Folks' Poems

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Great Falls, Montana
Don Ayers


Recognized as one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up
for his poem, Simple Truths



Simple Truths

Ranchin' life is cattle...
ridin' fence and shakin' hay,
spendin' hours in a saddle...
workin' weary fer your pay.

It's spinnin' fancy rope tricks...
tellin' yarns the cowboy way,
tyin knots and twistin' wire...
watchin' gangly calves at play.

It's the friendship t'ween old bunkmates...
it's the fellowship of men,
and the sharin' of a moment
at the passin' of a friend.

It's the clap of heavy thunder
when the last one's in the pen,
and a weary pony's playful romp...
when the long day hits its end.

It's a flat loop when you need it...
it's a dally without thumbs.
It's the sizzle of an iron...
when they've rounded up the bums.

It's the sparklin' stars of heaven
when the cool of evenin' comes,
and the calming gift of music...
when a campfire guitar strums.

It's the burst of bloomin' clover,
and the smell of new mown hay,
and the soothin' sound them crickets make...
when light's all gone from day.

It's the greenin' days of drizzle
that transform the land each May,
and the twinklin' eyes of children...
watchin' barn cats' kittens play.

It's the crisp, cold snap yer boots make...
on fresh new artic snow,
and the heavn'ly view of northern lights...
settin' winter skies aglow.

But mostly it's the simple truths
that all ranch families know...
Respect the land...the earth and man...
and the creatures God's bestowed.

 © 2003, Don Ayers
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

We asked Don how he came to write this poem, and he said:  

Growing up on a ranch smack dab in the middle of Montana teaches you a few things about what is really important in life. Folks who make their living off the land have a real understanding about the simple things that really matter. I tried to capture their reverence for those special things.

We asked Don why he thinks Cowboy Poetry is important, and he commented: 

I've been blessed to have grown up in Montana, where so much is required of you just to be here. Folks that live here are a hearty lot...they don't complain much and just snicker when you do. That simple and honest spirit makes for fertile ground for those among us who recognize the makins' for a good story when they see one. Cowboy poetry carries on the traditions of story tellin'...and rhymin' words to make a point. What modern art form could be more pure than that?


The Gate

 The old man turned off of the gravel,
 through the gate and steered west for the scrub.
 "That'll be the last one that's open," he said,
 "All the rest are for you, little Bub."

 The kid, with a grin, recognized it
 as his big chance to shine in Pa's eyes.
 Even knowin' that them gates would mean battle
 for a scrawny young whip of his size.

 They'd set out for high summer pasture
 with salt blocks and fence tools and posts...
 and the lunch Ma had packed... in a brown grocery sack,
 let off scents of warm cookies and roast.

 For was business as usual.
 For the other...his trial by fire.
 And this future ranch hand's reputation
 would be struck where the trail meets barbed wire.

 His de-fining moment approaching...
 his soft fingers crossed fer good luck,
 the first gate of many upon him...
 Young Bub stepped to the dirt from the truck.

 In the big top of Barnham and Bailey,
 'sides the man on that flyin' trapeze,
 is the woman who walks on a wire...
 that was stretched there by elephants with ease.

 But no creature ever could master
 a rancher's mind bogglin' wiles...
 when armed with that yeller fence stretcher,
 he could suck all them kinks out for miles!

 Well, with eyes focused wide down the fenceline,
 young Bub realized the weight of his chance.
 He looked t'wards the truck for assurance...
 but received not a nod or a glance.

 Seemed that nut cuttin' time was upon him.
 It was fish or cut bait, as they say.
 Either open it know or fail tryin'...
 He'd been waitin' for weeks for this day!

 Leaning into the end stay that held it,
 through the top wire loop at the post...
 he strained to establish a hand hold,
 when he had...he gave it his most!

 With his shoulder he drove the stay forward.
 As he pulled with his forearm and wrist.
 And he clawed at the dirt with the sneakers he wore,
 with the girth of his back he did twist!

 The long seconds passed like a nightmare,
 and the one thing he wanted the most...
 was to somehow un-loose...the smooth wire noose
 that held the taut gate to the post.

 Then he felt it...a slight hesitation!
 The miniscule slackness of wire.
 He reached up with his hand and unhooked it...
 young Bub's trial would not be a mis-fire.

 The boy pulled the limp gate from the roadway,
 and the old truck passed slowly on through.
 As the old man drove by...with a wink of his eye,
 he said "Leave it... we're comin' back through."

