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eric lee 
Northern Arizona
About eric lee

 

Eric with Sun

One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up
Recognized for his poem, Songs of a Cowboy Heart

 

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

 

About eric lee:

"I was born in West Texas, brought up there and on the Western Slope of Colorado.  Done enough ranch-work to know one end of a lariat from the other, and usually get the right end over a steer, but my event was always bareback bronc.  I'm 48, livin' in the mountains in northern Arizona with my beautiful and talented wife, Vicki (the one in Arizona Girl).

I'm still looking for a composer to collaborate on a few dozen Country lyrics I've written, and maybe get rich with me, if we can get Mr. Strait's kind attention for three minutes forty.  Still married, still happy...and still a cowboy after all these years."

We asked eric why he writes songs and Cowboy Poetry and he answered: Why I love the cowboy traditions and way of life is more words than are easily quotable, which is exactly why I write cowboy poetry.  Some things are just worth savin' and some ought never be forgot!

You can contact eric lee by email.

  In 2004, eric published The Storms of Summer, "... a good, romantic story that involves sailing, swords, and a little magic on the side..."  You can read more about it at eric's web site (where you can purchase an e-book edition at a special low price for a limited time) and at Amazon.

 



Songs of a Cowboy Heart

I grew up in the saddle, called the Texas Plains my home:
though I'd leave, they always called...I always came.
Ma's best lullaby was 'Goin back where the longhorn cattle roam'
and that sleepy Rio Grande, it knows my name.

I was baptized in the Frio, nearly drowned in Austin's flood
when the Colorado left me nearly dead.
I've drunk from Texas rivers 'til they're flowin' in my blood
from San Gabriel to the Trinity to the Red.

I chewed dust by the acre in the western prairie-lands
for my dollar-fifty, bringin' home the herd;
watched rain flood the wadis even while it vanished in the sands
an' in the summer thunder, swore I heard God's word!

See, my Texas has a voice, and all my life I've heard it ring.
Every wind and rock and river has it's part.
When the ol' coyote howls at night or the evenin' mockingbird sings
I'll always hear the songs of a cowboy heart.

I've felt a stampede shake the ground beneath my sleepin' ear,
an' woke up already runnin' for my horse.
I kept my seat an' rode to meet the ugly face of fear:
held my ground 'til the herd had changed its course.

I've felt my throat so dry, cold beer was like the sweetest wine
and drank cheap whiskey down to kill the pain
of knowin' that the girl I loved could see that same moon shine...
and that I'd prob'ly never see her face again.

I've gulped down campfire coffee, eaten bacon and red beans...
walked backward 'crost the state, one fence-post at a time,
busted  bronc for the remuda, an' sat waitin' for the gate
to pop, then held on 'til I heard eight seconds chime.

It's been my whole life's music, played in lonesome, minor chords,
and here, near the end, it's just like at the start.
I hope, one day,
    to hear God's angels singin' me them same sweet words

that echo...

...in the songs of a cowboy heart.


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


We asked eric how he came to write this poem and he told us: This poem in particular was purpose-written; I'd decided some four years back that when I finally publish a collection of my cowboy poems, the title would be Songs of a Cowboy Heart, and I have tried off and on since then to write a proper theme-piece for that title.  A couple days after the event
in Kanab, back in '02, I was havin' trouble sleepin' and thought back to Ma singin' to us, when we was kids...

     "Goin' back where the Longhorn Cattle roam, roam, roam..
      'way down by the sleepy Rio Grande"

I listened to it, in my head, all the way through to that last line,

     "Texas, where I'll never more be leavin'...
     Texas, all my ramblin' days are done!"

Soon as that last note faded from my head, I started to crawl out of bed, told my sleepy wife "Stay put...just gotta write somethin'!" (do y'all ever stop to think what the wife of a writer puts up with?!) She wouldn't let me get up, grabbed a notebook and lay there writin' while I dictated the poem.

Y'know...I do believe I mighta been cryin' by the time I was done with the writin'.  (Big, tough cowboy, huh?)

eric lee was previously

one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up
Recognized for his poem, The Killin' of Lefty McFee

 

The Killin' of Lefty McFee
(with apologies to Robert W. Service)

Strange things are done 'neath a hot Texas sun
by the men who have charge of the herd.
He's a liar who says "rare is a sigh or a care"
or he's heard no "discouraging word."
These steers have seen sights to give grown men frights
but the strangest they ever did see
was the night on sand by the Rio Grande
that I outgunned ol' Lefty McFee.

Now Lefty McFee came from Tennessee
where the grass is blue, so I've been told
and the air is like wine and the music is fine
and only the mountains are old.
Lefty came late to the Lone Star State
with a shady and dark-shadowed past...
when he joined with our crew, more than one or two
of us cowboys said he'd never last.

'Cause Lefty McFee was a shepherd, you see,
and in cattlemens' eyes, that's a sin
since everyone knows that no more grass grows
where a herd of ol' sheep has once been.
But for Lefty to try to herd cattle was sly,
for who'd ever look for him here?
If he ran from the law, there was no one who saw
him show up here and smelling of beer...

And that, he sure did, and, friend, I wouldn't kid
you, ol' Lefty could pour it an' swill it.
With one hollow leg, there wasn't a keg
but what, by hisself, Lefty could kill it.
His habits were rude and he gulped down his food
like each bite was the last chow he'd see.
His breath was a curse...went from bad to much worse
and from Day One, this cuss hated me!

Now no one believes that workin' with beeves
is a job to make anyone rich
but I have to admit, from his first day at it
he was one workin' son of a bitch.
He was mean, but not thick, and he caught on real quick
to the ornery ways of a steer.
He could chase cattle down 'til they dropped to the ground
and he didn't know the meaning of 'fear'.

He did his job well, but, as all of us tell
it, he always walked 'round lookin' beat.
'Twas the sun, don't you see, that was his enemy.
Lefty just couldn't handle the heat!
The Tennessee skies (so say those who are wise)
are gentle and soft to the eye,
but you won't see much sun that's as hot as the one
that shines up in this here Texas sky

an ' ol' Lefty he felt sometimes like he might melt,
from the way that his feet dragged the ground..
Except for cold beer, wasn't much that would cheer
up this drover, when summer came round,
but he still did his share, pulled his weight, fair and square
and we mostly forgave him his ways
and kept a cold six in a locker we fixed
up... and kept it locked tight through the days.

