JIM CARDWELL
Oroville, California
About Jim Cardwell

 

 

 

 

Thrasher

My garden grows abundantly. I tend it with great pride.
Raised beds running thirty feet are just about four feet wide.

Walkways covered flat with rock reach to every inch of ground.
Vines and corn stalks on the edges follow the fence around.

Salsa is my specialty, hand made from the garden's best.
Onions, peppers and cilantro infuse a special zest.

The recipe is tried and true, the best a few would swear.
Even won blue ribbons from the California State Fair.

One-hundred yards beyond the fence roll hills where cattle graze.
Two-hundred head can feed all spring when grass there is a-blaze.

Three strands of wire kept them grazers where they oughta stay
until one steer, I called Thrasher, saw greenery to appraise.

Rambling on a rabbit run, breakin' a fence post or two,
through a thicket toward my garden wondering what all grew

in that curious tall green cluster just across the draw,
Thrasher came to make the most of my salsa in the raw.

He nibbled on the overgrowth draped outside the border
roaming plant to plant, bed to bed, hors-d-oeuvres cut to order.

Then busting through some chicken wire and leaning in so far
he saw laid out before him an all you-could-eat salad bar.

When the dog had run him off I saw the loss was little
but that steer would return for he'd seen into the middle

and remembered the tastiest food that he ever found
was at the green beyond the draw, inside the middle ground.

Attacks occurred when quiet, mostly late night, sometimes dawn.
Every time he visited something else was grazed upon.

Little by little I fattened that single minded beef
feeling like half owner of the hungry oversized thief.

The day arrived in late fall when the Carter clan next door
hosted a district barbecue and very proudly swore

that the beef served was organic as any beef could be.
This one was their fattest steer, a Houdini escapee.

I scanned the herd for Thrasher then eyed the steak on my plate.
I could have guessed. He hadn't messed my garden as of late.

Was this my chance for revenge and recovery of my loss
or would I put it out of mind and pour on A-1 Sauce?

My mind weighed out a dozen thoughts, my face took on a frown,
my steak had grown much tougher getting harder to choke down.

The garden took some damage but that critter meant no sin.
I even learned to like his stupid well-fed Angus grin.

"Jim" said Carter, "Another steak? There's rib's a grillin' too
and if you are willin' I'd like to make a trade with you.

One case of salsa in exchange for fifty pounds of meat.
Each cut prime, wrapped and labeled, including a fillet treat."

I took the trade and thanked him for his generosity
then froze the Thrasher thinking that I'd use him gradually.

At Christmas time I even thought I'd wrap him with a bow
and give his choicest pieces to the people that I know.

In spring I finally threw a bash, a high flung barbecue
with all the customary fixins, Thrasher thrown in too.

All the folks left thinkin it's the spices they did savor,
wondering just what made up that special Southwest flavor.

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


Jim told us, "Thrasher" came about because cattle, from neighboring properties, annually break through the fence and graze on anything I grow. After seeing the same bovine face three or four times, I had to wonder if I was partially responsible for his wide girth. "Thrasher" simply brings the speculation full circle.

 

Clementine

The psychiatric problem suffered by my dog Clementine
was born amongst the rock fields near the Cerro Gordo mine.

My brother Chris, the dog and I, were traveling toward the site
of a little known abandon shaft thinking that we just might

find long forgotten relics, bottles, pieces of silver ore,
any interesting item left there a hundred years before.

We took my Ranger pickup. I knew she could manage the road
and for the unexpected find, she'd handle a hefty load.

With the landscape rough and rocky, too steep for pickup or horse,
we'd hike the last, most difficult mile, my dog out front of course.

Now Clemie is a Shepherd mix, more a pet than working breed.
As we ascended the rugged hillside Clemie took the lead.

Nearing the top of a narrow ridge we spied a patch of brown.
There stood a lone desert donkey curiously looking down.

Instead of running, like donkeys do, he firmly held his ground
with straight up ears like radar detecting every subtle sound.

As we approached he ambled near. Now we were face to muzzle.
Chris reached out and petted him perplexed by this desert puzzle.

Clementine thought nothing odd. To her a horse is just a horse.
With tail a wagging she circled back to join in the discourse.

Then two more donkeys wandered up just like in a petting zoo.
Though the beasts seemed tame enough we wondered what they were up to.

