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Byrd Woodward has written so many fine poems about her family. We're pleased to include two poems new to us for Father's Day 2002 and to include some old favorites by her on this page.

 


 

Eggs on the Moon

My Pa had a crazy horse called 'Moon,'
An angular black with a blaze;
She shied at any blamed thing that moved,
Couldn't stand long enough to graze.
Did I mention to you I was born with
Fine white-blond hair on my head?
Just like spun sugar, we got the stuff cut
In town by a barber named Fred.

One day, my Mama, lookin' up at Pa
Said "I got some eggs fer the store;
I'll wrap 'em an' pack that big basket..
There's prob'ly five dozen or more.
An', C.J., can you take Byrdie with you,
An' give me a chance for a bath?
It's been so sultry this summer,
I'm scrubby as Minnie's hind calf."

Pa rode Moon for his entertainment;
He saddled her up and lit out,
With me on his lap, eggs in his hand,
An' that fool mare dancin' about.
The store was only 'bout four miles away,
We did it in nothin'-flat time;
On the porch sat a bunch of lazy old men..
Pa circled old Moon on a dime.

He started to hand me down on the porch,
Moon caught sight of my flyin' hair;
She bunched up and Pa knew what was comin',
He tossed the eggs up in the air.
The mare humped her back an' sun-fished,
I ran up the steps an' sat
An' watched while my pa put on a show,
Fannin' ol' Moon with his hat!

I don't know how long th' rodeo took,
Buckin' up and down the dirt road.
I know Sam Blair caught the egg basket;
An' nary-ary a one of 'em broke.
Moon fin'lly stood with her head hangin' down,
Her sides were heavin' like bellers;
The old men were hoppin' around on the stoop,
Pa'd sure entertained them ole fellers.

Pa tied Moon up and we went on inside;
We made our best deal fer my ma;
He found a penny in his watch pocket..
That jawbreaker lasted 'til fall.
When we get home, Pa hands Ma her cash,
But neither one of us tells;
She'll go a lot easier on both of us
If she hears it from somebody else!

Spring 1999, Byrd Woodward  
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Byrd told us: This is the story of an adventure my Dad and I had when I was about three or four years old. We lived on a little bitty old place in Montour, Idaho and he and my mom and I were by ourselves.  Usually, we had one relative or another staying with us for one reason or another, mostly having to do with money or the lack of it.  CJ (Clifford Jordan) was my biological father and I remember this as a time when he was paying a lot of attention to me. he taught me to yodel (badly) and tried to teach me to play guitar or mouth harp or something (never happened).  It was almost like he and I had this tiny conspiracy going on...we did a lot of stuff we didn't want to have to explain to my mother.  It was a magical time in my life; a few years after that the folks divorced and I didn't see him much after that and never again when it was just the two of us. I have some very fond memories of him at that time and while we were on the ranch in Gardena. 

Byrd writes that this is "my father, Clifford Woodrow Jordan and me at eight months old.  I don't think this is 'Moon'; doesn't look spooky enough."

 


 

Transition



They got a real late start one fall
Bringin' the cows down home;
I heard it several days later,
I was grown with kids of my own.
Two of the old hands were workin'
With Grampa and Willard and Joe,
Crossin' the pavement above Cascade
Old Sonny fell hard in the snow.

Grampa's leg was broke in six places.
They set it all wrong the first time;
They had to take him to Boise
And start the whole business again.
Six months in a cast convinced him
He couldn't keep ranchin' no more;
The Valley went to a neighbor
And he sold the homeplace to Joe.

He turned sixty-five in the summer,
They bought a gas station in Sweet,
Lived in a little house next door
And they never conceded defeat.
They'd begun a brand new adventure,
Alone, just like at the first;
A snapshot shows the two of them.
New print dress, a sleeve-gartered shirt.

When the station got to be too much
They sold out and bought a place
Just north of town on a nice little crick
Where they could keep a cow and fish.
Grampa cared for his wife by himself
And he took to growin' fine roses;
Her blindness never did seem to vex him,
Put himself in her place, I suppose.

You'd never have known how much he missed
The ranch, the old days and all,
'Cause he lived every day in the present.
"No sense lookin' behind you a-tall."
Gramma died on my birthday in 'seventy one
Beside the man she'd loved all her life.
He was right there, holdin' the hand
Of the woman he called his "sweet wife."

