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Christmas Waltz

The winter is here and the old year is passing,
The sun in its circle winds far in the south.
It's time to bring cheer to a cold, snowbound cow camp,
It's Christmas tree time of the year for the house.

Go ride to the cedar break rim of a canyon,
Down by where the river takes creek water clear,
And saddle-sleigh home us a fine shapely evergreen
Picked out while prowling the pasture this year.

While Fair strings the berries and popcorn and whatnots
And Ty braids the wreaths out of leather and vines,
Old Dunder, he whittles and whistles old carols
And fills them with stories of fine olden times.

He talks of a baby boy born in a cow shed,
All swaddled in tatters and laid in a trough,
Who, growing up, gave away all he could gather
And taught us that what is not given is lost.

It's morning of Christmas and long before dawning
The camp hands are risen to ready the feast.
But with the fires glowing they don warm apparel
And go out to gaze on the Star of the East.

They cobbler the plums they put up back in summer,
They bake a wild turkey and roast backstrap deer,
They dollop the sourdough for rising and baking,
And pass each to each now the brown jug of cheer.

The dinner is done and they pass out the presents,
Their three each they open with handshakes and hugs,
Then Ty gets his guitar and Fred gets his fiddle
While Dunder and Fair laugh and roll back the rugs.

The tunes that they play melt the chill from the winter
As Dunder and Fair waltz and two-step along.
They play, sing and dance till the next morning's dawning
Then all of the their slumbers are filled with this song.

© 1996, Buck Ramsey, All Rights Reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

See our feature about Buck Ramsey here.

  "Christmas Waltz" was printed in a small gift edition by Gibbs-Smith Publishers in 1996.  It is out of print but copies are available from the Western Folklife Center.

A recording of Buck Ramsey singing "Christmas Waltz" was made in 1995.  Buck Ramsey tells about his family's shape-note singing and talks about the setting for his piece, which can be found on the award-winning Voices of the West's "A Cowboy Christmas" tape produced by Hal Cannon and Mary Beth Kirchner. The tape is available from the Western Folklife Center.

Bette Ramsey comments about the recording: "Buck grew up in a singing family, and his sisters were well known for their gospel singing. We get a sense of what the Ramsey family sounded like as Buck is joined on this beautiful recording by his sisters Wanda, Ellen and Sylvia, and his younger brother Charles." 

The recording is also on the 2-CD set, Buck Ramsey, Hittin' the Trail, released by Smithsonian Folkways Records in 2003.

 

   Buck Ramsey’s Grass, With Essays on His Life and Work, a commemorative edition and CD edited by Scott Braucher and Bette Ramsey, with a foreword by Byron Price, was released in December, 2005 by Texas Tech University Press.  From the publisher's description, "First published as And As I Rode Out on the Morning, Buck Ramsey’s epic poem of cowboy life is a classic. In this edition, the editors have restored the poem’s original title, Grass, and have gathered insightful commentaries on Ramsey’s work from poets, musicians, historians, and others devoted to the cowboy way and movement. Completing the package are Ramsey’s original short story on which he based the poem and a CD of the original 1990 recording of Ramsey performing Grass in John Hartford’s home studio in Nashville, introduced by Andy Wilkinson."  Read more here at the publisher's site.

 

 

Plains Blizzard

A few snowflakes
Begin to fall,
And as they fall they stick.

Next thing I know
They’re coming fast.
They’re coming fast and thick.

Soon highway crews
Cannot keep up
The road’s becoming slick.

Before too long,
Drifts close the road.
And plans change real quick.

Now we can’t be
With family
Because of nature’s trick,

So we two share
Canned chicken soup
In our own bailiwick.

On Christmas.

© 2008, Jane Morton
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


 

Read more of Jane Morton's poetry here.

Country Christmas 

Christmas in the country is a different sort'a thing.
A quiet, peaceful, solitude, that nature seems to bring.

Yet, some folks from the city feel sad we miss so much.
Tinsel town mall muffin's think: We're really out of touch!

No decorated streets to flaunt the merchants floats paradin'.
No helicoptered Santa's land to sirens serenadin'.

Far removed from distant crowds of noisy people shoppin',
scramblin' hard toout do friends, must really keep'em hoppin'.

We have no crowded shopping malls chuck full'a plastic toys.
No bands a tootin' Christmas songs that get lost in the noise.

The curried groves of pine and spruce that crowd each vacant space,
designer colors coat the boughs and take away their grace!

I'm givin' thought to such as this as we come 'round the bend,
the team now breaks into a trot as they see journey's end.

With full moon just a peekin' o'er the mountains to the east,
its light careens off snow clad trees and gives our eyes a feast.

Beside me in the bobsleigh, is a Christmas tree a ridin',
and faces framed by fur trimmed caps are laughin' as we're glidin'.