But one thing I can say, and I know to this day
Lefty hated my guts through and through.
And like any old bone, if he caught me alone,
I knew...bury me's what he would do.
There was no knowing why, but the look in his eye
when he looked at me made me grow cold
and the growl in his in his voice said if he had a choice,
that I just wouldn't live to grow old.

Well, there came a day, soon, in the middle of June
when we'd put all the beeves on the train
down old El Paso way. 'Twas the hottest damn day
and the folks was all prayin' fer rain.
We'd stopped down at the bar, after loadin' that car
full of steers bound for somebody's plate.
then we all hit the sand by the old Rio Grande
to cool down a bit (though it came late).

We swam (best we could in a river where mud
was in bigger supply than the water)
then we dried off and dressed while ol' Lefty just messed
around chasin' a trout (and he caught her!).
Johnny picked his guitar and his eyes got that far-
away look that he got when he drank.
We'd brought more beer along, and we started a song
by a fire on that old river bank.

We was on the last keg, and down close to it's dregs
so Pat said he'd head back to town
and bring back another. Then Lefty, that mother-
less souse drank the last of it down!
Well, I took it the worst, 'cause I had me a thirst
that left my throat dry as old boots.
I said "Look, you besotten old dog, that was rotten!"
and cussed him right down to his roots.

Then I turned my back, and that's when he attacked,
and his leg (at least, some of us claimed)
caught Cooky's shotgun as he leaped on the run
and it fell, and at me it was aimed.
Now some of us figger he ne'er pulled the trigger
and it went off when it hit the ground
but Cooky is square, and to this day he'll swear,
it weren't cocked when he put it down.

But the truth doesn't change, even though it be strange
and when my leg caught that double-ought
There was no time for thinkin', so don't blame my drinkin'.
I turned...and I drew...

and I shot.

he was still in mid-leap and it wasn't a heap
of help, seein', then, he was unarmed.
He was dead in the air, be it foul, be it fair,
all I knew was he shot me, unwarned!
It's sure strange, but his eyes didn't show no surprise
as my bullet went into his chest
and he fell to the ground without nary a sound...
That's just how it happens, out west.

*********

We buried him deep, and a mem'ry we'll keep
of the dangdest ol' beer-drinkin' hound
that we believe ever came cros't the Red River
and set foot on hot Texas ground
an' we placed there a stone in the shape of a bone
to honor poor Lefty McFee.
See, the truth is, this vermin-ous Shepherd was German
And a meaner dog you'll never see!

Strange things are done 'neath a hot Texas sun
by the men who have charge of the herd.
He's a liar who says "rare is a sigh or a care"
or he's heard no "discouraging word."
These steers have seen sights to give grown men frights
but the strangest they ever did see
was the night on sand by the Rio Grande
that I outgunned ol' Lefty McFee.

© 2001 by eric lee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Things a Cowboy Knows

Daddy came to California in the spring of `ninety-eight
And brought me back to Texas, just to stop and breathe awhile.
The place looked much the same, but Mama, waitin' at the gate
Looked like it was a struggle, just to try and find a smile.

My world had took a beatin', and the truth is that I ran.
When I looked in the mirror, was a stranger that I saw.
I'd tried hard to be the thing that I thought was a man
But LA took away what should have seen me through it all.

But the Texas sun brought home to me what I was raised to know;
That a man stands tall, no matter where the wind decides to blow...
That the work gets done, come rain or shine, `cause that's just how it goes.
I was raised to know the things a cowboy knows.

I never had forgotten things like faithfulness, and trust,
And I'd kept alive the part of me that knew to do my best,
But the part that wouldn't quit got buried, somewhere in the dust
Of a place where people wear two faces...and I'd failed the test.

Now, I remembered what it meant to ride the fence-line, days on end,
And how easy you can fall asleep, just by countin' stars,
Where a saddle-mare can show you what it means to be a friend
`cause a friend's what you can count on, even while you're countin' scars.

And in a Texas summer sunrise, I remembered what it meant,
To hold your head up high, and to take whatever's sent
That you go on, whatever comes, `cause that's just how it goes...
And you take the wind, whichever way it blows...
I was raised to know the things a cowboy knows.

© 1998 eric lee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

(This poem is lookin' for a tune . . . contact eric lee by email.)

 

 

HeadHunter

There's a breed apart, the cowboys who ride the rodeo.
They live for things no one else ever really understands.
It ain't the crowd, it ain't the money that keeps them on the go,
That makes it worth the breaks and bruises, and the ropeburns on their hands.

They'd never tell you what it is...most don't know, themselves, to say
What keeps them livin' almost homeless, town to town and ride to ride.
It's a hunger. It's a craving that don't ever go away
For something that can slake that thirst for challenge deep inside.

And past all of the hurts and bills, and, now and then, the wins,
Past love lost, home unknown, and what they pay to play the game,
There's a devil softly stalking them for payment for their sins...
There's hell-fire burning in his eyes. HeadHunter is his name.

Bull or bronc, his face may change from one place to the next,
But he's the one who'll turn, as you lie helpless in the dirt.
The clowns will never stop him once your scent has got him vexed
And he wants nothing more than all four hooves right through your shirt.

Some say he's got a woman's soul, a woman left behind
By some circuit rider she once loved, who couldn't love her more
Than the feel of wildness under him and the lust that left him blind...
The hunger never satisfied that burned inside his core.

They all know he's waitin', but they all know, in their hearts
That they're the one he'll never catch, the one who'll beat the odds.
And maybe so, but they can't know. They've all got their own parts
To play, to entertain the Rodeo's blood-hungry gods.

HeadHunter's out there, waitin' for the next soul that he'll take
And he ain't made his mind up yet...he takes his time and waits.
He's watchin' for the one who'll make the tiniest mistake
Or for the one who's set to take a place among the greats.