 Well, there's really no end to this story,
 'cept most ranch kids sure know that it's true.
 There's always a first time for glory.....
 Are you one...did it happen for you?

 © 2003, Don Ayers
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Don adds: This poem is pretty much autobiographical. The "Bub" in the story is me. This is a memory I had of my father, who has since passed. Seems that, like a lot of kids, I lived to please him...and don't recollect that he was one to acknowledge it when I did. The bittersweet memories of growing up with him are sometimes difficult. I wish he was still here to read what I have written. I'm sure it would please him.

Rocky Mountain High...wind warning

Is it only me, or have you noticed too, the way them trees is bent?
They got roots that's deep, fer stayin, but the leaves has all done went!
It don't take no sense to figure out...the wind gauge here's gone bust,
cause there's no de-vice invented that was built to take the gust
that screams across the foothills, where the Rockies meet the range...
where no cowboy ventures out without his pockets full with change...
just to anchor he and horse and tack to nature's precious clay,
well, if it weren't fer ballast, Jim...they'd get plumb sure blowed away!
Have you ever heard the mighty roar that rolls cross the valley floor,
like the devil's gone pure loco...and thrown open Hades door?
Where the white pine grows up twisted...and the saw grass lists to port,
and maintainin' upright posture has become a futile sport.
And the creatures of the prairie lock their knees and lean t'wards west,
as they press their rumps against the a NASA rocket test!
So, remember what you heard here, 'bout the winds that softly blow...
What the local ag show weatherman calls, "a gentle westerly flow."

When them winds gust cross the Rockies, Jim ...nail yer loved ones to the floor...
Snub yer horse to somethin' solid...praise the Good Lord...bolt the door!

 © 2003, Don Ayers
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Don adds: I'm a ranch-raised Montanan...a fact that I'm quite proud of, in terms of great folks and an endless big sky. Well, last spring I purchased a Powered know one of those contraptions that looks like an over-sized stroller with an experimental motor with way too much horse power, and a huge parachute type canopy. Now these machines fly like a dream...but require virtually total calm wind conditions. Well, although I had dreams of dancing the skies on laughter's silvered wings, I discovered that in Great Falls, where I live, just west of the Rocky Mountain front...that 15 mph winds would be as close to calm as it gets. I began this poem one early morning as I sat on the end gate of my truck, watching my windsock blow another flying opportunity into the next county. Finally, out of total frustration, I sold my beloved flying machine and bought a new Harley. I wrote this little poem in retaliation against the forces of nature...I figured it was the least I could do. Much is required of us to live in this part of the world...and the constant, unforgiving winds that blow here are a part of that requirement.



Them Cowboy poets like to write about the ranchin' life,
and how them dudes and slickers offer only grief and strife.
But the truth what gets forgotten at them gatherin's and such,
is the way most things is better...and how livin's just so much
a grander life experience...than their daddy's in his day,
all because of some smart feller, who's probably never shaken hay,
worked to find a cure fer smallpox, polio and common cruds...
that the human species suffered with ...long before we all wore duds.
How could anyone dismiss the fact that pickups, hats and tack
get manufactured city style, in factories started back
when cowboys left the prairie searchin' for a better life...
than punchin' cows and ridin' fence and yearnin' for a wife.
Back when little towns sprung up like spurge, across the verdant plain
and the thinkers and the tinkers set out to ease the pain
of the workin' man's arthritis and lil' Bessie's bout with scours,
and buildin' field contraptions that would save a thousand hours
of heavy toil for man and beast...and make a better crop
that soon would feed a nation...all its people, and its stock.
Now it's true those men of country prose got reasons to be proud,
'cuz they're carryin' on traditions, with the grit they've been endowed...
but from time to time they overlook the marvels which came true,
when some visionary city folk hatched an idea that broke through...
and became a grand invention, or a cure or better yet...
the latest in technology...widely used by every vet.

© 2002, Don Ayers
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Don told us: As a ranch raised feller who no longer makes a living off the land, I felt
compelled to write a response to some poetry out there that was less than complimentary to city folks. In Montana, the lines between the two cultures run together...and literally everyone has ties to each other's background. I was happy to be able to articulate the positive aspects of both in this little poem. God Bless America!


Chicken De-Light

It was early in September
when that chicken crossed the road,
causin' permanent social damage 
to the cowboy Tuff McStrode.
See, Tuffy.he's Australian...
and he'd come up here from Perth...
enterin' all them ammy rodeos... 
ridin' bulls to prove his worth.