He ordered two tombstones of granite.
One for him and one for his bride;
Then he put all his business in order,
Sat down in his chair and died.
He's been gone now since March of 'seventy-two,
And I've missed him every day since.
I pray to all of my Spirits
They're together now and at rest.

  10-21-97, Byrd Woodward  
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 





 

Goodbye to Friends

I never saw you without seein' them...
I can't guess how old they were;
Elmer was s'posed to be Gramma's dog,
You'd brought him home fer her.
But all they needed was to hear your step,
They'd be waitin' there by th' door,
Both of 'em with their tongues hangin' out,
Wonderin' what you'd be needin' 'em for.

You told me once that Bowser had taught
Elmer to be a cow dog;
But that mutt would of worked anything you
Pointed to...sheep, chicken or hog.
We watched 'em workin' the herd as one,
As the grass turned green in the spring,
Though they was two sep'rate critters...
Your voice was pullin' one string.

As you gathered up for th' work day,
Gramma an' me watched from the porch,
Carryin' yer noon meal in a cotton sack,
An' saddlin' up yer paint horse.
Them dogs would wait fer ya', steady an'
Patient as twin bumps on a log...
Then Gramma would turn to the kitchen
An' mutter, "There he goes with MY dog."

Of course the years fin'ly took their toll...
Time waits fer no man or beast,
They laid longer mornin's by the wood stove
Stretched out an' takin' their ease.
They both started stiff'nin' up in the cold,
Gained weight, their muzzles grew gray;
They'd take time off now and an' again,
And you'd put things off for a day.

You give 'em a boost up in the truck,
They'd wait, muscles all bunched to help;
One on each side of th' tailgate,
Longin' fer th' days they was whelps.
They was just like two little gray men
Workin' at not getting' old...
Neither of 'em wantin' to give it up,
Each still tryin' to pull his load.

Grampa fin'ly had 'em put down,
Side by side, on the same day...
Like they was still workin' cow dogs
Holdin' a rank Hereford at bay.
Me an' Gramma stood on th' porch
While Grampa drove over th' bridge;
Seems like those dogs are still runnin'
There...just over the ridge.

2001, Byrd Woodward 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 


Byrd writes: "This is a picture of my grandpa, Joseph Benjamin DeMasters and his dog, Bowser, at the high camp in Little Valley, Idaho."  

 

We asked Byrd about her inspiration for "Goodbye to Friends," which was a Lariat Laureate finalist, and she replied:

I think the poem, "Goodbye to Friends" speaks pretty well for itself in that the true story is there, the quality of the people, their character and the lifestyle of western folks on small ranches in the forties is made pretty clear.  One of the two, Bowser, could climb trees and Grampa made Prince Albert money betting on that dog for years. The only thing I'd like to add is to identify the people...they are my maternal grandparents, Joseph
Benjamin (called Ben) (b. 1886-d. 1973)  and Nellie Flora (Badley) DeMasters (called Flora) (b. 1887-d. 1972), who were among the finest folks I've ever known.  I thank them every day for the "how to live a life" gifts they gave me when I was young and even though I've sometimes failed to live up to their standards, they know that I've been doing my best.

 


 

Who is this Feller?

Who IS this feller my ma's brung home
An' what's he doin' out here?
Standin' in th' yard in his new Levi's
With hair stickin' outta his ears.
He shore don't look like much t' me
With his boots run down at th' heels..
If that's th' best hand she could find in town
She didn't make much of a deal.

See,  he's tilted' over to th' left...
Whoa! she's haulin' him up on th' porch!
"Hayes", says she, "these here's m' kids,
There's Byrdie an' Donald, of course.
An' this little 'un here is baby Ron...
Now, Ron! don't you tune up an' cry!
(He's carried on some since his Pa's
Been gone...an' I'm durned if I know why.")

Who IS this feller my ma's brung home?
They've got theirselves married up!
If that ain't th' dad-blamedest thing I've heard
Since th' devil in hell was a pup!
Ma says he's good as she's apt t' get.
In spite of th' squint in his eye;
If he's th' best then what th' heck
Did th' ones look like she passed by?

Well, he knows how t' shoe an' sets
A good seat when he's ridin' our big bay;
I ain't seen 'im run th' colts or th' calves
An' he's up at  th' first crack of day.
He don't seem to shirk th' dirty work
An' I ain't seen him showin' off much..
'Less you count grabbin' Ron on th' run
When he plumb near got hit by that truck.