He hangs around at County Fairs, at Regionals and States.
He loves the Vegas Nationals, where big crowds see him kill.
Lane Frost saw his face, but couldn't stay outside the gates.
Once HeadHunter gets your scent, he gets inside and takes your will.

He doesn't always get you, or maybe he just plays around
Knowin' that you'll always come again for 'one more ride'.
I saw those eyes myself, once, lookin' up from cold, hard ground
at a bronc-turned-devil I knew wouldn't rest until I'd died.

Those eyes still come to me at night, though I'm a lucky one;
My bones gave out and took me off the circuit still alive.
But even so, I somehow feel I'm really not quite done
And I can reach the nearest rodeo with just an hour's drive.

No, I won't go. I don't even watch. It's only in my dreams
That I still, sometimes, think I'm good enough to win the game,
But I don't rest. Those burning eyes still follow me, it seems
And I still scream in the night, those times HeadHunter calls my name!

© 2000 eric lee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


 

Arizona Girl
        for Vicki


Been drivin since before sunrise, ain’t out of Texas yet
But I’ll be in Albequerque before the sun has set.
I’m just Northwest of Snyder and the dirt’s turned rusty red...
Texas Plains behind me and there’s mesas up ahead

The croplands and the cattlelands, the highlands and the plains;
the Gulf Coast and the deserts, they’re all burned into my brain.
This is the land where I was born and I know all her charms...
But I’ll give up all of Texas just to hold you in my arms!

Somewhere just over that way is the town where I was born
and mesquite gives way to cotton fields ‘long Highway 84.
There’s a Rodeo in Lubbock, but I can’t stop to play...
I'll be in Arizona before I see one more day.

The saddles and the cattle and the chaps and latigo,
the cowgirls and the sunsets and "the thing called Rodeo"...
But now I’m wanting more than just one more "eight second ride",
and I’ll give up all of Texas just to have you by my side.

I can’t say I won’t miss, sometimes, the things I left behind,
but we all do that sometimes, it don’t mean I’ve changed my mind
And this Arizona sunrise that I’m watching by your side
is worth more than any buckle that I won in any ride.

The Rivers and the lakes and all the tiny spring fed pools
that sparkle in the sunlight like a million precious jewels...
No I don’t think I’ve lost them for the rest of my life...
Someday I’ll take you back to Texas as my wife!

© 1998 eric lee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.




The Wildest Bronc

I was walkin’ the marina, looking’ over boats and women
An’ thinking’, maybe later I’d go beach-side for some swimmin’
When this feller coilin’ line up on the deck of his big sloop
Asked me “pard, I’ve dropped my main-sheet…could you toss me up a loop?”

I says, as I spied the rope he’d dropped “you sound like home!”
And he answers “well, you never know where a cowboy’s like’ to roam.
I’m from the Lone Star State, an’ that ol’ drawl says you are too…
Climb on aboard an’ set a while.” Well, I did, (wouldn’t you?)

He poured two slugs of sour mash and handed me a glass
An’ we talked while I helped with the sheets. (It helped the time to pass.)
He finally asked what brought me here, so far off from my roots,
Since anyone could see my walk was shaped by ridin’ boots.

I said I wasn’t sure, that I’d just got an urge to go
And California seemed the place, though why, I didn’t know.
I didn’t like it much, says I, “there ain’t no gold left here
And who in their right mind would pay three dollars for a beer?

Besides, the language here don’t seem to make much sense to me,
And I was never one for settin’ ‘round to watch TV.”
He says “yeah, it’s a different world than back where we came from
But there’s things here, yet, worth seein’. I’m headed out, you wanna come?”

Now, I guess I didn’t mention, but there’d been some storms last night
And the swells out in the channel were near twenty feet in height.
A man would have to be a lunatic to take a boat out there
So I says “Sure, I’ll take the jib-sheets.” (Was his boat; what did I care?)

We laid out that last line and then we cast off from the dock
And barely had the bow clear when the deck began to rock
By the time we’d passed the jetty, we was leanin’ hard and steep
And the water purled the gunn’ls off to port six inches deep.

We caught that first wave full on, headed straight into the swell
And I thought, as we went over, ‘we’re both headed straight to Hell!’
But the hull smacked down and spray flew wide and the bow, she broached and rose
And I slipped off my seat and smacked the deck, hard, with my nose.

He grinned, “I’d’ve thought a cowboy would’ve had a firmer seat!
I’ve rode my share of broncs and bulls, but with this, they can’t compete!
Now you move over starboard and be ready when I shout
‘cuz it’s time we took another tack. Prepare to come about!”

He swung that wheel an’ I pulled hard and brought the jib acrost
Now we was near a’thwart the swells an’ REALLY getting’ tossed!
This maniac wuz grinning’ like a kid on his first date
An’ I might have reconsidered, but by now, wuz way too late.

When we came about again, we took a course out to’ard the Isles
“I’m buyin’ dinner at the Tavern, it‘s only long ‘bout thirty miles”
I thought to mention that our speed was bit closer to eight
But I let it go. I had the time. ‘sides, the chow at Doug’s was great.

Well, we made it and we dropped the hook a bit past sunset-time
Had dinner at Doug’s Tavern and some drinks (all on his dime)
Then slept away the night rocked gently by the harbor’s calm
There in that lee-shore inlet, sheltered from the windward storm.

First light saw the anchor risin’ from the gloomy deep
While the chill braced up our appetites and banished thoughts of sleep
And the passage back was much the same, though the waves came from behind
And each time the cockpit filled I thought “this man has lost his mind!”

But the harbor was there, waiting, and it’s buoys were soon in sight
We maneuvered past the jetty with the red one on our right
And that cowboy’s expert handling had us safe, back in his slip
None the worse for bein’ wet, and all the better for the trip!

As I shook his hand an’ thanked him, and our numbers got exchanged
With promises to stay in touch, I says “Pardner, you’re deranged!”
He jes’ grinned and gave a chuckle as we shook, then said “I know…
But shore as yo’re a cowboy, I knew you’d missed the Rodeo!”