Then one Saturday, bright and early, 
old Tuffy said "Let's go,
into town and have some supper, 
drink some beers and see a show."
Well it sounded plum terrific, we's 
all giddy with suspense...
and we grinned all day just thinkin'... 
bout the comin' night's events.

'Cuz we'd been tendin cows and mendin' fence
and playin' lots of hearts,
and we'd soon start sproutin' roots fer sure... 
and become a permanent part...
of this cow/calf laden landscape, 
where the boys and me had spent
near four pages of that calendar...
that them folks from Cutter'd sent.

Well, by six we'd rubbed them ponies down 
and buttoned up the gates,
and we hit the tubs and shaved our mugs...
then ol' Tuffy yelled, "Hey Mates,
the lager's waitin'... hurry up, 
we're burnin' daylight here.
pull on your boots, and grab yer snoose... 
and tidy up yer gear."

Well, I must admit ol' Tuffy 
had a flair for leadin' men,
he could sure inspire... and fuel the fire 
for the brand we'd all defend.
And we'd plum let him take over,  
in the months since he'd blowed in,
somewhat due to Tuffy's accent... 
but mostly what he called his Zen!

We'd grow'd to trust his instincts
and his savvy ways with stock,
and his stories 'bout the Outland, 
in the evenin's when we'd talk.
but he never, ever swore fer sure... 
that them stories was fer real...
claimin' truth more times than never, 
ever boosts a yarn's appeal.

And I know that's off the subject... 
and we's sidetracked here a bit,
but, it's useful background info...
and an insight to Tuff's wit...
which will prove to be a blessin' 
as I lay this story out,
'cuz, laughin' at yer self, you see's, 
what life is all about.

We finally clamored in the Travelall... 
I drove...Tuff sat 'long side
Roy and Bart got set up in the back, 
and made ready for the ride...
over all them miles of gumbo ruts, 
cut deep that rainy day,
the last time we'd all been to town... 
a coon's age back in May.

Now this here truck had seen its share 
of hard work and abuse.
It'd been a Federal Ranger rig...
fer Forest Service use
'Then it showed up at an auction... 
with all that gove'ment junk
with its goody all but used up...
and the motor runnin' punk.

Then it landed here, it's life anew... 
and seemed to fit right in
with a bunch of laid back cow hands 
whose truck demands was thin...
haulin' cedar posts and bobbed wire, 
drivin' salt and fixin pumps...
'sides providin' all that daytime shade... 
fer Trixy and them pups.

Well, we joked 'bout how we looked the part... 
of a prison crew or worse
in that dim green two cab pickup... 
that Tuff named the Cowboy Hearse.
And as we bumped across the cattle guard... 
the boys got quickly still.
We was putting on our party face...
and bolsterin' up our will.

Soon, that road got wild and western... 
and we got tossed around a bit.
Two or three times we got sideways... 
as the IH strained to get
up on top of all them high spots... 
where them ruts was cut the worst
and at times I had to ease her down...
from second gear to first.

But we finally hit the county road 
and we let out quite a whoop,
and the boys got even louder...
when we hit the highway loop.
We'd no soonere'd hit the pavement...
'fore we had a major hitch.
when a chicken lit from the barrow pit... 
and I swerved towards the ditch!

Now I don't condone no killin'... 
of no critter without cause,
but each time I think about that night... 
I darn sure have to pause.
and I think about how different...
those few seconds might have been,
if I just don't hit those breaks so hard... 
and sacrifice that hen!

That old pickup lurched t'wards the left...
then abruptly changed its course...
and I panicked when the headlights
 swung across an old paint horse,
just across the fence in the moonlight...
his knees locked up in fright,
mesmerized by all the clamor...
as we snowballed t'wards our plight.

Then we left the roadway proper, 
and was jettisoned to space,
Boy, I'd a give up last week's paycheck 
for that look on ol' Tuff's face
on a 5 by 7 glossy, framed up nice... for visual aid, 
when recountin' this here story...
'bout how his legend got un-made!

Then the windshield blew out 'cross the hood... 
and the motor up and died
and them gas cans that before was out... 
was suddenly inside.
through the shattered glass behind our heads 
where a window used to be
bringin 'with 'em that old gun rack... 
and my British .303!

Well, we scattered tools and cedar posts, 
two shovels and a bar...
then them salt blocks went a flyin...
and took the case fer Bart's guitar!
And to this day boys is wonder 
how that Ranger truck could do
all them lofty leaps into the air...
like them Lippenzanners do!

