely stubborn they remain.

Five hundred bawling mothers
Try to find their little ones.
And as they split and pair up,
Cowboy fathers school their sons.

The sun grows hot and tempers short
But still the work goes on
Till every rancher has his cows
And all the bulls are gone.

Mounted riders form a crude
Corral to hold the bunch,
And sandstone rocks reflect the sun
While cowboys break for lunch.

Then branding time gets underway
And men shake out their loops,
A festive atmosphere prevails
Amidst excited whoops.

A rapid hiss of lariat
Is heard in the melee,
A calf is caught and quickly brought
Protesting all the way.

The rancher kids wait by the fire
To pounce upon the calves;
The towering rim-rock ledges
Echo back their gleeful laughs.

The boys are kicked and stepped on
As they drag them to the ground,
While distraught mother heifers hover,
Blowing snot around.

Branders and dehorners
And waddle-whackers, too,
Sizzle, earmark, castrate,
Save “oysters” for the stew.

The moon peeps o’er the mountains
As a tired contented brood
Tether mounts and head toward
The savory smell of food.

© 2012, Wilma Rich
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.



The world is blown monochrome,
Dusted in sepia tones.
High wind warning for today;
You race to bale the cut hay
Before it starts to fly.

The work day doesn’t start
Until your teeth are full of grit.
Skin-cracking hours depart
As you hold a grin and bear it

When you can’t quite see the cattle
As they mill around your saddle;
Just ghostly bovine highlights
In daylight gone twilight
With sun still in the sky.

Sweat lends dust an artistic hand,
Plasters your burnt hide in shades of gray,
Transforming you from mortal man
To living statue of desert clay.

When cattle work is done,
When the herd acts as one
And settles as if in concert,
The dust settles, too: common dirt.
Bits of sand on ground lie.

Tomorrow’s dust will rise. You’ll spend
Each day with grit that flies anew.
And as the dust that’s how you’ll end;
It’s always been just dust and you.

© 2012, Susan Matley
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Wooded foothills amble into open meadows of lush yellow-green
Cool clear brook percolates snake-like alongside a well worn red-orange trail
Morning light dwindles at a jagged tree line casting shadows into broken silence
Cowboys call, cattle bawl, a slow cloud rises, curling, drifting, gently lifting, choking, blinding
Moist salty beads slip from leather bands, bleeding, soaking kerchiefs and collars
Iron shoes plod into soft powdery layers of red-orange
Steel panels yawn a mile ahead waiting to swallow the herd
Drag riders breathe through cotton cloth and pursed lips, lost in a pale brown mist
Whistles and yips tighten the bunch, dust begins to settle and spread low
Drooping bandanas, red-hot irons, twirling loops
Now drag ‘em to the fire.

© 2012, R.V. Schmidt
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Dusty Old Sun

The land's dry as Dust Bowl lies
And gritty as cocklebur tongue—
It's sandpaper in our eyes
It sure ain't no way to stay young.

But in smoke of dust and cows
That old neckerchief keeps us pure
Or as much as dirt allows
Till a hot bath becomes our cure.

There's no singing in this dust
We just bear it until the night,
When cattle are calm or bust
And the Osage moon is just right.

Oh, tomorrow's just a day
With more work and thirst by our side
As we check cows on our way
Like those before us that have died.

The dusty old sun's rising
But daytime heat one soon forgets
Now clouds are our horizon
Till that sun turns ruby and sets.

Then coyotes do their chore
As cattle water at the hole,
Beneath stars and so much more
Shaking life and dust from our soul.

© 2012, Glen Enloe
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Waiting for Answers 

Questions spoken aloud as cattle mill around,
in weakness of the moment, testing our belief.
Words caught up in the dust and settle to the ground
to be scattered in the wind, as time becomes a thief.
Mankind and beasts alike are born to a task

being no more than what we’re meant to be,
in the presence of our maker, what might we ask.
Is this my purpose here—is this all there is for me?
Are our lives inked on parchment, etched in wood or stone?
lives that break our spirit, make us bleed, crack our spine.
The dust that chokes us now, was it once flesh and bone?
Answers float in motes of dust
yes, it’s yours and mine.
We are born to die, and sometimes die giving birth,
with moans of mourning and labor sounding much the same.
We are here in this place, in this time, here on earth,
taking on our task, accepting fates without blame.
We can make of it what we will, the most, the least,
stirring slow or moving fast with touch of spur or prod.
Humbled as a being who herds these bovine beasts,
just doing our job, waiting for answers from God.

© 2012, Patricia Stephenson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


A Ridin' in the Dust

Get along little doggie
To keep movin' is a must.
Let's get to greener pastures
Cuz I'm a ridin' in the dust.

The wind is swirling all around
A gale and a gust.
Keep on movin' down the trail
Cuz I'm a ridin' in the dust.

One astray to gather in
I grumbled and I cussed.
Gotta get her back with the herd
Cuz I'm a ridin' in the dust.

Keep on movin'—let's get 'er done
So the day is not a bust.
Keep 'um movin' ..."come on boss"
Cuz I'm a ridin' in the dust.