Well, not long later I was back where I belonged, and ridin’ still
On Daddy’s ranch. Seems he was shy a hand or two, an’ I fit the bill.
But evenin‘s, when talk gets ‘round to rides and “how’d you fall?”
I tell ’em all “Y’all ain’t seen much…I’ve rode the wildest bronc of all!”

© 2001 eric lee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


 

Where the Cowboy Don't Ride Nowhere

I've rode my share of rodeo, back in my wilder time
But the stirrups, I swear, are higher now, and I can't seem to make the climb.
My bones don't seem to heal as quick, and I know I take more falls.
I can get tired just watching the crowd down at the dancing' hall.

I know I won some buckles, but I ain't seen 'em in years.
Hell, I wouldn't know if I was wearin' one, since all those late-night >beers.
I guess I'm getting older but I never saw it comin' on.
Once I had lots of get-up-and-go, but I guess it's done got up and gone.

An' this ain't like the old movies, where the cowboy goes to town.
The horse wants to head back to the barn, so the bunkhouse is where I'm bound.
It's a long way in from the ranch-house, but it's further back home to bed.
It's too far to ride into the sunset, so I'll just have a beer instead.


I know the broncs ain't wilder, 'cause these kids all ride 'em just fine.
But I swear, the calves are faster now, or else your rope's longer than mine!
I musta' washed these Wranglers wrong, 'cause they just shrunk another size,
And the mirror ain't as cruel as the look I see in that Cowgirl's eyes.

And if this was like the old movies, then the cowboy'd ride away.
The horse wants to head back to the barn, so I guess that I'll just stay.
It's a long way up to the saddle, but it's further back down to the ground.
It's too far to ride into the sunset, so I'll just have another round.

© 1998 Eric Lee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



 
While There's Cattle
 
 
As long as a burger joint's where all the teenagers haunt,
and long as there's steak on the menu in a fine restaurant...
Until all the world's eatin' tofu and greens,
and "meat" patties made out of soy,
there'll still be cattle
and cattle need keepin'
and the world will always need a cowboy.

There'll always be horses, an' they'll always carry us where
a pick-up can't go, cause you know, cows'll always get there.
While grain just keeps climbin' and people keep dinin'
and grass on the range is still free,
they'll still need a hand
who will ride for the brand.
and there'll still be a place there for me.

Saddle up, sons, it's a new day, but nothin's much changed.
They're still getting hungry and we're still at home on the range.
While they're drinkin' French wine we're ridin' the fence-line
and cutting' our hands on bob-wire,
eatin' red beans and bacon
While our bodies are achin',
an' drinkin' coffee that's cooked on a fire.

"The job may be done", my GrandDaddy said, "but it don't end".
A hard day's work only means more work tomorrow, and then
head back to the wagon, so tired that we're draggin'
our tails to the fire we crowd 'round.
We'll chow down and roll out
our bedrolls. Ain't no doubt
we'll sleep like logs, there on the ground.

So, Bobby-Joe, play me a tune on that mouth harp again,
an' thank the Good Lord that we're here, right where we've always been.
They might call us strange, even think we're deranged
but this here is the life we enjoy!
We won't shed any tears
for the fate of these steers.
They're why
the world will always need a cowboy.

© 2001 eric lee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Just Another Calf

"Not another calf?" I heard another rider say,
and then add, stoppin' next to me "why us, and why today?"
We'd had a day's hard ridin', and it wasn't over yet, not by a mile.

Lookin' down the bluff, most anyone would see, right off
this wouldn't be an easy one. This gulch was like a trough.
How he got there, who could say? But we both knew that this'd take a while.

There was nothin' but to do it, and we both knew what to do.
The storm was only gettin' closer and the dark was comin' too.
Lariats looped on saddle horns, he took the horses' reins. I took the walk.

He was standin' up there, starin' at those thunderheads off north.
I was slidin' downhill on my heels on soft, red, crumblin' earth.
The stray was bawlin' "mama"... an' as I climbed I prayed he wouldn't balk.

The calf took off when I hit bottom, and with him went those hopes.
I blessed Grandad for sayin' "Son, you always take two ropes!"
The spare was off my shoulder and it didn't take me long to make my toss.

I caught him with the first one and I played him like a bass,
A'mutterin all the while "C'mon, you stubborn little ass!
You keep me here an fightin' you much longer and we're both a total loss!"

The way he fought the rope I knew he'd never try the climb.
A rumble up the canyon said I didn't have much time.
So I tossed and tied him, thought a sec, then wrapped him in a sling rigged
from my chaps.

I hitched him on and hollered "Let's go, now!" with all my breath,
then looked up and I saw a thing that scared me half to death.
The wall of water thunderin' at us made this gulch the deadliest of traps.

I threw myself down on that calf, and breathed a quiet prayer
that this new feller wasn't takin' his sweet time, up there,
then I heard him shout, and heard a slap, and we were slidin' up the wall.

The water hit me hard right at my gun-belt at the crest:
I may have some luck still comin'... but it's not a thing I'd test.
My unknown partner handed me my reins and softly sighed, and said "close call."

The foreman had a worried frown when we came ridin' in.
He poured two cups o' Joe and said, "Just where the hell you been?
We was thinkin' you was lost, or maybe you'd got caught in that flash-flood!"

He wouldn't have believed it, if we told him how it'd been.
I glanced at my new buddy and he flashed a little grin,
and said, "Just another calf. He'd wandered off and got hisself stuck in the mud."

Well, that ends the story, and also pretty much this song.
The other guy I mentioned? Yeah, he'll do to take along.
I told him, while we got our chow, "sure glad you were around to lend a hand."

He sorta smiled at that, bobbed his head and said "Me, too,
But as long as I was there, an' didn't have much else to do."
He took a bite and chewed, then said, "It's just a part of ridin' for the brand."

© 2001 by eric lee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

eric says "I'd like to take a second to clear up a thing that confuses some folks who don't know ranch work...the term cow'boy' is very often quite literal. I was all of fifteen years old when this tale took place, and that unknown buddy (who turned out to be a cousin I hadn't seen in a few years; it was our Grandfather's ranch.) was every bit of twelve. Both of us wore pistols to work as a matter of course, and neither of us would ever have dreamed of selling drugs, robbing anyone or participating in a 'drive-by'...or for that matter, ever drawing that pistol without a real need, and a real need usually meant a predator. Parents, if you have the chance, you put your kid to work on a ranch. You'll get a better man back for it."

eric has a tribute to his grandfather posted elsewhere.

