Honored Guest
Dennis Gaines

Featured in "The Big Roundup," an anthology of the best of CowboyPoetry.com.

About Dennis Gaines
Poems
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Contacting Dennis Gaines

Dennis Gaines, photo courtesy Jim Fish of The Texas Cowboy Gazette

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This is page 2

Poems below:

To a Friend
A Saddle and a Dream
The Journey of Three-Fingered Jake
The Centaur's Better Half
Windies
Pardners

 

See page 1 for:

About Dennis Gaines
Book and Recordings
Contacting Dennis Gaines

Additional poems on page 1:

Bungee Buckaroo
Trouble's a Bruin
A Different Point of View
Ty Murray, Eat Your Heart Out
A Life Well Lived
The Spandex Cowboy

 

 

Poems

To a Friend
A Saddle and a Dream
The Journey of Three-Fingered Jake
The Centaur
Windies
Pardners

 

 

TO A FRIEND

  My trail is not that of the common herd;
  My dream is a story untold.
  A vain quest, perhaps, for a feeling, a word;
  This, friend, is my silver and gold.

  Far from the crush and the maddening throng,
  My burdens I carry alone.
  Mayhap I shall leave you an undying song
  Or the rude, common words on a stone.

  The troublesome cares of hearth and home
  Extend not a welcome to me.
  My tablet, my bed is the range that I roam
  And anonymous lands o'er the sea.

  The creak of the saddle, the roll of the ships;
  My writings are scribbled in sand.
  Unknown to me are childish lips
  Or the strength in a good woman's hand.

  My signposts read always "Tomorrow,"
  Though, truly, I seek yesterday.
  But what time is not mortgaged, we borrow
  And pray that we never repay.

  And yet, through the smoke of my wanderings
  And the arching of memories through years,
  Through a thousand forgettable ponderings,
  The triumphs have blotted the tears.

  For whenever my hoof-prints weave and wend
  To the sun-streaked horizon's rim,
  I'll remember the warmth and the smile of a friend,
  As the tracks of my passing grow dim.

  © October 20, 1990, Dennis Gaines
  This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 

 

A Saddle and a Dream

Men in hard, solitary occupations sometimes must face cold, harsh realities.
A drifting puncher is no exception.


You thought that you might hold me, but who can seize the wind
Or halt the sun that sweeps from east to west?
Your soothing charms and silken arms once held me back from sin,
But that rambling demon spurred me, and I could not stop or rest.
So I trod upon your heart, and I rode out of your life,
For I would play the hero's part, with no need for a wife.

I flaunted youthful, boastful pride; I was so strong and sure,
But the closing of the curtain's not the ending of the show.
Why should you be the one to cry? Your motives were so pure,
While I, the selfish dreamer, turned to go.
And the gypsy sails the open road, but does not heed the wreckage left behind,
While those who love him pull the load and pray that he'll not always he so blind.

Deceit and guilt, those illicit lovers, walk ever hand-in-hand,
And my wandering ways weren't all that made me leave.
I swore my time had not yet come to wear one woman's brand,
And so I left you there to mourn and grieve.
I place no guilt upon your brow, but more's the shame, I know I blamed you then.
Yet wiser with the passing years and greatly sadder now, I'd love to hold you near and make amends.

Don't think that I was not content when you were by my side;
You gave to me your woman's love, but held me not in debt.
And through the years I've wished I could erase the day you cried,
But this fool once scorned an angel's faith to play a losing bet.
Oh, it's cruel, darlin', cruel, when your lover makes you weep,
And haunts your every waking thought and calls you in your sleep.

How often I have dreamed, my dear, that I might win you back;
I know that you forgave me long ago,
But a harsher mistress lures me with an aphrodisiac
That smells of sage and leather in a world you cannot know.
Oh, the Gordian paths our lives must take, not knowing where they lead.
Is the right road wrong, or the left a mistake? How many hearts must bleed?

There were no hobbles holding me; I took the gambler's chance,
But a man can't know his master 'til the bastard knocks him down.
For some men it's the rimrock king, for some the bronco's dance -
Or a picture in the paper with the mail from his hometown.
You were so lovely, sweet and rare, seraphic gown of white,
And my memories took me back to where I held you in the night.

But your husband holds you tightly now; ah, there is Fortune's child!
And I pray that he is wiser far than I.
True happiness I wished for you and through the tears I smiled,
Then stepped into the night and screamed my anguish to the sky.
I cursed the moon as one gone mad, but gave the Lord His due,
And thanked Him for the time I had in Heaven here with you.

The days are growing shorter while the empty nights grow long,
And I pray that Time will ease the constant pain.
But the clouds will not be lifted with the singing of my song,
And I know I'll never see your face again.
The losing of you strikes me hard; I'm less a man by half.
The Joker's played his final card and now's the time to laugh.
Small comfort in the knowing that your life is milk and cream,
When all I have for showing is . . . a saddle and a dream.