He's been a-workin' hard on th' place,
Pretty much from sun-up 'til down.
He's fixed the roof an' nailed up th' shed
An' he brung a new pump out from town.
Donald an' him, their getting' along;
About as friendly as they can be..
I can tell what he's been warmin' up to
An' he best not try that on ME!

Who IS this feller my ma brung home?
He's been hangin' around now a year.
Ronnie don't cry when he picks 'im up;
Seems he shore has settled in here.
Me, I don't know what to call 'im..
Seems funny now just sayin'  'Hayes'.
Ma thinks we all ought to call 'im 'Pa'
Gram an' Gramp,  that's what they both say.

That feller an' ma was talkin' tonight..
I heard 'em when I was in bed;
Ma says, "I can make her straighten up!"
"She'll likely grow into it"s all that he said.
I laid there with my heart all fisted up;
My innards felt empty an' black;
I was missin' th' man that is my Pa...
But I reckon he ain't comin' back.

Who IS this feller my ma brung home?
The ranch is shore lookin' fine.
The wood pile's stacked plumb up to th' eaves,
An' th' whole place has took on a shine.
Hayes, he don't take much credit,
Says "that Byrd, she's shore a good hand!
Yestid'y she helped me set th' new posts.
Got done quicker than I ever planned."

Who IS this feller my ma brung home?
The derndest thing's happened now.
Don left th' gate open fer the fifteenth time,
An' I got run down by a cow.
I jist couldn't  keep from hollerin''..
I looked up through m' tears an' saw
That feller my ma brung home that day
...Th' one that I'd just called 'Pa'.

It's true he's gimpy on that one side,
But if you squint yer eyes it don't show;
His ears sticks out like dinner plates,
An' he keeps his hat pulled down low.
But you ask him now when we're in town
"Who's this bunch you got with you today?"
He'll grin, an' say, "Pard, this here's m' fam'ly!
I've growed into 'em, now, y' might say."

2001, Byrd Woodward 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 


The next four poems form a series


 

Born to the Breed

"A pinto!" my Gramma said with surprise.
Old Maggie must have stars in her eyes.
Her foals have been dark for th' last fifteen years;
She's waited 'til late to start shiftin' gears!"

Within two days Maggie lay dead on th' ground,
Her last foal stompin' and snortin' around
As if to say "Man, now look what you done..
We was getting' on fine until you come along".

Grandpa said, "Flora, that colt just won't feed",
"Don't fret now Ben, I know what he needs".
Down at th' corral she tried and she tried
Then fin'ly sat down on the bucket and cried.

Gramps said, "Sonny, you've got us both beat
It's up to you now, I can't make you eat"!
Th' colt danced around some, then made up his mind...
An' butted my Grampa right in the behind!

Ben grew closer to that colt than his boys..
Sons disappointed, but the horse was pure joy.
Ever day they'd be workin', just after dawn,
Next thing you'd know the mornin' was gone.

Ben's hands an' his friends laughed at his back..
Sayin' "Look, he's cow-hocked an' those hooves'll crack!"
They thought the man was pure wastin' his time
But soon that pony could turn on a dime.

Two years down th' road, they saw what he had...
Said, "Ben, I'd take that colt offa yer hands".
Gramps 'ud look up with a grin on his face.
"Ain't this here th' horse you called a disgrace?"

The two worked together as if they was one
Never quittin' until th' last dog was hung...
"There's one more steer down there in that brush",
Through snows an' sweat an' the alkali dust.

There are cowboys and horses out there today.
About only a few will you hear cowhands say,
"I'd ride into hell with that man an' his horse,
An' foller 'em up River Styx to it's source".

Grampa an' Sonny were both of that breed,
Westerners born into desperate need..
I'm proud to think I can measure up some
To either of them when th' day's work is done.

2001, Byrd Woodward 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 


Workin' Partners

I recall we was down at the auction.
That dude was watchin' you cut;
"I'll buy that horse from you, Sir", he declared,
"Here's a  thousand right on th' spot!"
Th' man musta thought you was crazy
As you shook yer lariat out,
'Cuz you laughed out loud, callin' to him
"I'll say no if  that's all you got."