He says "it's packed fulla the things he taught me . . . I don't figger any cowboy could walk away without knowin' he'd just met a wise man." It's definitely worth the trip over to read about. (And he says that though he's been writin' as eric lee for some 25 years now, "I thought it was only proper respect to write under the name he passed down to me, so don't let the byline fool ya!"

 

Uncle Dan's Last Morning

I haven't worn it in a while,
but this winter's been so wild,
this mornin', as I headed out the door,
when I put on my old Stetson,
And before I grabbed my oilskin
I slowly strapped on my old 'forty-four.

They're gettin' braver by the day
and as I'm pitchin' out the hay
I'm keepin' one eye out, as best I'm able
'cause they always come in packs,
and last night I found their tracks
in the crusted, dirty snow behind the stable.

Lookin' west, I see the glare
as the sunrise bounces there
off the snow that's made the game high up so thin.
I guess that's why they've come down
and I see their tracks around
'cause it's those western hills that they live in.

-ch-
But they ain't stayin' up there this November.
Now the game's got scarce
these studs and mares
are lookin' like a meal.
I guess it's been so long they don't remember
last time they came,
the roar, the flame,
and how the hot lead feels.


There's wisdom in those eyes
the color of these winter skies
and to the local tribe, they're a spirit-guide.
But to a horse, their name is Fear
and I don't want 'em comin' here.
That fence is where their world and mine collide.

I feel for 'em, in a way
'cause I've also seen the day
when an empty belly ate me up inside
but this ranch, it's what I am...
that's my herd, and I'm their Man,
an' this ol' Colt is more necessity than pride.

They come quiet through the snow,
eyes a-glitter, bellies low...
I tell myself that's hunger, but it looks like hate.
Six shots off and six wolves down,
but there's twenty more around.
No time to reload, so I open up the gate.

-ch-
and as
my herd runs free, I watch and I remember
when I found this land
and chose my brand
and made this life my own
I've got no regrets, to fall here, this November.
One bullet in,
give the pack a grin...
and die as I lived:
alone.

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


Like much of eric's work, the piece above is as much a song as a poem.  Folks here were intrigued by the story, and we asked eric about it.  He replied: 

My Great-Uncle Dan, in his life, admitted to needing one person: he lost her to pneumonia three years after they married, and from that winter day in '29, he and his horses were all the family that ranch ever knew...though it's a family that kept growin', for all of that.  He and those Paints needed each other, an' nobody else.

That's how it came, in '62, that it took him missin' church for two weeks in a row for anyone to drop by and check on him.  GrandDaddy found him, (in the condition you prob'ly imagine) lying outside an open corral gate, six spent shells on the ground, six dead wolves, one lone spent shell in the cylinder and a hole in his head.  (Story seems pretty clear from the evidence, an' this is how we figger it went.  I guess it beat being eaten alive, at that.)


What a Grandson Heard
(or..."like Audie Murphy, talkin'.")


He was big as any mountain to a grandson's lovin' eyes
with a smile that seemed as wide, and bright, as Texas' summer skies,
and the stern side of this cowboy with the hard and calloused hands
made us walk the straight and narrow, and ride true and 'for the brand'.

But the side of him that stays with me, and still comes back at nights
with a memory, and a tear-drop (and not a few delights)
was the tales he told, come evenin' times when we'd be out an' walkin'
'cause his voice was just like Audie Murphy, talkin'.

Just that gentle, just that soft.  Just that much like Down-Home Folk.
Just a simple southern gentleman...this ornery ol' cowpoke
who'd look life in its eye, nor ever let us slide with less
than everything inside us.  He called out our very best.

I been around the ol' fence-line, and more than once or twice,
but I can't give you better than his quiet-spoke advice:
"You talk polite to strangers, and you needn't make a noise...
make sure everything you say speaks well of cowboys."

You talk of "ride like Randolph Scott," or "stand like Wyatt stood."
You mention those whose voice was loud for what was right and good.
I knew a man who stood as tall, who looked like John Wayne walkin'...
an' his voice was soft, like Audie Murphy, talkin'.

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



 

An Improper Proposal

"Now, yore mad as hell, here, tellin' me
how you been disrespected.
Seems yore beau done popped the question
an' it weren't how you expected.
He's done told ya, 'I got half a mind
to take you for my wife,
an' half a mind t'love you
for the rest of yore sweet life!'

"Well, Daughter-mine, remember,
that's a cowboy that you picked,
an we both know how many times
he's had his fool head kicked!
The boy ain't got but half a brain,
So maybe I just orta mention,
If he's got half a mind t'love you, gal.
...you got his full attention!"

© MMIII, eric lee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



The 'why' of the last wrangler


Because.
there's a special heart
to the horse that's quivering,
eager in the chute,
and half-way out the gate before it's all the way open...

the horse that follows the steer by instinct,
anticipates his turns
and puts you alongside, ready to dive for the horns.

the horse that stays
that extra second after you leave the saddle,
making sure the steer doesn't veer
and leave you
with a handful of air to break your fall.

Without that horse, you lose.

So why do they hand you the buckle?

Because a horse don't care from buckles: he takes it all
for the quick pat, the soft "good job, Son!"...
and the pride in your eyes.

Because a horse loves!

But there's also the horse that doesn't quiver,
doesn't prance.
He follows your hand
if the last lead-rope is gone from the tack room,
'cause you had to talk to the foreman after breakfast.

He stands at the rail
because you left him there,
and he doesn't twitch
when you walk up with the saddle:
the bit doesn't even touch his teeth on the way in.

He walks by preference, because he knows
he'll be carrying you all day,
but he runs at the touch of the edge of your stirrup,
turns at the slightest pressure of your knee...
follows the calf you point out, no matter how thick the herd,
and cuts him out so close, you don't make a toss,
you just drop the loop over his head.