The day is done, the cows are fed
So it's home to shower off the crust.
Then early to bed and early to rise
For another day of ridin' in the dust.

A cowboys life is simple
His way is true and just.
But there's no other life he wants
Than just a ridin' in the dust.

© 2012, Kathy Westman
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

The True Grit

I have put off going to the dentist
for nearly twenty years—
that's not my favorite hitching spot
and that big drill gives me fears.
Now I am going to have to go there,
for the grit's stuck to my teeth,
from the dust that's risen from this herd
of cussed mangy beef!
They don't go where I try to head them,
and I have spent the live long day
whooping and a' hollering at
these blasted consumers of rank hay!
The dust is thick
can't see through it
may have to see the old eye doc too,
to get myself new spectacles,
so I can see what I'm trying to do.
My old pard Buck is grinding his teeth,
though he'll have to see the vet,
to get the stuff off of his choppers
and then I'll have to go and get
the dentist to clean up my own
and I'm sure he'll pull a tooth or two.
It'll cost me a mint to pay him off

that's what you get for this truly gritty view!

© 2012, Jean Mathisen Haugen
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

Dusty Trail

The dust has kicked up from his trail
and filmed my cowboy's eyes.
His trailmate of near 50 years,
he doesn't recognize.
The dust has filtered through his brain
and robbed him of his sight.
Alone and blind, he stumbles through
a cloud as dark as night.
The dust that's swirling all about,
has dimmed his lonely trail.
The dust has choked his every breath
and left him weak and frail.

There's dust upon my cowboy's tongue;
and dust upon his brain.
He searches for a ray of sun;
but gropes for one in vain.
Though dust has clogged his memory—
he doesn't know my name—
it hasn't fogged the trail I ride.
I love him just the same.
From dust to dust, we both will ride,
but one day, we'll both rise;
and God will quell the choking dust
that blinds my Darling's eyes.

© 2012, Bette Wolf Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

A Bloke Has to Laugh

When you’re choking on dust for most part of the day
you might wonder why folk in a dreamy eyed way
see this riding a horse with the reins in your hand
as romantic and cool and a scene somewhat grand.

But I woke up at five to get basic jobs done
and then mucked out the stables, which wasn’t much fun.
Fed the dogs, cut some wood, cooked some breakfast of course,
then went down to the stable to saddle my horse.

Though you find out at times that there’s horses like mine
that are grumpy some mornings and others they’re fine.
And this morning he stomped on my gouty right toe
just to watch me go off and put on a real show.

Then we got to the yards where the cows mulled about
and I opened the gate as my son gave a shout.
“Hey watch out for that cow she’s as nasty as sin!”
But too late she cow kicked me and right in the shin.

Soon the heat of the day brings sweat beads to your brow
and the smell of your frame is part horse and part cow.
And the rash from your sitting you try to ignore,
but you know you will suffer no end, that’s for sure.

Soon the dust in the yards fills your eyes, nose and throat
and frustration creeps in; you yell words you can’t quote.
‘Cause the cows are all restless and getting real tense,
which sets one old girl off and she breaks through the fence.

So the next hour is spent on retrieving the mob,
then repairing the fence proves a hell of a job.
But it’s all in a day’s work for a cowboy like me,
though romantic and cool; just how can that be?

Still I wouldn’t exchange what I do in a day
as I’m used to it all and I’m set in my way.
So excuse me for now as I take my hot bath.
“Hey, romantic and cool!” A bloke has to laugh.

© 2012, Merv Webster
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.


Dust-Covered Rider

Peeling them off and shoving them in
A dust-covered rider in a dusty cow pen

Pregnancy testing and running them through
With dust in my mouth and in my eyes too

Taking my time while moving real slow
It’s pushing them in to test and let go

The action is buzzing on both end of the chute
The preggers are keepers their belly filled with loot

It’s hot and it’s dusty and takes lots of time
But as hot work goes this is a favorite of mine

So I’ll keep peeling them off and shoving them in
A dust-covered rider in a dusty cow pen

© 2012, David L. Carlton
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.




Sixty seven days and there’s been no rain,
The grass and browse is on the wane.
Dust devils blow across the land,
Soil disappearing, leaving only sand.

Then came the fires, the range turned black.
Men wonder if grass will ever come back.
The piñon pines and cedars all around
Look like skeletons stuck in the ground.

The cattle are starving, thin and gaunt;
All skin and bones, sickly from want.
The horses are listless, with nothing to do,
The heat and wind drying ranchers too.

But soon, we hope, thunderheads will appear,
And afternoon rains may soon be here.
Mexican monsoons up from the south
Will bring more rain and end this drouth.

But until then we’ll do what we must
And continue to live among the dust.

© 2012, Charles (C.W.) Bell
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.


A few good contemporary "dust" poems from the archives:

I Don't Look Down on Dust No More by Laverna B. Johnson
Summer '34 by Jane Morton
Black Sunday; April 14, 1935 by Bette Wolf Duncan

And a newer one, inspired by this photograph:

Dust by Jay Snider

Thanks to all who participated.




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