From that day on Sonny was known
As Ben's 'thousand dollar' horse;
Th' story went all over Gem County,
Spreadin' an' gainin' new force.
Each re-tellin' only got better
Till it got down to Carl Deflores;
After that whenever you'd see him
He'd grin. and offer you more!

For years I'd watched you and Sonny
Workin' like one soul, not two.
You wouldn'ta been more insulted
If he'd offered to buy ME from you.
The thousand th' dude offered wasn't close
Fer that colt you'd raised up by hand.
It'ud take ever green apple God ever made
An' most of th' cash in th' land.

2001, Byrd Woodward 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Warriors from the Same Tribe

Grampa and Sonny were both getting old
Bringin' cows down off summer range,
They'd set out with th' boys pretty late in the fall
And the weather had started to change.

Crossin' 95 three times with the herd,
An' swimmin' the Payette as well,
Down the rock canyon the wild river'd cut.
Steep and slipp'ry as the trail into hell.

Sonny skidded hard on the ice and fell
With the old man's leg in between;
Riders who saw it said it was the worst
Horse wreck they ever had seen.

Sonny struggled to his feet and stood ground-reined,
He was bleedin' and fav'rin' an ankle;
But he stuck right there, protectin' the boss,
Who was downstream in that river of cattle.

           *********************

The folks an' th' horse left the ranch the same day,
Leg and ankle to hurt to recover;
To a little ten acre spread there in Sweet
With good fishin' and mighty deep clover.

Grampa'd go down at first light with the bridle
And jingle his horse to the fence;
They'd stand and visit,  like old friends will
'Bout the days when they both could still dance.

Sonny'd prod at the old man's pockets and sleeves
'Til he found hidden sugar or such;
Then he'd toss his head and snort like a colt!
Grandpa'd say, " Whoa now, old hoss, don't fuss".

The end came for both long years back in th' past
But I can see them so clear in my mind.
Sonny cuttin' rank range steers out of the herd,
Grampa swingin' his loop true and wide.

If a man can be judged by his work an' his word
An' a horse by his loyalty an' trust,
There've never been two truer souls on this earth..
Ash to ashes and dust into dust.


2001, Byrd Woodward 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Spirit Horse and Rider


Sonny was nearin' thirty years old,
Long in th' tooth an' near blind...
Comin' t' th' fence mornin's became a chore,
You could almost hear his joints grind.
He'd been th' best cow pony on th' range,
Grampa dreaded what had t' be done...
They spent more time in th' pasture together,
Both knowin' th' time would soon come.

Ben called up Willard an' Joe on th' phone,
Said "Boys, I'm needin' a hand.
I've got some diggin' that needs t' be done,
An' you know how quick I get fanned."
His sons drove on up Monday in pickups
With shovels an' tools in th' beds...
Both their faces were sorrowful an' grim,
They knew what was layin' ahead.

Down in the meadow, diggin' took half a day...
Then, both his boys offered to do it,
But Ben said no, it was his job alone...
He might jist as well git to it.
He scratched Sonny's ears, fed him an apple,
Curried an' brushed his pinto hide,
Stroked th' white handprint there on his left hip...
They longed for just one more ride.

Sonny wore th' fine horsehair hackamore
Ben braided long ago with his hands,
Th' old man checked th' paint's hooves and hocks
An' stroked th' old Cross J brand.
Then he walked t' th' house for his pistol,
Led Sonny alongside that grave...
An' shot that courageous horse in th' head,
Tears of grief scalded trails on his face.

Th' three of 'em shoveled th' dirt back,
Joe drove his truck across th' raw earth...
Grampa stood thinkin' 'bout old Maggie,
Who'd died givin' th' colt birth.
On still nights I can hear Sonny whicker,
Th' wild spirit within my soul thrills...'cuz
I know that my Granddad's still ridin'
His medicine horse up in th' hills.

2002, Byrd Woodward 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

This is a picture taken in 1945 of my Grampa DeMasters and his '$1000' cutting and roping horse, Sonny....you can't see the hand print on his hip....this was taken at the home place in Sweet, Idaho...it's the only photo I have of the two of them...it looks so much like him, with the roll-your-own hanging from the corner of his mouth and his bow legs..


 

A Man for All Seasons

My Pa drove off mad an' drunk fer good, when I was jist a kid...
Ma said "Good riddance to rubbish" an' that she was glad he did.
It was hard t' figger that one out, there was so much work t' do,
Th' place was a torn-apart puzzle an' my Pa had been th' glue.