Then we blew them two front tires... 
and dozed up a yard of clay
down through the ditch on Tuffys's side... 
where half our stuff now lay...
all strewn from hell to breakfast, 
like an auction sale gone bad...
there was tools we hadn't seen fer months...
some, we didn't know we had!

Then finally when the dust had fell
and our heartbeats settled down,
it was clear as hell, by Tuffy's smell... 
we wasn't makin' town.
Seems that when we left the roadway... 
he thought we'd bought the farm,
and he'd soiled them new dungarees... 
he was countin' on fer charm.

Well, it was plain our fun was gut shot 
and we all tried to accept
that there'd be a string of evenin's... 
fraught with cowboy introspect,
concern' this here road trip... 
that was cut short 'fore it's time
and the ways ol' Tuff'll tell it... 
sure won't make you grin like mine.

But because we all sure liked him... 
and the ways he touched our lives,
we refrained from bringin' up that night...
up to even tellin' lies.
all 'bout how that wreck had happened...
when the other punchers ast...
we just tell it ordinary...
painful boring... usually fast.

'Cuz that night when Tuffy crawled in back... 
with them cedar posts and wire,
for our slow and careful journey home
on them weak and leaky tires...
he said, "Boys there's just one favor...
and I'm ashamed to even ask...
but could you please keep this here secret... 
'til my days with you has past"?

And we swore upon our mothers
that we'd keep Tuff's secret hid...
knowin' all them opportunities... 
just to not to...but we did.
So, for all them years we know'd him... 
'round them fires where we'd sat...
no one ever let that cat out... 
though it thrived there, 'neath our hats.

Now we're standin' here a grinnin'... 
like that night we'd lit fer town.
and we've lowered Tuffy's pine box... 
to his new home in the ground.
Cuz when the Good Lord finally set him free...
to them angels who awaits,
Old Tuff's last words, here on earth was ... 
"Make it funny... would ya, mates"?

© 2005, Don Ayers
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Cowboy Tenure

Whilst reactin' to a rattler
coiled up cozy.playin dead,
my new buckskin he un-loosed me.
out the front door on my head

and the last thing I remembers
'fore I vaulted to the light
was that fearful buzz below me.
then that new horse takin' flight.

As I blew out o'er his withers
I recall his hearty snort...
as this life I been a livin'
alls about to come up short.

That worthless cuss had hung me out
to save his skiddish hide.
He was green and mostly foolish
and a problem just to ride!

Well, I flies out o'er them loppy ears
and commenced to pick a spot
an old cowpoke could touch down on.
fairly soft.but probably not.

That was when I felt the problem.
First a little. then a lot,
as my right foot stopped abruptly
like it's caught up in a knot.

So I peeks back o're my shoulder
as I'm froze there in the sky.
and I realize I'm snookered
and I'm probably gonna die.

cuz my Justin's hung up tightly
through that stirrup like a wedge
and of course, the spurs gone with it,
just fer good luck .yet I pledge.

"Please dear God if you can hear me
from yer spread up in the sky,
this is me, yer humble servant.
all hung up and 'bout to die.

It is true that we ain't talked much,
fer about ten years I'd guess,
but I'm askin' you to help me.
nothin' more and nothin' less!

Well now, if you've been a thinkin
that yer prayers are not bein' heard.
here's the straight poop on that notion,
you can believe near every word.

because no sooner had I ast Him,
than His power starts to work.
and that ol' sock starts getting' slippery,
so I gives a mighty jerk.

And that buckskin, feels the slack now.
so he gives a little fake.
then he does a little rumba.
smack dab on that thar snake!

But fer me the fun t'ain't over
and the landin's getting' near
and not dyin's what I hope for
least without the pain and fear.

Then as quickly as it started
It was rushin' t'wards its end.
I did not pass into the glory
and no angels did descend.

But it ended like it all began.
just me and this here horse,
whom I spoke of mostly honest
as this story took its course.

who's now standin' ore' me  snortin'
with my roper t'wixt his teeth.
he ain't learnin' like he's s'pose ta.
We had this same wreck. just last week!

© 2005, Don Ayers
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Don adds:  Everybody's been there...on that little horse that can turn into "Golden Rocket" at every quick movement in the brush or sudden noise. Pheasants in
the bush, big ol' flyin grasshoppers and those occasional rattlers are prime reasons to spook...not to mention seein' his own shadow or pickin' up on those phantom smells. They'll settle down sooner or later...but usually until then, you'd best be just right on that rein! This little poem elaborates on the plight of the "unseated" and the "unseater"!