It's a job, and he works for hay and oats,
(which may be worth just about as much
as your $35 a month and found...)

but he's your partner.
If he knows anything, he knows that.

he knows your scent in the dark,
knows your voice in the middle of a thunderstorm,
and he'll walk where you say it's safe,
blind
through the dust of a sand-storm
or the smoke of a brushfire.

He's the walking definition of 'steady'...
and you can find his picture, looking up the word 'trust'.

Because a horse loves!

He's that shaggy little pony you can trust
with your precious baby daughter.
she's that proud filly in the traces
who never, ever breaks stride.

She's the brood mare.
He's the herd stallion
and they watch while the rest graze

Because a horse loves!

I'm not much, just a cowboy.

We work cheap, and we work long and hard,
and some say we're dumb
and some call us 'trail-trash'
and some say we're a dying breed.

Some'll tell you we're already dead,
just not smart enough to lie down.

Well.that's people, for ya.

An' maybe that's why
I'm still just a cowboy,
and will be, even if I am
the last
the very last
wrangler...

Because a horse loves!

© MMIII, eric lee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



The Boy's First Rodeo Ride

This new shirt scratches at my skin, and the waist of these old chaps
seems a bit too tight, though I ain't gained no weight.
A twister's dancin' footloose in my gut an' layin' traps
for the panic-sweats I'm feelin' way too late.

I climb the chute on shaky knees, and set myself down tight
on a half a ton of steamin' flesh and bone.
Wrap that leather fist an' pound it down with all my might,
an' face the devil's of my fear, right there, alone.

Back there in my head, I hear GrandDaddy talkin' low,
everything he had to teach me 'bout this ride
all waitin' there in mem'ry.  "Take your time 'bout lettin' go.
It's your call, when it's time to go outside"

There's shudderin' beneath my hips: he's waitin' for the start
the same as I am ('cept that he's been here before).
Last breath, then I yell, "Turn 'im out!".  The pounding of my heart
is so loud in inside that I don't hear the roar.

But the crowd is on their feet, and in the corner of my eye
they're a blur of movin' color I can't spare
the time to give a glance at.  Dusty earth and cloudy sky
are mixin' with each other in the air.

This mad-dog piece of thunder that I've wrapped my legs around
is an earthquake on four legs, an avalanche
that's headed down a straight-up bluff to slam me to the ground
and squash me there.  I'm shakin, root and branch,

just holdin' on for all I'm worth.  That whistle...did it blow?
Eight seconds...no, it couldn't last this long!
"Keep that off-hand free, son!"  "Hold tight to that latigo."
(When it finally blows, it's like the Angels' song

played just for me!)  "Now, watch out for the moment you can bail
and let go clean, don't let that hand get caught."
"Here's where some get careless.  Here's where you still can fail.
Just miss those hooves"...the ground's an afterthought!

The clowns have his attention, now, so "climb up to your feet.
Wave to the folks...don't look up for your score.
The fear inside was all you ever really had to beat,
so walk off proud" (and yeah...walk off real sore!)

© MMIII by eric lee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Backtrail...

I never gave much thought to whether God has life all planned
but there's no one I've met yet, that I can say 'he's just a man'
'cause every soul that lives stands on the graves of days of yore...
what roots he has run through the lives of those that came before.

I was born to trouble, just the same as all my kin.
It follows me (or maybe I just carry it within)
but as I pull up, here on this plateau, and look around
I can see my backtrail lyin' clear upon the ground.

There's an Irish immigrant, his wife and two young boys
ridin' in a wagon, 'cross the plains of the Iroquois...
He'd spent a life of knowin' how to fight for what he'd need
but his hand was out in peace. They gave him land. He gave them seed.

One son stayed there all his days, and lived a farmer's life,
while the other rode for Texas with his new, young Indian wife,
his daddy's covered wagon and his six strong Irish mules,
a dozen head of cattle, and two good breedin' bulls.

He settled down near Goliad, and staked his homestead claim.
He registered his chosen brand alongside of his name,
and worked the land. His herd grew with each new springtime to pass
and his family grew likewise: three stout lads, one bonnie lass.

Meanwhile, 'crost an ocean by the shores of a Scottish lake
a young man swore that he'd seen all the bloodshed he could take.
Though all his family tried, he wouldn't take their charity:
he worked his westward passage, hit the shore flat broke...but free!

While that Irish rancher built a herd to wear that new-made brand,
the Scotsman, he made whiskey, and he bought himself some land
deep in the Texas Highlands where he raised a family.
His heart was still in Scotland...and his wife was Cherokee.

Then Texas claimed its independence, and that Irish clan
fought beneath the "Come and Take It" banner, to a man!
The Mexicans tried hard...the cannon's still there, on the green
and three Irish graves sprout roses, each time Texas sees the spring,

and the Irish clan survived in one strong line, while, near Waco
the Scotsman sold his whiskey-mill and gave ranching a go.
He bred all kinds of horses, 'til his son settled on Paint.
(Don't try to find a better herd. In Texas, Son, there ain't!)

Twenty years went by, the way rain-swollen rivers run...
a horsethief got shot down. That Scotsman's grandson held the gun.
There was anger from the family...accusations and denial.
He might have headed south, but he stayed there and faced the trial

and when the tale was told, (and when the lynch-mob was dispersed)
the jury said "not guilty." The horse-thief's brother cursed
and swore he'd have revenge. He rode, eyes blazing, into town
stalked into the saloon, drew from behind and shot him down.

He never figgered on the son, a boy just twelve years old,
but Scottish blood runs thick and hot. His Pa was hardly cold
when the boy tracked down the killer, and put him in the ground.
The judge said "Ain't no need for trial," and the story got around.

Three generations down the line, a boy from Texas met
the daughter of a cattleman whose family prospered yet.
The mischief and the majesty of two proud family trees
was mingled in five children, and the middle one was me.

My blood runs with Scotch whiskey. Cherokee and Iroquois
are blended with Old Irish in the veins of this cowboy
and what's behind me doesn't hunt...and, Pardner, I don't run.
You be careful of the backtrail, if you track a Texas son!