They slowly encircled Clementine like buzzards on the wing
then started chomping upon her flanks like Shepherd A-La-King.

I commenced to kicking, screaming. Chris was throwing rocks and sticks
doing our darndest to rescue Clemie from that deadly fix.

The fierceness that we fought with likely broke some federal laws
passed by urban bureaucrats in defense of some Ass's cause.

Once we chased those demons away, they scampered over the hill.
Seemingly safe we comforted Clemie, much relieved until

thundering hooves and a thick pack of brown filled our hearts with fright.
Charging hard were six devil donkeys with Clemie in their sight.

Retreating full stride over rubble, rock, creosol and sage,
we were losing the foot race to the demon donkey rampage.

They cut us off and Clementine was the one they singled out,
yipping, crying, and nipped at least once by every stinging snout.

My feeble attempts to save the pup were meeting with no luck
when Chris, strides ahead of the brawl, pulls his carbine from the truck.

"Duck" he yelled about the same time as he squeezed off the first round.
the second whizzed by above my head before I hit the ground.

The first ricocheted stinging one stud. The next round clipped an ear.
We might have gone to prison if any park rangers were near.

The third, forth and fifth, muzzle slightly raised, scattered higher still.
The herd from hell took to high ground, Clemie clambered down the hill.

Raising one eye, all I could see was a cloud of rumps and dust.
Under the truck, my much disturbed dog was unsure who to trust.

Consoling her did little good since she was so terror struck.
Through the open window she leaped to the floorboard of the truck.

We packed up quick and took off quicker. Not once had Clemie moved.
I expected that riding back home would find her much improved.

But there she stay for several days. You just couldn't coax her out.
If not for hunger and natures call, she'd still be there no doubt.

Now a days she avoids the stables. Cattle bother her too.
She wastes her days napping with cats or pawing all over you.

And with any clap of thunder or slamming of any door
she seeks security in the truck, curled up on the floor.

Flashbacks hit her especially hard if you let her see a gun.
My family misses their companion. This dog's life ain't much fun.

So our vet's prescribed her Prozac and the cost's not all that bad
compared to Clem's new dog house, you know, that truck that I once had.

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

 

 

Itching Denied the Benefit of Scratching

Restless atop the cluttered flatbed trailer
blocking an open gate, competing for space with
propane tanks, buckets of oysters, bloody spurs,
vaccine bottles, Camel Filters lost from who knows who,
water cooler with rust colored thumb print on the spout
that everyone ignored and drank from anyway,
and an open Advil bottle, sat lonely Dave
itching to once again climb horseback, cut and rope,
mug and vet, burn the brand of the Rafter H
deep and clean into virgin flanks,
probe for one retracted testicle from a soon-to-be steer,
anything to scratch the itch of compulsory watching
due to a deeply lacerated leg.

He sustained the gash off the hoof of his colt
who freaked and jumped higher than Harman's crop duster
when a calf, roped only around the neck amongst the clutter
of cattle and drovers, scampered left then cut behind
before Dave could prompt his colt to turn
freely entangling all four legs of his mount
not once, but twice.

It was a show not to be missed.
At first I thought Dave would ride him out,
but the colt never stopped kicking, bucking twisting,
throwing his rider to the ground tangled
in a web of lariat and encumbered limbs while
frantically fighting to escape from this perceived bovine death trap.

Dave pulled himself up looking good, which is to say conscious,
gathered his rope, glanced to the far end
of the arena where his trembling colt stood alone,
limped pretty well to the trailer sporting an increasingly bloody sock,
and there revealed the eight inch long full thickness laceration
that doomed him as a spectator
contemplating an itch not to be scratched,
at least until sutured.

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

Jim told us: This poem is an exact re-telling of a wreck at a Rafter-H branding. Dave wanted me to be sure I mentioned he was tossed up only where aircraft fly.

 


Sombrero

The Gathering commenced under frozen clear skies.
A zero degree morning could frost up your eyes.
I purchased a program, a latte and a book
then picked out a seat where I would get the best look.
Our chamber filled fast with some standing in the back
to hear three Cowboy bards with a poetic knack.

With spare chairs now taken, our shoulders tight in line,
I wondered what to do with this clutter of mine.
The program was stuffed in the pocket of my coat.
The last of the coffee I then threw down my throat.
My coat was then draped on the back of my chair.
The book flat on the floor. My hat, God knows where.