© May 20, 1990, Dennis Gaines
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 

 



The Journey of Three-Fingered Jake


Disillusioned, disappointed, and despairing though my climb has just begun.
Dream-dead and dissipated, but determined not to plod when I can run.
The blacktop beckons ever on, its sinuous seductions tempting me with vulgar verse,
While the pot o'gold I hope to find is less and less a blessing, more a curse.

Youth and strength will win the prize,
Yet in truth I realize
That I'm just a voiceless victim of a spell.
Seeking trails that others spurn,
Though I've finally come to learn
That I'll always be a rabbit racing from the Hounds of Hell.
Swearing softly in the night,
Striving to the horrid heights
On tip-toes like a giddy gandy-dancer.
Living always by the sword,
Wasting years I can't afford,
Searching, ever searching for an answer.

What I seek I cannot find, what I need cannot acquire,
Though my hands be scorched and blackened from returning to the fire.
Reconciled to pain and loneliness, my humble hopes I share with kindred souls,
But the siren song is sultry cruel, and those who hear it pay the highest toll.

But self-pity is derailed,
I forget just how I've failed
When I spy the figure standing in the rain.
Just a wretched, shambling wreck,
An inconsequential speck,
And I'm reminded of the words of Cain:
"Am I my brother's keeper?"
Ah, but misery loves company, (or so the wise men say),
And though my heart be hardened
And my crimes may go unpardoned,
Yet I'll offer harbor to a hapless castaway.

Bleary-eyed and snaggle-toothed, his hocks all bent and bowed, a battered Stetson wet
     and drooping low;
The Fish brand slicker that he wore had died a painful death, and it shed its final raindrop
     years ago.

A war-bag and a bedroll of a disreputed green, and a Miles City kack worn paper-thin;
He tossed his tack into the truck, but never met my eye, and with a weary nod 
     he clambered in.

Here was a friend to solitude,
But a stranger sure to gratitude;
No name or thanks he offered up to me.
Not a word was spoken,
And the silence was unbroken,
But he stared afar with eyes that seemed to see
Only grief for him ahead,
Joy and glory past and dead,
And I was at a loss to take his measure.
Then suddenly he spoke,
In a voice more like a croak,
"This road will never lead you to the treasure."

Then I noticed hungry eyes beseeching at the flask, whose deceiving spirits were my only
     friends,
And I handed him the bottle, which he took in trembling hand, with stubs where thumb and finger
     once had been.
He pulled it slow and drained it low, his burning thirst to slake,
And here is the tale that was told to me by the man, Three-Fingered Jake:

"Stare at me now and shudder cold, for I was once like you,
A fool with a dream, and damn my soul, the cursed dream came true.
Young and wild, with the bilin' blood and a thirst for new horizons;
Then a prospect man in a game of stud slipped me the fateful pizen.

"I'd topped his flush with treys over jacks, and I knew his poke was tapped,
But he bade me, 'Hush, I'll fetch my pack and show what I have mapped.
I'm tired and old, my wind is broke, and I'll soon take a home in the skies.
You're tough and bold, and with one sure stroke you can snare the grandest
prize.'

"A parchment he drew from a pouch of skin and spread upon the table,
And I stifled the sneer of a skeptic grin as well as I was able.
'Here,' he said, 'through the keyhole slot at the source of the rainbow
steam.
Journey there, and doubt me not, and live your sweetest dreams.'

"Then a taloned finger shot a dart and pierced me with the warning:
'Don't linger there, if black your heart, or you'll rue your day of borning.'
He'd cast his spell, may he burn in the pit, and I ordered a round for the boys,
And we drank to Hell for the Hell of it, and to Heaven's unlimited joys.

"Soon the festering town grew tighter still and we'd satisfied our cravings,
And me and my pardner, ol' Spider Bill, left the whorehouse angels waving.
Freebooters were we, of the restless kind, and we harbored no illusions,
But we tightened our girths and set out to find the prospect-man's delusion.

"A grub-line rider named Poke Lebec said 'It sounds like sport to me.'
Then Billy the Spider said, 'Well, by heck, let's wrangle up Tutt McGee.'
A crew with the hair on, and I was the chief, for I had the map to the mine,
But from that moment thereon was misery and grief, in Nineteen and Forty-Nine.

"Our fortune awaited in Mexico land, where the peasants commune with the dead.
We sated our thirsts in the Rio Grande and boldly we forged ahead.
Where the Rio Conchos flowed south, then west, and turned again to the south,
Then the dust and the drought and the sun in its turn made our tongues swell up
     in our mouths.