© 2002 by eric lee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 


...to the core


I'm only what my daddy was, and his that came before...
shaped by the land, with history behind us.
Born in the saddle, fed on dust and cowboy to the core;
raisin' the beef you eat, that's where you'll find us.

This life is ours by heritage, by love and by decision.
The work is hard, but honest.  Every day
we know, here, in our very bones, we live a proud tradition:
a way of life that means more than the pay!

It ain't like in the movies, y'all; it's work from dawn to dark
you trust yourself, your horse and not much more.
Believin' those who ride beside you carry that same spark...
all saddle-born and cowboy to the core.

Thick gravy on your biscuits and the strongest coffee made,
around a fire before the sun comes out,
then saddle up and hit the range.  Round up the ones that strayed.
It's dark before, once more, we circle 'bout

that fire again, for that same coffee, bacon and red beans
and a blanket on the ground for one more night
with one eye open, one ear to the ground and dreamin' scenes
of older days.  Awake before first light.

A barbecue, a square dance...rodeo to test our skills.
we keep to the old ways, 'round these parts,
'cause it's a hard life, one that tries our strength and tests our wills
but one that builds foundations in our hearts!

You can call us dumb.  Lord knows you wouldn't be the first
but this is all we want, and nothin' more.
It's what I am: I call it blessed, (though some might call it cursed)...
born in the saddle, cowboy to the core.

© 2004, eric lee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Cowboy Poetry Gathering...
(or "How t'write cowboy po'try")

Was Sharlot Hall, in Prescott; I went down to hear Mike Dunn
an' read some of my own stuff (kinda mostly just for fun).
Lloyd Shelby read some po'try, but I missed Byrd Woodward there...
then I stepped outside to get some air.

An old man with a face like hard years handed me a beer
an' said "You told a story 'bout my own life inside there!
It made me sorta misty-eyed" he told me, soundin' gruff.
"Tell me, Son...how do you write that stuff?"

(Well, to me, that there's a poser, 'cause I never could'a not!
If I didn't write these rhymes of cowboy life, I don't know what
would keep me sane. I live a world, these days, that's hard and fast
and there's memories that I just need to last.)

I told him "One part mem'ries of my Pa's red beans an' bacon,
one slug of good, strong whiskey while the coffee's still a makin'...
one dose of stock-yard perfume, two of Granny's Good-Book readin'.
That's the first part of what-all you'll be needin'.

"Stir in one good taste of oak-wood campfire smoke
that follers ever'where you move until yer like t'choke!
Add deals behind the chutes fer yer best buddy's vicoden
('cause doctor bills are so high it's a sin!)

"blend it slow with all the times you come up one point shy
and add the gal you lost for what you done that loser's night
and how you miss her now. Mix in GrandDaddy's best advice
an' all the things you never will do twice!"

"Spice with the jaw you aimed for, that drunk night you broke your knuckle
an' the way you felt the day they handed you that first gold buckle!
Cook it slow with all the smells that mix to tell you 'home'
and with some luck, you got a cowboy po'm!"

The ol' man handed me another beer, an' told me "Son,
thanks for takin' time to talk". He squinted at the sun
an' said "I better git fer home, 'cause supper's likely on
an' with three kids, if I'm late, it'll all be gone!"

I heard 'em call my name, just then, so I went back inside
and read another rhyme about another real hard ride
but midway, I recalled the thing I'd missed about my life.
'cause I really should'a told 'im 'bout my wife

but if he had supper waitin', that's a part that he knew well
about a cowboy's life, and one I had no need to tell.
If he had her and three strong kids a'waitin' there at home
he had a dang good start on his own po'm.

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


The New Mare

Was Tuesday night when Bobby Joe
got in from ridin' line
I smiled all night! Tomorrow's
turn at that ol' job was mine!

Three weeks, it takes to ride this fence,
no dust, no stench, no strays.
Just sun and stars, your horse and mule...
a cowpoke's holiday.

I could hardly sleep for smilin'
but weren't outta bed 'fore Rico...
he was sweepin' an' a-pilin'
but he stopped and said "Frederico?

"He fed an' brushed up good, Señor!
You take heem on the string?
He work hard! He don' mind you snore
an' he like when you sing!"

(That there's our smart-mouthed stable-hand;
Yeah, he thinks he's a wit
but he works hard as any man
that rides for this outfit!)

'Frederico, il Magnifico'
was shinin', brushed an' ready.
Best mule this side of Mexico...
(we all called him "Steady Freddy.")

I had the wire and staples load-
ed on that diamond-hitch
before the sun had barely showed
his face, when ol' man Mitch

says "Son, yer pack-mule's set fer fair
an' I know you'd planned on Jake
but the boss just bought a brand new mare
that I shore wish you'd take!

"She's raw, and got no manners yet
an' the beeves' noise makes her spook.
It's a favor that I won't fergit
if you'd just take a look!"

Now, when the stable-boss says that
he'll owe ya, it'll pay.
It's like to be worth your best hat
some unexpected day.

Mitch kept a fine remuda, Son
an' said who got what mount.
(When figgerin' who's number one
that's one man you should count!)

I dropped by to pick up my tack,
and saw her at the rail
hitched on by her hack-
amore, this purty roan female

an' I sidled up an' said "hi, Kid"
an give her neck a pat
then I swung the saddle-pad
up over on her back.

She gave a little startle,
but she settled right back down.
Then I turned to get my saddle
and she jawed me on the crown!

If you ain't felt of one, my friend
then you might just not guess;
a horse don't got the softest chin
and this one ...it impressed

me just enough spare a thought
about this deal I'd struck...
but wranglers set a store by what
their word means. (I was stuck.)

Three times, she danced off to the right
while I hoisted up that saddle.
I said "Gal, let's keep this polite!
It don't gotta be a battle!"

I forced her right side 'gainst the rail
(which sorta held her still)
while I grabbed the girth (and dodged her tail)
and yanked it with a will!

She puffed up (like I knowed she would)
so I kneed her in the side
then yanked and cinched her up real good
(This was gonna be some ride.)

