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G. M. ATWATER
Gardnerville, Nevada
About G. M. Atwater

Recognized as one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up
for her poem, "Cowboy Life"

 

 

Cowboy Life

You know how there's days when you hate it?
When you cuss everything that you know,
and it seems like the whole crew is slacking,
and the cattle won't line out and go.
It's hot and your mouth's like a flour sack,
so there's no chance of taking a chew.
And you'd swear since you got up this morning
you've screwed up everything that you do.

You'd swear that the boss has a toothache,
and piles and perhaps indigestion,
'cause his mood since before it was sunup
is darn short of tact or discretion.
Plus, the horse that you saddled this morning
is brain-dead, and cold-jawed to boot.
There's no recompense for such headaches
if you had six months' pay coming due.

You'd as soon move these cows with a 'dozer,
or maybe some Number 6 shot,
since the drags just won't move 'less you make 'em,
and the leaders do nothing but trot.
By the time the whole herd's fin'lly lined out
and moving along pretty well,
here comes some ol' kid with a dirt bike,
and scatters the outfit to hell.

It's an hour 'fore you get that wreck sorted,
your horse is darn near on its knees,
and you're thinking that driving a beer truck
beats driving a darn herd of beef.
Then you finally get where you're going—
a four-hour job that took eight—
and next you are faced with the project
of putting them cows through the gate.

Of course, the ol' biddies can't see it.
It's a strange sort of bovine psychosis,
that sometimes they can't see a gate 'till
the moment you dare try to close it.
But you get them all through and all counted,
but the last one, who breaks for the hills.
The boss laughs, saying, "Well, boys, go get 'er!"
and the whole crew takes off with a yell.

She's shot through that gate like an eightball,
but the boys are all wanting revenge.
It's a wonder you don't rope each other,
but she's head 'n heeled right, in the end.
When you fin'lly get home and unsaddled,
you collapse while you're waiting to eat,
wore out, used up, and run over
from your hat to the soles of your feet.

Then you think, while you're quietly drifting
on edges of sleep, nice and slow,
that if cowboying weren't so darn romantic,
you'd have quit it a long time ago.

© 2006,  G. M. Atwater
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


"Cowboy Life" appeared in American Cowboy magazine, in August, 1995.
 

Gloria told us about her inspiration for the poem:

I wrote "Cowboy Life" mainly as a reflection any working cowboy may have, about the irony of the romantic vision of western living as opposed to the grimy, grungy, manure-in-the-bootheels reality of it—although he's still damn proud of the work he does.

We asked Gloria why she writes Cowboy Poetry and why she thinks it is important, and she commented: 

Cowboy poetry is, in my view, a historic tradition. I think it is no stretch to say that it traces its roots back hundreds of years to the very earliest bardic traditions. The purpose of cowboy poetry has always been to tell a story, to capture a moment or thought or ideal, or even just a gut-busting laugh—because it's worth remembering. Cowboy poetry captures something that others can hear or read and say, "Yeah, this is sure familiar." To outsiders it may seem a quaint, anachronistic genre set in predictable four-beat measures, but it's so much more than that. Cowboy poetry presents the heart and soul of a way of life: the good, the bad, the tragic and the hilarious, and as we rocket headlong into the 21st century, I think it's important to retain past traditions. Just in the past 15 years we've all seen the ranges and ranching change. Cowboy poetry is a way to make sure that life is not forgotten.  It is a way to remember who we still are.

You can email us to contact G. M. Atwater.

 

 

G. M. Atwater was recognized previously as one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up
for her poem, "The Home Place"

 

The Home Place

He leans upon his shovel,
tips his hat and wipes his brow.
The heat has sucked his strength plumb gone,
but, 'least there's water now.
More than was this morning,
just a sluggish, muddied pool.
The spring still runs, though slowly,
but, for now, it has to do.

He looks, then, all around him.
Cattle watch with wary gaze.
The grass is curling yellow
'neath the sun's ungodly blaze.
The earth is dry as flour -
Lord, it's only come July!
From foolish, hopeless habit,
he looks at the furnace sky.

There's clouds stacked up like cotton
far away beneath the sun,
but they're only empty promise.
No real moisture comes.
He clamps his dusty hat back on
and sighs with tired despair.
Dear God, when will You send us rain?
It's just so damn' unfair.

His great-grandpa first won this place
from sagebrush, rocks and sand.
His dad's and grand dad's entire lives
were woven in this land.
Someday soon it'd come to him . . .
but what, then, would be left?
For drought and debt and market whims
were bleeding them to death.

He once had left the old home place
to work for other brands.
He'd cowboyed, learned and rambled,
done his best to make a hand.
Then came the time when he'd returned,
content to settle down.
He'd married, just a year ago,
and she, too, loved this ground.

But now she's took a job in town
to help them pay the bills.
The doctors get a goodly chunk;
poor mom is often ill.
They sold the farm a few years back
where once they grew their hay.
It hurt him more'n he'd have thought,
seeing mem'ries hauled away.

He's never cared for farmin' work.
It just ain't in his heart.
But it'd been part of all their lives
and near pulled dad apart.
Tough old man keeps going,
but the son's begun to wonder;
how long of fighting uphill pulls
before the place goes under?

He's lately thought of pulling out,
and building life anew,
instead of wasting his best years
on what looks almost through.
But he can't leave his folks this way.
What if things go wrong?
Then all his life he'd think,
he could have helped, if he weren't gone.

Some would say, it's your own life.
Who says that you can't choose?
Deep inside, dad knows it;
fate decides what's win or loose.
His wife is understanding.
She's behind him either way.
But they neither one can answer,
is it time to go . . . or stay?

© 2006,  G. M. Atwater
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Gloria told us about her inspiration for the poem:

I wrote "The Home Place" quite a few years ago for a good friend of ours, a small rancher in Eastern Washington, who was going through some awfully hard times.  I never look for a poem, they seem to find me, and our friend's tale of hardship just kind of got stuck in my heart. I had the honor of reciting this poem at the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering when our friend was present to hear it, and his response afterwards gratified me more than words can say.

 

 

 

About G. M. Atwater:

I am a mule packer and cowhand, having worked together with my husband for twenty-some years on pack stations and cow outfits in Nevada, eastern and northern California, and northern Arizona.  I've been blessed to ride some of the most magnificent country in God's creation, and along the way get to know some awfully good folks. Nowadays we live near town on the California/Nevada border and work in the "modern" world, but we still get horseback and day-work when we can, and we've never sold our saddles.  Psst, and don't tell anybody, but I've also taken up border collies and sheepdog trials.  ;-)

Gloria M. Atwater's book of poetry, Backtracks Through the High, Wide, and Lonesome,
 is available for $7.95 plus shipping through Amazon.

 

 

 

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