"The pebbles we sucked to raise the spit rattled like bones in a crypt,
And we cursed our luck and raved in fits 'til our clothes and skins were ripped.
Our horses went blind in the desert sand and paid no heed to the prod,
And the gold we would find in that pitiless land was a gift of the Devil, not God.

"By night we marched, by day we parched our brains in the baking sun,
While delirium danced in a treacherous trance, and, oh, it was wickedly fun!
Our pardner Poke was the first to go (here shivered the man named Jake).
A damn poor joke that laid him low, when he tried to romance a snake.

"'Come dance with me, ma chere ami,' he sang as we gaped in dread,
And the snake wound 'round and 'round his arm and waved its ghastly head.
Then driving deep those deadly fangs into the madman's throat,
While Poke Lebec gripped tighter and he sang as if to gloat:
'She kissed me, oh, she loves me, boys, I'm luckier far than you.'
As the venom drained into his veins, his dying words rang true.
For his head swelled up and I shelled up to blast his brains to mush,
But he died with a grin and we paid for our sins, where Satan had stroked his brush.

"We killed his horse and sprinkled the earth with its blood and drank it hot,
Then we stumbled on through the dusty flood and boiled like beef in a pot.
And then, a mirage, but no, 'twas true, a waterhole greeted our eyes.
The horses reared up when they smelled the brew and raced for the welcome prize!

"We plunged to the waist and dove for the taste of life on dying lips.
Then I stared at Bill; he was green to the gills and the water was rank with gyp!
Our horses we whipped, with bullets we clipped their ears 'til we fought them free,
But in horror we found, when we turned around, that we couldn't save Tutt McGee.

"He'd drank and he'd drank 'til the waterhole shrank and his belly was bloated and sore,
Then he stood us off with a loaded Colt and he drank and he drank some more.
His eyes burned bright with a crazy gleam; dear God, they haunt me still!
And he swore if a man should stop him now, that was the man he would kill.

"Do you know what I mean, boy, have you seen a man gone bad on the gyp?
It rots his mind and burns him blind 'til the froth foams up on his lip.
That's when Tutt shot a hole in his gut, to quench the pain, no doubt,
And he ranted and raved to a shallow grave where the badgers and skunks dug him out.

"We turned our backs and staggered on, to this day I don't know how,
And if not for the freak of a blessed rain, I wouldn't be telling this now.
We filled our hats and drank from our boots and wallered like hogs in the mud,
And God never heard greater praise from men since Noah survived the Flood.

"Weary and wan and weak were we, and we slept 'til the golden dawn,
Then we hoisted a cup to Lebec and McGee and silently carried on.
But the world turned upside-down, it seemed, and the sun rose up in the south,
And I feared I was trapped in a drunkard's dream when these words spilled
            out of my mouth:
'It's a vicey-versey map,' says I, 'Bill, do you ken what I mean?
Nothing is right and nothing is wrong, but all of it's in-between.
We've travelled up and back and around, and we've doubled the trails we crossed.
Bill, my friend, I am sad to say, we are utterly, totally lost!'

"We laughed at that (for what good is a curse?), and neither one wanted to cry,
But I promised to gut the prospect-man, and worse, but he surely would die.
We cast our horses' heads to the breeze, for they were as lost as we.
Just castaways on the desert seas, Spider Billy and me.

"Even now in the night I cower in fright when I think of the time that we spent.
The days and the weeks, crossing valleys and peaks, and every direction we went
Seemed to turn us around, 'til we circled to ground and killed our horses for meat.
Our boots were worn and our feet were torn, and Death would have tasted sweet.

"A cave was our home, with a nest of rats which we slew with the glee of the child,
And we roasted them all, the thins and the fats, and lived like the beasts of the wild.
Our bullets were gone and our saddles we gnawed out of hunger and craving the salt,
And deep in the night, when the fear-friends clawed, I cried, 'Billy, it's all my fault.

"But a life may follow a crafted plan or the midnight words in a dream,
And I heard the voice of the prospect-man, 'The source of the rainbow steam.'
'Bill,' I cried as I shot upright and clawed at the arm of my friend.
His eyes flew wide with a dreadful fright; 'Tell me, Jake, is this the end?'

"'No, Bill, my friend, though we've suffered long, with our heads hung low to the ground.
Scorn us for fools, we were wrong, we were wrong; Bill, look to the sky around!
Look to the hills and the shimmering stream, lit by the moon and the stars.
It's the colored fire of the rainbow steam, glimmering from afar!'

"Often and often I think of the rush, where no human had scratched a trail,
Torn by the thorns and the rocks and the brush, to capture our Holy Grail.
Ravaged and bleeding, two pitiful scarecrows whom Folly had bought and sold,
'Twas food we were needing; in truth, I fear the thing that we craved was Gold!