Just up ahead, a cabin's light, smoke curlin' from its stack.
A cheery voice is callin' out—"So glad to see you're back!"

Aroma of good things to eat, a driftin' out our way,
makes us want to hurry as we feed the team their hay.

We finish chores, then take the tree, into the house for Mom to see—
We knew that she would tell our Dad: "Prettiest tree we've ever had!"

Christmas morning! What a sight! Not much sleepin' here last night.
Grandfolks made it through the drifts, family fun, exchange of gifts.

We told our stories, laughed at Dad, best Christmas that we've ever had!
At Christmas time don't pity me—This is what they all should be!!

© 2001, Sam Jackson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more about Sam Jackson and some of his poetry here.

 


The Cremation of Sam McGee

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
     By the men who moil for gold;
  The Arctic trails have their secret tales
     That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
     But the queerest they ever did see
  Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
     I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, 
     where the cotton blooms and blows.
  Why he left his home in the South to roam
     'round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold 
     seemed to hold him like a spell;
  Though he'd often say in his homely way 
     that he'd "sooner live in Hell."

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way 
     over the Dawson trail.
  Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold
      it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze 
     till sometimes we couldn't see,
  It wasn't much fun, but the only one
     to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight 
     in our robes beneath the snow,
  And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'erhead 
     were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and "Cap," says he, 
     "I'll cash in this trip, I guess;
  And if I do, I'm asking that you 
     won't refuse my last request."

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no; 
     then he says with a sort of moan,
  "It's the cursed cold, and it's got right hold 
    till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet 'tain't being dead -- it's my awful dread 
     of the icy grave that pains;
  So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, 
     you'll cremate my last remains."

A pal's last need is a thing to heed, 
     so I swore I would not fail;
  And we started on at the streak of dawn; 
     but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day 
     of his home in Tennessee;
  And before nightfall a corpse was all 
     that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn't a breath in that land of death, 
     and I hurried, horror-driven,
  With a corpse half hid that I couldn't get rid, 
     because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: 
     "You may tax your brawn and brains,
  But you promised true, and it's up to you 
     to cremate those last remains."

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, 
     and the trail has its own stern code.
  In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, 
     in my heart how I cursed that load!
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, 
     while the huskies, round in a ring,
  Howled out their woes to the homeless snows --
     O God! how I loathed the thing!

And every day that quiet clay 
     seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
  And on I went, though the dogs were spent 
     and the grub was getting low.
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, 
     but I swore I would not give in;
  And I'd often sing to the hateful thing, 
     and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, 
     and a derelict there lay;
  It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice 
     it was called the Alice May.
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, 
     and I looked at my frozen chum;
  Then "Here," said I, with a sudden cry, 
     "is my cre-ma-tor-eum!"

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, 
     and I lit the boiler fire;
  Some coal I found that was lying around, 
     and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared -- 
     such a blaze you seldom see;
  And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, 
     and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn't like 
     to hear him sizzle so;
  And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, 
     and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled 
     down my cheeks, and I don't know why;
  And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak 
     went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow 
     I wrestled with grisly fear;
  But the stars came out and they danced about 
     ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said,
     "I'll just take a peep inside.
  I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked."
     Then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, 
     in the heart of the furnace roar;
  And he wore a smile you could see a mile, 
     and he said:  "Please close that door.
It's fine in here, but I greatly fear 
     you'll let in the cold and storm --
  Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, 
     it's the first time I've been warm."

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
     By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
     The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
     Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee

Robert Service

(Reprinted with permission from The Cremation of Sam McGee, Hancock House, 1989)


Poet Don Ensminger once helped us to decide whether or not the poem was appropriate for the season. He wrote, "'Sam McGee' would be a fine addition to Christmas since the whole heart of the poem is really making the best of a very bad situation. Sam longed for home at this time of year like so many others do. He just happened to have found it (or felt it) in a mighty peculiar place there on the 'marge.'"

Robert Service's own recitation of "The Cremation of Sam McGee" is included on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Three (2008).

 

Read more of Robert Service's poetry here.

 

Dear Santa

Christmas is coming
I must make my list
I’ve thought and I’ve pondered
I don’t want to be missed

Don’t bring me gold jewelry
And please keep the pearls
No scented French soaps
For this country girl

I’m not really fussy
But I like to look nice
A barn jacket with flare
And not overly priced

Some treats for my horse
And gloves that are warm
A chair to sip cocoa
Away from the storm

A trip would be nice
If you’re so inclined
To Elko, Nevada
Would surely be fine

The poetry gathering
Would be something to see
I’d even take Larry
Along with me

So surprise me dear Santa
With whatever you bring
They’re only wishes
I don’t need a thing

© 2008, Patti Leininger
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Read more of Patti Leininger's poetry here.