It stands t' reason three little kids didn't make very good hands;
But we was there an' it seemed like nobody else gave a damn.
I was eight an' Donald was five an' Ronnie just a baby...
Ma said we could do it alone and she didn't mean 'maybe'.

I'd seen th' fights, the drunken jags... I knew what it was about,
Still a pa was someone kids like us could hardly do without.
I didn't blame either one of them, it was part of my young life...
Still, I knew we were all in trouble, no matter who was right.

I missed most of a whole school year, what with one thing an' another,
Us kids did th' best we knew but ya' should have seen my mother.
She derricked up th' loose hay, thankful th' late cut was so scant,
She worked 'way past tired, stumblin' on from 'can see t' can't'.

We'd had pretty darned close t' fifty head when my Pa lit out,
We sold in th' fall, everything we thought we could do without.
She forked hay on th' sled, broke th' ice an' fed th' horses an' cows,
Winter was bad, she slept in her clothes, an' did fer us kids somehow.

I cooked; oatmeal an' bacon, mostly, t' help her with that load;
Don looked out fer Ronnie in th' spring, while Ma an' me rode
Th' fences in diff'rent directions, hopin' we'd find none down,
So we could turn th' cows we had left out t' forage on their own.

Late spring, we was plump wore out when we heard racket in th' yard,
Buster was barkin' his head off, standin' his family's guard.
It was Gramps, my Pa's dad, lookin' like hell an' stinkin' of sheep
That he'd winter'd with down in Shoshone, arrivin' in his old heap.

We were sick in th' house with colds when he poked th' fire up flush,
Scrambled eggs, sang t' th' boys; Ma cried an' he told her t' hush.
"'Pears t' me, Kate, you could use a hand, though we ain't ever got on...
If we can stand each other a while, I'll see what needs t' be done."

An' God love his heart, we set to that day, me an' him alone,
Givin' Ma time t' gather up some an' spend a few hours on her own.
Gramps smelled bad an' his red handles drooped down in th' rear;
He drank whiskey an' thought water, on him, was somethin' t' fear.

"Too much bathin'll weaken ya," he'd claim jist t' git Ma's goat,
"An' you all got t' remember, I ain't never learnt how t' float."
He seemed like an angel to us kids, spesh'ly t' me an' Don;
He'd whinney an' buck just like a horse down on th' floor with Ron.

We ate turnips an' taters out of th' garden... then we swore
It musta been rabbits that got 'em, then went an' ate some more.
We climbed rafters t' see baby swallers, slept outside on th' porch,
Went on adventures in th' dark, lightin' our way with a torch.

Best of all, he gave us time to figger out how t' keep th' ranch,
Th' place still looked like a gypsy camp, but Gramps gave us a chance.
He stayed on day after day, chousin' steers up outta th' draws,
Scratchin' his rump, turnin' air blue, fartin' an' spittin' his chaw.

He an' Ma spatted like two cats, each claimin' space in th' barn;
He' pester an' plague her, hide scissors an' tangle up her yarn.
He told th' best stories, played banjo an' wrote good cowboy poems,
He fixed his bald spot by layin' long gray hairs 'cross th' top with his comb.

I trusted ever word he told me about crossin' th' plains at age eight,
Th' Cheyenne had scalped him..."that's why there's no hair on my pate.
We'll set some nail holes, plant horse's tail hair, manure an' water it good,
By spring we should have me a new crop!"...an' I believed we would.

Came th' day ma found her a man I didn't think much of at first,
They married an' I found out we coulda done a lot worse.
Gramps would be leavin' us, sayin' the ranch only needed one boss;
I went numb when I heard it, sure I couldn't bear such a loss.

Th' day he left out, after three years, I cried an' begged him t' stay;
I couldn't imagine doin' without th' man who'd taught me to play.
He kissed my head an' whispered, "Honey, I ain't goin' that far..."
I only saw him once more in my life, wavin' to me from a car.

2001, Byrd Woodward
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


 


Byrd Woodward (center) with her grandfather 
Chester Warren Jordan (left) and her 
father, Clifford Woodrow Jordan


 

 

You can read more of Lariat Laureate runner up 
Byrd Woodward's poetry here.

 

 

 

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