"Brand me a liar, but never a deist, though I sang to the Lord Almighty,
For those garlands of fire, alive in the mist, were a necklace for Aphrodite.
Fluorescent stones and a bubbling spring that washed o'er the glistening sands,
And I've never known, though I've seen many things, how Evil could look so grand.

"The lust and the greed for things we don't need have tainted the heart of the knave,
While the hunger and fear on the long trail of tears have twisted the mind of the brave.
Which one was I? I won't know 'til I die, but I turned as I drew my knife, 
And the horror remains, burned deep in my brain, of how I took Spider Bill's life.

"'No, Jake,' he cried, and his eyes grew wide when he recognized my intent.
But my only aim, to my great shame, was to slit the throat of the gent.
He stumbled and staggered and fumbled his dagger, and I fell upon him like a Fury.
Then I spilled on the sand Bill's blood on my hands, as God is my judge and jury.

"I hacked and I slashed with no thought for his pain or the deal with the Devil I'd made,
And I opened him wide from brisket to crotch and his life spilled out on my blade.
And this thumb and finger are what Bill took, but I'll not begrudge him the cost.
He was the man who died that day, but I was the one who lost.

"The purple and green of the rainbow steam flew circles around the red,
While the yellows and blues and dying screams ran 'round and through my head.
'The keyhole slot,' said the prospect-man, the pass to the treasure door,
Where the golden chunks run ten to the pan and the rocks are rotten with ore.

"I twisted a torch of the greasewood stalks and set it ablaze to see
The foul, dead things and the spirits that walk, though they held no dread for me.
I was burned blind by the fire in my breast as I passed from this world we know,
And little I knew and less I had guessed what awaited me long ago.

"Madly I sang and wildly I groped and scrabbled away at the walls.
'Oh, I'll snare my love with a golden rope and she'll be the belle of the ball.'
How long did I wander, was it hours or days? The glass was draining of sand.
No gold to be found in that netherworld maze, as the torch burned down in my hand.

"Deeper and deeper I delved in the dark, 'til I felt the living flesh burn,
But I nurtured the wick to a flickering spark, and then there was nowhere to turn.
And a prospect-man in a faraway land was the only one left who could tell,
But he laughed and laughed when I dropped the brand; then I fell and I fell and I fell.

"How long I fell I could not tell, but the bottomless pit has an end,
And surely I slept while the angels wept for the man who had been my friend.
I awoke to a scene of waving green and the music of herds as they pass,
Bloodied and bruised, wrecked and abused, but alive on a sea of grass.

"But where was I, and what could I do with the strength leached out of my bones?
Then it caught my eye and it swiftly grew: a horseman riding alone.
My plight must have seemed a merry joke to this gentleman sitting on high.
He reined 'er in and rolled a smoke and said, 'Son, you'd have to get better to die.'

"A low-crowned hat, turned up in the front, and Chihuahua spurs on his heels,
Thin as a slat, with a walrus mustache and eyes as sharp as steel.
An A-fork saddle with a flat cantleboard on a bronc of the Spanish strain,
And Longhorn cattle, the wild, proud breed, covered miles of the open plain.

"Mighty strange, his rig and his duds I'd seen only in photographs,
And this virgin range I'd heard storied and praised, but only in epitaphs.
My words came hard. 'What is this place?', and my voice quavered high and keen.
'Why, it's Texas, pard, 1869, and we're goin' to Abilene.'

"Oh, God, dear God, sweet mother of mine, the prospect-man was square!
I laughed as the chills ran up my spine and I leaped straight up in the air.
This was the dream I had wanted and craved, and I swore that I would not fail,
And I cared not a whit how I danced and I raved, I would prove myself on the trail.

"My savior's name was Soapy Sims and he rode for the Lazy Eight herd,
And the story of how I came to him would surely be thought absurd.
'Injuns, perhaps, or banditos,' they thought; I was cause for much dissertation.
'Crazy,' mayhap, but it mattered naught; I encouraged their speculation.

"They bound my wounds and nursed me to health as we drifted to San Antone,
And the prize I had won exceeded the wealth of any king perched on a throne.
They bought me a kack and some riggin's there they charged to the company line,
And I went up the trail in the clear, sweet air in the spring of '69.

"Oh, glorious, boy, it was glorious, there was the place to be!
We were free and alive and uproarious. Oh, that was the world for me!
Three thousand steers strung out like pearls, with the sun streaming off of their hides.
Keep your towns and your painted girls, but give me a horse to ride!

"I stood tall and I fought them all, the rivers and Injuns and beasts.
I rode with the kings, slew giants with slings and glutted myself at the feast.
The jests and the joys, the perils and ploys; I fought the magnificent fight,
But I couldn't win my battle with sin or the voices that carne in the night.