Once trained in the Service to uncover inside
I was plagued by a habit ingrained in my pride.
But like many men folk the hat stayed on my head
while struggling to hear all the words being read.
My arm felt a tapping. Someone whispered at me.
The ladies close behind just had no way to see.

I took the hat off quickly and stuffed it with the book
so the people behind me could get a good look.
And I did feel much better with my hat off inside
sustaining no real harm to my habit or pride.
For the first time all morning I heard the poems fine.
Without that sombrero I made out every line.

And the hat was not trampled from front or behind.
Not a speckle of mud on the brim did I find.
So if you're compelled to act on feelings so strong
remember that some habits help you get along.
And should you ever face this kind of moral spat
learn a lesson from me and take off the darned hat.

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

This poem was published in Nevada County Poetry Series Anthology, 2002


Jim told us: The first year I went to Elko, I expected poetry to flow my way on the drive there. It didn't happen. I was past expectation when I took a seat for  the first show I would see. As luck would have it, the poets were Wally McRae, John Dofflemyer, and Paul Zarzyski. I was familiar with Wally's poem "Hat Etiquette" as I pondered what to do with mine. 

The idea kept working around in my brain. Over lunch, I wrote it, then presented the first draft at an "Anything Goes" session that afternoon. What did I learn? Always keep your mind open, and never read an hour old first draft.

[See our feature about peoples' "first time" at Elko, which includes these comments]

 

Snakestale 
(How I Lost That Rattle)

Just an hour before sunrise, asleep inside my sack,
I was waken by someone softly tapping on my back.

Rollin' over lazily, still too dark to really see,
I remembered Chris O'Riley was bed down next to me.

With him bein' a late sleeper, not one to wake up quick,
the camp dead quiet, cold morning breeze, could this be a trick?

He tapped a little harder softly whispering my way
"Jim? Are you awake? Don't move. Just listen to what I say".

Now, Chris was quiet, talked too little, a loner we agreed.
If he uttered two words at once they'd likely be "Stam Pede!"

"Jim!", he pled with a shaky voice, "I surely hate to beg
but a six foot snake is in my sack draped across on my leg.

The tale's tangled round my toes and twitchin' with unease.
I fear that it's a rattler. Jimmy, can you help me please?".

I knew from his sincerity and trembling of his voice
that as a fellow buckaroo I had no other choice.

I woke Bill Perkins on my right, then we hatched out a plan
to rid O'Riley from the snake, or save a bitten man.

I drew my knife to slit it if I got in the first lick.
Bill rigged a slip knot out of rope looped on a sharpened stick.

A tourniquet to cinch his leg was made from cotton twine.
Without whiskey to wash the wounds, we took the cooking wine.

Cookie fetched a flour sack should we capture the snake first.
The CPR book was passed around in case of the worst.

With a razor Cookie cut the down bag away from Chris
then stopped just above the knees upon hearing a soft hiss.

"That's good enough." I whispered then lifted the feathered flap.
The moistened head was coiled up in Chris's sweating lap.

From the cut the downy feathers were whipped up by the breeze
just as the serpent raised his head and Chris started to sneeze.

Twas then I grabbed the scaly neck before the head could strike.
Bill jumped in with snare and stick grabbin' snake and leg alike

The down tipped tale that twisted round to get back at my grip
was cut off clean by Cooky, then it turned into a whip.

Dirt was flying, feathers blowing. Spattered by slingin' blood
two of us had grabbed that serpent as close as I could judge.

Half way hidden in the brawl Chris was struck repeatedly
between the ankle and the groin though we could hardly see.

Four scared men and one scared snake tangled on the barren ground.
Dirt and feathers, wine and blood spattered fifteen feet around.

Fightin' for his vary life that snake gained the upper hand
and slipped through fingers wet and feathered into no-man's-land.

We stumbled backward, scattering to give that snake some room
then waited on the edges of the dust and feather plume.

Starrin' down on his mangled britches Chris was scared as hell.
Except for a few scratches he was feelin' mostly well.

"He never sank his fangs in me but tried his darndest to.
I owe my life ten times over to everyone of you,"

With daylight breaking, shadows stretchin' clear across the camp
there were a hundred hiding places for that reptile scamp.