The Good Hand

You can spot 'em the way they carry them self.
You can generally tell a good hand.
They's wirey and quiet and ready fer fight,
when they's pickin' one out from the band.

Nothin' fancy... fact, nothin' but cowboy.
Some's natural...some's gotta be taught.
Still, the punchers who always stand out in a crowd
Don't use words, can't or not.

Now this cowboy's day set fer makin',
Yet, still some has gathered with doubt,
'and the match that was struck to be battled,
left the cowboy no pass or an out.

As he straddles the span of the worn rough sawn chute
and lowers hisself down on brown hide,
the taut, braided rawhide is set to his hand.
Its time now...he's ready to ride.

"Go boys," he musters...the gate now unloosed.
the explosion that follows... immense.
He throws hisself forward... and digs with his spurs.
The gate clatters loudly on fence.

A twist and a leap...the young brindle strains.
the cowboy. snaps quick to his right.
The first frenzied moments of violence now past
he squares on dark hide...for the fight.

The tight rosin'd grip slowly pulled from his hand
his unseating now heartbeats away,
a leap and a turn...he starts to unhinge.
His victory will not come today.

Though the fate of the fearless is iffy,
and the trials of life so unsure,
some outcomes just can't be prepared for.
there are losses each man must endure.

In the loose clay he tumbles. and rolls to his knees...
grabs his hat...wipes the dirt from his eyes.
"You made a good ride, son," his pa hollers out...
"Shoulda' cut you a calf more your size!"

You can spot 'em the way that they carry them self.
You can generally tell a good hand.
They's wirey and quiet. and ready fer fight,
when they's pickin' one out from the band.

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

Don told us he wrote this poem because he "...wanted to recognize those young ranch kids that live the ranch life everyday. The future of the cowboy lifestyle lies in the hearts of the boys and girls on ranches all across America. and the mothers and fathers who wisely give then their lead."



Turned Out

The old cowpoke settled down upon
his saddle on the ground.
The ride is done, the herd is in,
the sun draws slowly down.

He asks, “Where’s all this goin,
this ol’ life that’s comin’ due?
It’s the fear them punchers gnaw on
when the useful days is through.

He’s squirreled away no nest egg,
shucks, no nest he’d never known.
Just endless herds and dusty range,
his anchor, life ‘n home.

And also too, them simple tools,
the evidence of life;
an ol’ A-fork Texas saddle,
two worn grass ropes and a knife.

No heirs to claim his memories.
No sons ta pass his name.
No wife ta mourn his leaving.
Seems a waste if not a shame.

The day he’s always dread has come.
He’s out survived the job.
Livin’ rough and free and happy
‘mongst the dusty millin’ mob.

In dusk them steers is loaded.
The locomotive wails.
The steam and sparks and clamor
commences slowly up the rails.

“Good luck,” the boys laments to he,
“See you when the snow’s is gone.”
They shakes his hand and wishes well
then shyly moves along.

Now the evenin’s quiet’s left ta he,
that cowpoke who’s alone
as he leans across that Heiser rig
like an ol’ dog shy a home.

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



I live for the scent of early dew
on powdery hoof trod trails to
swirling watering places
where cackling coots splatter wildly
as dusty slab sided steers and lathered cow ponies
fill their gaunt bellies beside weary punchers
who dunk their hats brim deep
and track the distant lightening
near unreachable edges
of West Texas sky.

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



About Don Ayers:

I was raised on a ranch near Grass Range, Montana, the youngest of two children. I figure being from a place called Grass Range had something to do with my interest in cowboy life and the good and simple lessons that the ranch taught me. I left there a long time ago, but have always lived nearby...and still in my beloved Montana.

I spent most of my life as a television producer/director/cameraman/writer and had a thousand great adventures. I've a passion for tinkering with words, and these little poems have provided me with a great outlet for expression...and certainly many opportunities to remember where I came from.

In the mid-nineties I became good friends with cowboy poet and author, Mike Logan who I hired to narrate some promotional films I produced for the Montana Department of Agriculture. Mike's big voice and his great writing talent were a real inspiration to me.

There's something very pure about a well tuned line. The simplistic themes and no nonsense story telling styles of the master cowboy poets are truly a thing of beauty.

You can email Don Ayers.



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