"I was pulling my turn on the graveyard shift, a damned appropriate name
For a felon like me, unbranded, true, but stained with the blood of my shame.
A zephyrous breath blew out of the sky and I huddled against the chill.
Then I heard the voices of Poke and McGee, but the worst of them all was Bill.

"'Jake,' he sighed. 'Not me,' I lied. 'Jake, I was straight and true.
You rolled the dice, now you'll pay the price. Jake, I'm coming for you.'
A floating stump of a finger made me jump but I could not flee.
It began to glow and clear and slow it scribed these words for me:
'Black of heart, black of heart, you'll rue your day of borning,'
And stark and grim there came to me the long-forgotten warning.
I palmed my Colt and the bullets flew as the finger danced away.
The herd was up and the leaders broke and the time had come to pray.

"We rode on the wave like liquored braves, did Soapy Sims and me,
He for the steers, me from my fears, though the ground we could not see.
A moonbeam struck, and damn the luck, the Longhorns laid him low,
And he cursed the gloom that spelled his doom, so very long ago.

"Blood on my hands, blood on my heart; I fled from my phantoms and ghosts,
But I made a stand and took my part to stem the rushing host.
On they ran and wrecked the camp where the punchers had briefly lain,
And I prayed every man, whether saint or scamp, had fled upon the plain.

"Long I rode, and I grieved and I cried, though I knew I could never atone
For the men who had followed and suffered and died, so the buzzards could pick their bones.
I circled the herd in a moiling mill by the crimson light of dawn,
And skylighted there on a distant hill were the men I had feared were gone!

"Benevolent fates or a cosmic whim had played a hand this time,
But the tragic end of Soapy Sims was added to my crimes.
I ran so fast I lost the race, but we reap the seeds we sow.
I failed, I failed, I fell from grace, and it was time to go.

"North I rode and north I strode when my horse could move no more.
I left him lay and walked away toward the river shore
To wash my sins abhorrent in the swift and swollen torrent of the Red.
Without a backward glance, bid farewell to romance as the raging waters
closed around my head.

"What forces I stirred and what transpired I do not care or know,
But I opened my eyes by a goatherd's fire, far away in Old Mexico.
The old campesino regarded my state with a solemn air of amusement,
While I lay there and pondered my fate, lost in my own bemusement.

"In that arid land my clothes were damp, with no water for miles around,
And there I sat in a goatherd's camp, where burning sticks made the only sound.
'So,' he spoke, 'you have seen what lies beyond the mystic door.'
Then the bare hills echoed my mournful cries, and the old man spoke no more.

"With the aid of this silent Samaritan I made my way to a town.
I had risen so high, he could see in my eye, and so far I had fallen down.
I pawned my gun for a railroad run, it was all that I had of worth,
And I yearned for the trail on the iron-horse rail all the way to the land of my birth.

"So I have roamed these forty years and still I ramble on,
My hope of a home or a woman to love, forever and ever gone.
But the greatest cost I have ever paid in this life of long travail
Is honor lost and good men dead, and my shame on the Chisholm Trail."

This was the story told to me by the man known as Three-Fingered Jake,
A tale of glory, of bold men and free, and the risks they will ever take.
I drove through the rain as he buried his head in his slicker and drifted away.
I felt for his pain, and these words he said were the last words I heard him say:

"Mother, tell me the story, please, of the mermaids that live in the lake.
Dead in the war, my brother Tom? How much should a man have to take?
I'm coming, Pa, I'm on my way. Oh, Pa, he's a beautiful horse!
Ginny, dear, there's no one else. Do I love you? Well, yes, of course."

Now Jake slumbers deep in a pauper's hole where the county has paid his freight.
They auctioned his tack to pay for the box, and some of it went to the state.
But a priceless piece I slipped from his bag before he went under the sod,
And no one knows that I have the map, but you and me and God.


© May 20, 1990, Dennis Gaines 
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 

 

The Centaur's Better Half

I have thrilled with desperate fear to your panic and your rage,
And revelled in your frolic on a frosty winter morn.
I've smelled the stench of terror like a fox trapped in a cage,
When you've plunged from heights through rock and rough with self-destructive scorn.

You have taken me to secret worlds I would not dare alone,
Where wild kings rule and the timid turn to flee.
Eye-to-eye we've faced the brute and challenged for the throne,
And if we've faltered here and there, the blame must go to me.

We've torn our holes through fortress brush and paid the price in blood,
While the sting of sleet and sand and thorns I've cursed.
You've borne me through the sucking bog and swam the cresting flood,
And seen me safely homeward through delirium and thirst.