Though we looked intensely for him it came to no avail
then in the tattered sleepin' bag I found the severed tail.

That snake had been a gopher, not a rattler as we thought
but I couldn't let on after the fracas we had fought.

From my pocket I dropped a rattle cut two days ago
off a twister I found trampled and set on by a crow.

I picked it from the gutted bedroll sayin' "I count ten"
then passed it round so everyone could shake the specimen.

Chris started to dust himself off and seemed to almost cry,
"I haven't been the best cowhand. But now I gonna try.

You won't find me a-slackin' off or sleepin' in too late.
I'm gonna do my best and carry more than my own weight."

In the days that followed he became a different man
by chasing strays, fetchin' wood, doin' anything he can.

He even started talking to us, telling a few jokes,
and for the first time showed his good side to us normal folks.

So I'll keep my secret when we laugh about the battle.
I'd do the same again. And that's how I lost that rattle.

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


 

Dick Plummer

"You've gotta meet this old cowboy, he's what you're looking for.
Gettin' him to spin his yarns could be the difficult chore."

Mark was always on the prowl for stories that I could write.
Given the chance and right occasion Dick Plummer just might

open up and tell a tale that would glue you to your seat.
"And If he takes a couple nips we're all in for a treat."

Mark was smitten by Plummer's stories, it was plain to see.
The legend of this drover's days he laid out straight to me.

"We'll take a trip come deer season out to the Deep Creek Ranch.
Ask him about his Air Force days if you get half a chance.

Not many tail gunners ever spoke about their lives.
Not many ever came back to their children and their wives.

Never shot down, nary a scratch, he flew home full of joy.
Running luck he tried his hand as a rodeo cowboy.

But rodeo soon took its toll. He broke his back in two.
Bulls and broncs inflicted damage that Nazis couldn't do.

Lucky still to walk upright, and a loner to the core,
he embraced the cowboy life never wishing he had more.

His careful knack for cattle lore soon made him a top hand
and claimed that at one hundred yards he'd read most any brand.

Perseverance through the seasons for almost forty years,
birthing, branding, roping, rounding, outsmarting stubborn steers,

bitter cold, blistering heat, biscuits, bacon every day,
horses as his closest companions, turned him out this way.

I can't remember every outfit where he said he'd been
East of the Independence, the I-L, Petann, and Flynn.

Much too soon the mundane dangers that all cowboys must brave
became too treacherous and likely'd put em' in his grave.

Just like a broke down cutting horse who knew his run was through
Dick was fast approaching the end, his saddle days were few.

Old folks homes, city slums, offered no kind of life at all.
About the time he wished that he could hear his Master's call,

Old Doc Flynn contracted him to caretake the Deep Creek spread
wintering over watching things and feed what needed fed.

Given new purpose to his life Dick came alive once more.
The Mori brothers made him family, not a visitor.

Books have become his fondest passion. Reading helps him through.
In the lonely winter season there's little else to do.

He didn't worry when his eyesight first began to blur.
Had he pursued treatment sooner there might have been a cure.

Glasses, eye drops, large print books, he's tried about everything.
Doc Flynn says as things are right now he could go blind by spring.

Don't hesitate to squarely look into his steel blue eyes.
They're pert near blind but you can see they don't tell any lies.

The Mori's let on that he's losing most of his will to live.
Now they call three times a week trying to be talkative."

I'd come to know Dick fairly well by all the things Mark said.
when last night Mark confided in me, "Jim, Dick Plummer's dead."

The phone just rang and rang last week and the Mori boys knew
as lonely as Dick had become his earthly days were through.

They snowmobiled through the drifts across the silent plain.
Fear became reality when they found where Dick had lain.

A fitting finish to his race tucked in his bunkhouse bed,
frozen coffee pot, stone cold stove, books that were never read."

Though I never met Dick Plummer I felt him in my gut.
I sensed the passing of the man and thus his chapter shut.

The tales that he might have told I never got to hear.
Mark could clearly see my sadness and scolded "Persevere.

Write the stories that I gave you. You shouldn't agonize."
So here I write a history, and maybe eulogize.

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

 

Jim told us about his inspiration for the poem, "Dr. Mark Heinrich encouraged me to write it. Nothing included is believed to be un-true. None of the names have been changed for any reason. Dick's family, Doc Flynn, the Mori Brothers, to the best of my knowledge, all live in Northern Nevada..."