I got the bedroll strapped on tight
and brought the bit up close.
She clenched them teeth with all her might
So I tapped 'er on the nose.

She snorted, an' I snuck it in
and pulled the head-strap on.
I give that purty gal a grin,
said "Now, we'll git along!"

I grabbed the packmule's lead-gear
then went to mount this nag...
She turned, and flat back went those ears
an' she went t'bite my leg!

(Well, it worked once.) I slapped her nose
an', sharp-like, says "Behave!"
Her eyes told me "One more of those
gets you an early grave."

By now, I noticed that the crew
all had seats on the rail
an' every man-jack had his view!
("Lord, does it ever fail?")

I saw dollars changin' hands...
heard bets I'd take a bruisin'.
( I made up my mind, there an' then
that I knew who'd be losin'!)

I laid ol' Freddy's lead-rope loose
acrost the hitchin' rail
then turned to that cross-eyed cayuse
an' says "Let's twist yer tail."

I hopped into the stirrup
swung my right leg 'crost her rump
an' yanked 'er head around
an' aimed 'er t'wards the choppin' stump.

That gave me just a second
so's to place my other boot.
My butt was in the saddle, now,
an' Pardner, I took root!

This gal was stubborn as a brood-
hen, settin' her first nest
but then, there's mule in Irish blood
an' mines thick as the rest.

She kicked her rear up high, then spun
flat round, twice to the right,
then took off like a starter's gun
had fired. With all my might

I clinched my legs tight to her trunk
and pulled the reins in, hard.
She turned her head toward the bunk-
house. I looked toward the yard

an' thought "that grass looks better
for a landin' (if I gotta)
than this wall, (an' I'll be wetter
if she throws me in the water

trough!) I pulled hard right
and headed for the fence.
Three good long strides, I held on tight
and felt her muscles tense.

She jumped an' landed on the lawn.
(and done it sweet an' true!)
She slid a bit, then stopped and drawn
a breath...and found a clue!

She turned her head to look at me
and cocked a wary eye
then sidled past a sapling tree
and glanced back, lookin' sly.

I winked, and said "Go, if ya want!"
She took that fence again,
reared up, her weight back on her haunch,
pawed air, (I swear!) then grinned!

***

We trotted back to where ol' Mitch
was pickin' up his winnin's
He turned to me (that sonovab***ch!)
an' says, his gap-teeth grinnin',

"Nice ride! You won me two week's pay!
Should I have Jake brought 'round?"
I said "You set me up that way?"
He gave a little ground

but looked me in the eye and said
"Son, dentists' bills are high,"
He shook that sweaty, grayin' head
an' gave a little sigh

"My boy needs braces.  You know what
they're gonna charge to do it?
That's all the alibi I got,
an' I'm a-stickin' to it!

"Now, 'bout ol' Jake? I know yer choice.
Should I bring 'im to the line"
I stroked the mare, an then my voice
went soft. "Naaaah!...We'll be fine!"

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

 

Eric told us: I spent most of my summers as a child, an' several of my school years, too, workin' my grandfather's horse ranch.  When I turned seventeen, I wanted to try my hand at not bein' "the boss's grandson," so I moved two counties away and hired on as a wrangler on a cattle ranch.  Mitch Mickleson was the ranch foreman; I'd been on the payroll three months before I ever even met the owner (who never did get my name right the whole time I worked for 'im).

Mitch was also the only man on the ranch that knew I'd been the guy who broke horses to the saddle on my grandfather's ranch, but he kept it under his hat and I hired on as the bottom hand on the ladder.  By the time my first turn at the fence rolled around, I was sick to death of ridin' tail, and that fence looked like Disneyland to me!

'Course, ol' man Mitch, he had his own idea of the price of that ticket...an' I never knew him to bet 'less he thought he had a sure thing.


 

...not-quite-last words of a cowboy


"Hello Lord. Yes, it's me. No, we ain't spoke in several years.
That'd be my fault; I've always known that you got ears
and I guess, to hear this prayer now, it don't come as no surprise,
' cause I always knowed you also got a real good pair of eyes.

So you seen me try to make that climb, and knowed it was too steep...
I'm guessin' now that this is "now I lay me down to sleep."
There's things I done that even I ain't able to forgive
but then, you know the kind of life a cowboy's bound to live.

When you and me meet face-to-face I hope you'll be forgivin'
I know that you can't like these last few years that I been livin'.
But if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to make one last request
while I lay, with this mesquite stump, broke an' stickin' out my chest.

Please, don't blame that mare of mine; she done the best she could.
I knew, before we started, that that trail was no damn good.
She fought to put herself in reach down in this shale and gravel
(I got me my canteen, but I just couldn't make the saddle.)

And it was me that hollered "git for home!" She didn't run.
She'd still be standing over me to shade me from the sun
if I'd have let her. See her safely home, Lord, if you would.
Weren't nothing in that mare but heart, and all of it was good."

******

John's mare came in without him in the saddle Thursday night
and wouldn't let nobody touch her; put up quite a fight.
Three of us followed where she led, and found old Johnny lyin'
on a steep hill of mesquite and shale. He looked like he was dyin'.

He would have, too. He'd lost some blood... canteen was nearly dry,
all stuck on a mesquite-branch an' 'bout hot enough to fry
from fever. He was talkin' to the Lord, and his dead wife...
seein' things (we guessed), and listin' every sin in his long life.

It took a little doin', but we got him home alive,
an' even then we wasn't all that sure that he'd survive
but he made it, and he owes his life, we figger, to the care
of one old stubborn, lovin' Chestnut mare.

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

Eric told us:  I learned, about a week before the '05 Prescott Gathering, that ol' Cricket had finally died, giving birth to her ninth foal.  This is just one of the tales that could be told about that ol' mare, but it tells it best, 'cause that's what she was...the best.

If horses go to Heaven, she's there.  If they don't...well...what's the point?

 

Read eric lee's Christmas Cattle-Call posted with other 2005 Christmas poems.

Read eric lee's tribute to "Wild Bill" Halbert, Another Hand for Heaven and For Tales Untold..., a tribute to Del Warren Livingston, posted on our page of tributes.

Eric on Sun

 

 

 

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