Your strength and speed you give to me when mine will not suffice,
And there's magic in your elegance and grace.
We've stacked the chips and risked them all on one throw of the dice,
And win or lose, it matters not; the glory's in the race.

You have lifted me above the plane of ordinary men;
From your back I've watched Life's grand parade unwind.
We've partaken of a feast beyond the common mortal's ken;
My destiny and yours are intertwined.

"Centaur of the Plains," some say; I smile and tip my hat.
It pleases me to strike that mythic chord.
Afoot I'm just a man, it's true, and a poor excuse at that,
But mounted I'm a monarch far above the teeming horde.

What man of heart and soul could see a horse and then deny
The existence of a God who gave us birth?
Atheists and skeptics may declare it all a lie,
But I've found a piece of Heaven here on Earth.

For I've coursed the virgin valleys that most eyes have never seen,
And crested hills to greet the dawn while townsmen lay a-bed.
My land is grand and glorious in a world that's small and mean,
And you, my friend, have saved me from that place of sin and dread.

Where men of false nobility pursue their base desires,
And piety and virtue are a crumbling, cracked facade.
While some may feed on hate and greed 'round paganistic fires,
From your back I've kissed the prairie wind and touched the face of God.

Though wealth and fame elude my grasp, I count myself as blessed,
And I pray I'll keep your confidence and trust.
A worthy thing it is that man should strive to do his best,
And the lesson I have learned from you is that I can, and must.

True dignity and courage are the virtues you possess,
And I envy you those attributes, my friend.
For though we strive to lofty goals, in truth I must confess
That self-respect is all that really matters in the end.

I know a day will come too soon the strength will leave my limbs,
Through age or cruel infirmity or everlasting sleep.
The Centaur then will trod no more the trails grown faint and dim,
And on that day -- on that day will I weep.

But 'til that day I'll have no need for salty, futile tears;
We'll reap the wheat and cast away the chaff.
While others seek false prophets through their bitter, wasted years,
I've found my truth and purpose on the Centaur's better half.

© November, 1993, Dennis Gaines 
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 


Windies

Cowboys come and cowboys go, but stories are eternal.
Some are wild and some are sad and some downright infernal.
So stack yer poke and lay yer bets; when cowboys get together
The pow-wow turns to cows and gals and hosses and . . . the weather.

"Wind?" says Amarillo Slim, "I'll give ya wind, my lads.
That wind in Western Texas makes me petrifyin' sad.
I've nailed my duds and riggins on with staples, pins and tacks,
'Cause it blows yer bloomin' underwear around from front to back.

"The spiders in the bunkhouse hunker down inside the boots,
And fellers packin' pistols has to watch the way they shoots.
'Cause bullets fired against the wind can take ya by surprise
When they stops and turns around and hits ya square between the eyes.

"You're bound to lose yer shadow 'less ya stake it to the grass.
If ya eat yer beans in Lubbock, folks in Dallas smell the gas.
And we drive our cattle backwards on the prairie and the plain,
'Cause we lose at least a mile or two for every one we gain.

"Calvin' ain't no chore a-tall -- a cow just gaps her mouth,
Then turns her face into the north and blasts the booger south!
The calves are born with hair inside; it seems a mortal sin,
But the breeze will blow 'em inside out and turn the outside in."

"I don't give a hoot about yer wind, but pardner, I've been cold."
The gent who spoke was Powder Pete, a rider tough and bold.
"Back home a new-born baby comes into the birthin' room
A-wearin' wooly underwear before it leaves the womb.

"I've shivered, shook and swore I've died from dusk 'til dawn's a-bornin'.
It takes three days of sun to thaw the dark out every mornin'.
A man will swear he's deaf and dumb; he cannot hear a thing.
But, Lordy, what a ruckus when the words melt in the Spring!

"A cracklin' fire's a memory; the flames just freeze up tight.
I've hacked 'em up with knife and ax and tugged with all my might.
Ya toss 'em in a frozen crick, they bounce and melt right through.
When they hit the water down below, them flames are good as new.

"Lightnin' bolts are too dang slow when Winter rules the roost.
We break 'em off and save 'em for when cattle needs a boost.
When Springtime hits the frigid North to slowly green the sod,
Them gently-thawin' thunderbolts make dandy cattle-prods!"

"Wind and cold are misery," ol' Sandy Billy said,
"But I've seen it so dang dry the trees would chase the dogs instead.
When I was just a button, Daddy tossed me in the crick,
Not to learn me how to swim, but pick the fish for ticks!

"We had a water-barrel for to haul the stuff from town.
Sometimes I'd catch a fish and chunk it in to watch it drown.
I've seen a single raindrop knock a cowboy to the ground.
It took two pails of dust and sand to bring that rider 'round!