 

Even on Christmas Day

The golden glow of a lamp turned low
Mellowed the bunkhouse walls;
Through frosty air outside somewhere
Came clear coyotee calls.

The cowboys' talk of a horse had balked
Paused while the choir sang
Of peace on earth, or maybe its dirth,
In lives of guile and fang.

That haunting tune 'neath a full bright moon
Seemed wrong for Christmas Eve;
Didn't fit it seemed, while children dreamed
Of gifts that Santa'd leave.

No word was spoke when the spell was broke
And hush restored again;
These men immured to the song they'd heard,
To strife, and loss, and pain.

Their ancient pledge was to life's raw edge,
They'd kept it from the start;
They'd hides grown tough, and some ways looked rough,
But not one callused heart.

Some hid it well, but the Boss could tell
Real saints from wannabees;
He knew who'd care for His critters there,
His grass, and even trees.

The lamp's out now, but the injured cow
Waits not too far away;
Knows they'll be along, to fix what's wrong,
Even on Christmas Day.

© 2006, Alf Bilton
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 

Read more of Alf Bilton's poetry here.


 

Happy Days

The bells in town are ringing,
   'Tis Christmas time, we know;
But not a sound of the bells we hear
   Out across the shifting snow.
Across the wind-swept prairie,
   Where the wild chinook winds blow.

'Tis Christmas night, and we're far away
   From all we love and know,
But faces are bright, and hearts are light;
   Outside is the drifting snow.
And we talk, and laugh, and sing with joy,
   Out where the chinooks blow.

It's Christmas night, and they drink a toast
   To the loved one, far away;
One to the boys from the sunny South,
   And one for the old range ways;
But the one we all love best of all
   When they call out "Happy Days."

'Tis Christmas night on the old wild range,
   And the Northern Lights aglow,
Dance o'er the grim grey cut-banks,
   And down on the drifting snow.
And the coyote sneaks by the frozen creeks,
   And the wolf calls long and low,
But the toast on the range is "Happy Days,"
   Far out where the riders go.

by Rhoda Sivell, from Voices from the Range, 1912

 

Read more of Rhoda Sivell's poetry here.

Christmas Guests

My brothers and the neighbor boys
Visited during the Christmas vacation.
Each ma knew they would be sent home
If they were an aggravation.
So when Lloyd saddled up his horse
To go to the neighbors to play,
Ma said that he could go but to
Come back while it's still day.
Lloyd came home when he said he would
And never said a word
About conversing with the neighbors
Or things he might have heard.
On Christmas morning early
Ma put the turkey in
To cook while we were opening gifts
From Santa Claus and kin.
She had the table set for us,
Seven kids and her and Pa,
When a new sight through the window
Likely made her drop her jaw.
The Knutzen's in their Sunday sleigh
Were coming up the lane.
Bewilderedly she watched them
Through her frosty windowpane.
Why are we getting company,
Especially right at noon
On Christmas day of all days
When my house is paper strewn?
Then Lloyd looked up so innocent
With a smile that was a winner.
"Oh Ma, I forgot to tell you
I invited them to dinner."
I don't know how Ma stretched that meal
So the neighbors wouldn't know
They were unexpected dinner guests
On that Christmas long ago.

© 2007, Joyce Johnson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Joyce Johnson comments: In those days before these far-apart homes had phones, the women used their kids riding back and forth between the homes to carry messages and invitations. The neighbors probably thought this was another such message from Mom.
 


Read more of Joyce Johnson's poetry here.

The Perfect Gift


Not everyone's Christmas is merry,
    not everyone's heart's filled with cheer;
perhaps it's because they are missing
    a loved one not with them this year.

It might be a soldier in service,
  or death might have darkened their door;
there's reasons why some folks are lonely
   and something we should not ignore.

It must be real hard to be lonely,
   while others are happy and gay;
while we see the blue skies and sunshine,
   their skies are cloudy and gray.

And it's easy with our lives so busy
   to not take the time to be there
to help lift a burden for others
    and let them know somebody cares.

If you want to do something this Christmas
   to help those who might be alone,
take time from your parties and shopping
   and give them a call on the phone.

Better yet, pay 'em a visit
    to let 'em  know somebody cares;
for none of us know of tomorrow
    when we may have crosses to bear.   

So this year when you go out shopping
    be sure that you add to your list
a name of someone that's lonely
     and give them the best kind of gift.
 
You won't have to spend any money,
     for we know that the best gifts are free.
Take time for the lonely this Christmas,
     it's just how God meant it to be.

© November 4, 2002, Yvonne Hollenbeck

  

Read more of Honored Guest Yvonne Hollenbeck's poetry here.

 

See a complete list of all the holiday poems from 2000-2008 here.

See the links here for holiday news and more.


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