"Bullfrogs live in hollow trees and ducks swim in the rocks;
There ain't no grub for sheep or goats, but turtles swarm in flocks.
It rained for forty days and nights before ol' Noah died.
I heard we got a quarter-inch, but likely someone lied.

"Cows give powdered milk and thrive on cactus pads and pear,
And windmills in that country fill the tubs with sparklin' air.
Ol' Satan come up from his hole to look around a spell;
He rolled his chaw and spat and said, "It's too dang dry for Hell."

"Actions breed reactions, boys, and opposites abound."
Cajun Beau from Bayou Teche stood up to hold his ground.
"I've been so wet I knew the fish and gators all by name.
Cows developed fins and gills, and hosses done the same.

"I've seen rain to fill a barrel in a minute, bless my soul,
And might'a filled it quicker, but the keg was full of holes!
I've seen mud so deep it bogged a flyin' buzzard's shadow down;
A light-foot mouse could skin right up atop the buzzard's crown!

"I've dove to grease a windmill on the driest summer days;
Wore a scuba mask and flippers just to fight a prairie blaze.
Outlaw cows and bulls brush up with yeller catfish, too.
We hang our loops on trotlines and just chouse the varmints through.

"Our hosses don't wear bridles; we just rig 'em up with sails.
A cuttin' hoss can work a herd of cows or pod of whales.
We call the Cookie 'Cap'n', 'cause the biscuit-rollin' scamp
Rigs a triple-masted schooner when we break and move the camp."

Ol' Cookie's ears shot up and he said, "Thank ya very much.
I know about yer wind and drought and cold and rain and such.
Pardon me the reference, but I'd like to stir the pot
And tell a simple tale or two of when the times was hot.

"It was out in Arizony down by Douglas in the fall.
In the Summertime there ain't no critters livin' there a-tall.
When a Gily monster rustled into camp I thought to kill it,
But I let 'im crawl into the fire and shade up 'neath the skillet.

"The coffee beans was bilin' in a pot with nary water.
Lucifer would call for ice, 'cause Arizony's hotter
Than his realm of fire and sulfur in the netherworld below.
I loaded up the wagon and I hitched the mules to go.

"A four-up team of Belgian mules was steppin' high and fine.
I'm prouder than a two-tailed pup to see 'em on the line.
'Twas then I spied, upon my soul, a field of roastin' ears.
That corn was poppin' off the cob for all the world to hear!

"It was hock-deep on them hard-tails when we stopped to watch the show.
Them spankin' mules of mine has done convinced themselves it's snow.
'Cause they all begun to shiver, boys (here Cookie caught his breath).
Lordy, it was so dang hot my mules froze plumb to death!"

And so the windy tales are told in bars and camps at night,
While the bull-fire burns to ashes or the lamp is shinin' bright.
Though his epic odes and sagas may be void of class or couth,
A cowboy never lies, my friend -- he just improves the truth!

© April 15, 1991, Dennis Gaines 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 

 

Pardners

There is an old saying that states that every cowboy in his lifetime is
entitled to one good horse, one good dog, and one good woman. To that list
of worthy entitlements I would like to add - one good friend.

I' God, Bill, you're lookin' prosperous in your bran' new Sunday suit;
Fancy leather on your trotters an' a beaver hat, to boot.
An' I see you haven't pushed yourself away from any meals,
But son, you always took a hand when Cookie cut the deal.

Wasn't that a dandy service? Makes a feller kinda ponder
'Bout the things he takes for granted an' what it might be like up yonder.
But, say, sittin' on clouds an' playin' harps couldn't beat the things we done.
Two better pardners never lived, nor made a wilder run.

I reckon we chased a million tails of critters rank an' tame.
Sometimes we won an' sometimes failed, but, Lord, we played the game!
It takes a heap o' horsetracks to wear the rowels out of your shanks,
But we burned up more than I can count, ridin' point an' drags an' flanks.

Guess we drunk from every river from the Pampas to the Pole,
An' from muddy tracks an' mountain streams an' gyppy water holes.
But then we cut the rotten stuff with whiskey by the glass,
Stomped the boards an' twirled the girls an' pinched 'em on the . . . cheek.

Two years or more, I reckon, since I've seen ya, my good friend,
An' to say I didn't miss ya is a lie I can't pretend.
Though yer rawhide mug won't never win no kind of beauty prize,
I'll tell ya true, ol' pardner, that it's music to my eyes.

Them telephones an' letters make a sorry substitute,
Like strappin' plastic spurs upon a fancy, custom boot.
What we got is gen-u-wine, an' I recollect you said
You wouldn't trade our friendship for a million-acre spread.

I reckon I've known ya, Billy boy, for nigh on fifty years,
From cryin' in our mama's arms to cryin' in our beers.
We run an' wrecked an' rodeoed an' rambled all our lives.
Why, we even had to choose between each other an' our wives!

You stood beside me when I took Miss Molly for my bride.
I thought I seen your eyes was wet; I figger it was pride.
An' when you took the bit an' married lovely Emmy Lou,
You didn't even have to ask; I done the same for you.

Got your family all around. My Lord, you must be proud!
Mine an' yours together, don't they make a shiny crowd?
My oldest, that I named for you, an' Miss Molly, they near died
Before the boy was born on the night you made your ride.

That blizzard blocked the roads an' pulled the telephone lines down.
It was thirty miles of howlin' Hell a-horseback into town.
Ol' Doc, he told ya "Come right in, son. Sit down where it's warm."
But you grabbed 'im by the collar an' you drug 'im through the storm.

The towafolks called ya loco when ya trotted down the street;
Two fresh horses, but the tracks were gone, you couldn't see ten feet.
With them angels ridin' double, Bill, you made a hand that night,
An' Miss Molly an' the baby lived to see the mornin' light.

I never could repay ya, Bill, but then, you'd never ask;
Two friends like us would toe the mark no matter what the task.
Our friendship's like a chain we forged, one link at a time.
Heck, if I was a poet, son, I'd put it down in rhyme!

I never had to look around to see just where ya stood
When trouble wore my saddle, an' when things weren't lookin' good.
You were always there beside me, Bill, backin' every play,
An' it pleasures me to know you think of me in that same way.

I recall the time the cowboss fired ya up in Idaho,
For his daughter sorta liked ya, an' he said ya had to go.
I took 'im down an' whupped 'im, an' I made 'im like it, too.
Then we hit the road together, just two woolly buckaroos.

An' that bar fight down in Prescott when they had me on the wall;
You coulda lit a shuck, Bill, but you stood to take the fall.
Them nurses poked an' teased us, an' they laughed about our folly,
But it was worth the lickin', son, 'cause one o' them was Molly.

Speakin' of my charmin' wife, she's tuggin' at my sleeve.
I reckon it's her subtle way of sayin' we should leave.
Just prop your saddle, darlin'; don't be in such a rush.
I'm talkin' to my pardner, Bill, so you just set an' hush.

But I reckon Molly's right; I'll throw a loop around my jaw.
If I had my way I'd talk until my teeth an' tongue were raw.
Old friend, it's sure been great rememberin' all we seen an' did;
Now I reckon I'll just mosey off an' . . . let 'em close the lid.

Why did ya have to do it, Bill? You ain't a kid no more,
An' snappin' out them bad-uns is a youngster's rightful chore.
That cinch-bindin', poison bronc, he got ya in the end;
Come straight over back'ards, an' he killed my lifelong friend.

Rest in peace, my old compadrč, where the grass is green an' deep,
Where there ain't no pitchin' hosses, an' you never lack for sleep.
Where the quiet streams flow clear an' clean beside the gentle trails,
An' where no one ever doubts the man who tells the windy tales.

Be sure an' tell Saint Peter when he's jinglin' in the souls,
I'd be mighty proud to join ya - 'stead o' settin' on the coals.
Brimstone, fire an' pitchforks ain't the things that make me shake,
But eternity without ya is a ride I couldn't make.

Let 'im down real easy; that ain't baggage in that box,
An' if any man should drop it, I'll just skin 'im to his socks.
My words can't do him justice; Bill was closer than a brother.
A part of me goes with him, and there'll never be another.

In quiet times I've wondered why my life has been so blessed;
A wife an' kids I'd die for, an' Bill, you were the best.
But, Lord, what swords of Fate could cut a man down in his prime,
An' let a man like me grow old - long before my time?

© May 20, 1990, Dennis Gaines 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 

 

See page 1 for additional poems

Bungee Buckaroo
Trouble's a Bruin
A Different Point of View
Ty Murray, Eat Your Heart Out
A Life Well Lived
The Spandex Cowboy

In 2002, Dennis made a wise move when he married Karen Chesky (see the account of his proposal that took place at the Academy of Western Artists' Will Rogers Awards show here).  Dennis says, "We got hitched on September 15 at the Haven River Inn in Comfort, Texas. It's a bed and breakfast between Welfare and Comfort, which is where I've always wanted to be.  She planned the whole thing, right down to the tranquilizer gun. I just kind of showed up... Karen recently took 4 blue ribbons in jelly and baking, and a Best of Show in baking at the Kerr County Fair."

 

 

 

 

Contacting Dennis Gaines

You'll find Dennis Gaines at:

TeePee City Productions
120 Hartshorn Drive
Kerrville, TX 78028-7607
 (830) 896-5598
Email Dennis
 
 

 

 

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