 

 

Painted Pink

Those promises to pull your weight are bordering on lies.
I'm tired of mucking out your stalls just keeping down the flies.
I keep my horses fed and groomed. I keep my paddock clean.
You think I'm looking angry now? Look out if I turn mean.
You tell me that you work too hard. Well darling so do I
There is one good solution that I think we ought to try.
I picked a couple pamphlets up and circled what I need
They've got them at the Home And Ranch, a very sturdy breed
They never need a brushing down. They'll never throw a shoe.
They work all day without complaint. There's nothing they can't do
Cuz each time you procrastinate you bring me to the brink
I want a new Kubota and I want it painted pink


The garden that you tried to grow is dormant, sprouting weeds.
A foot-deep roto-tilling is exactly what it needs
The road is rough and rutted and could use some filling in
The sooner that we bought it, well, the sooner you'd begin
You tell me that you work too hard. Let's give this thing a try.
There's twenty different projects you could help me beautify.
I know the model that I want. The options all are yours.
By Saturday it could be here.    We'll polish off those chores.
I'll clear out all the stables if you dig the water line
We'll fertilize the orchard and produce an apple wine.
So don't try to procrastinate. Your signature in ink
will buy our new Kubota. And I want it painted pink.

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

 

Jim told us about the inspiration for his poem: The idea was given to me by a woman at the 2002 Elko Gathering after she heard me perform a poem. This was her message to her husband. Multiple attempts to tell her story failed. All that I was sure of was the last line. Only when I wrote music for the piece did it come together by providing a lattice work to provide meter and structure.

 

Ordinary Adel Day

Basin winds blew bitingly cold with a stinging grit of sand.
Bundled up tight, my hat pulled low, I'm the newly hired hand.
Riders rounding the scattered cattle were difficult to see
as miles removed they navigate through the sage and greasewood sea.
Priss and Duane pushed up the valley, gathering around the well.
Stan and Jake cleared the far ridge top, manic cow dogs ran pell-mell.
Soon four-hundred head combined. The dust cloud rolled a brownish gray.
Into the pen they rambled on an ordinary Adel day.

Stan and Jake commenced cutting cows as Jimmi guarded the gate.
Duane and Lafe began building loops. I would mug and vaccinate.
Dennis fired the branding iron while I loaded the vaccine gun.
Priss ground a razor edge on her blade. We'd work in unison.
My head was turned, attention grabbed, by the fragrance in the air.
A cowboy savors the moment when he first smells burning hair.
One by one we'd welcome the young in this orchestrated fray
A routine rodeo to grace an ordinary Adel day.

It took little time to find my feet and fit in with this crew.
Half the game was working hard and understanding what to do.
Weather ripping through the Warners soon rumbled across the crest.
Sleet and rain first stung my neck as the squall blew in from the West.
Thirty calves were downed and vetted when the hides became too damp
thus branding work came to a halt and might force us to brake camp.
"We’ll take a break," Priss called to us, "and finish later today.
Work is paced by weather on an ordinary Adel day.

"Chow’s about on at Adel store" came the welcome word from Priss.
To call this crossroads a little small would be a bit remiss.
Still it serves it's life blood purpose, reliable as the day.
You ride to chuck and dine deluxe from the single choice buffet.
Coyote, deer, and elk heads hangin' have replaced the M.C. steers
Legends live but for a moment then are changed throughout the years
Coors on draught in Mason jars entices a cowboy to stay.
Common sense commands only one on a ordinary Adel day.

Winds relaxed below broken skies as the branding hit full stride.
Half way finished our coats came off as sun warmed the countryside.
Performing like an outfit that had worked together for years
we practiced our cowboy magic turning bull calves into steers.
Priss's blade sliced with precision, nuggets never touching sand.
Stan would ride without touching reins. Dennis burned clean every brand.
Catlin's colt could out wit cattle. Jimmi's loops would seldom stray.
Talents performed routinely on an ordinary Adel day.

Storm clouds rallied from the North and swirled cold around the butte
dropping temperatures, whipping up snow. Still we were resolute
on finishing the twenty head we figured were left to go.
Working hard would keep us warm and help to expedite this show.
Family time at four PM gave Stan good reason to depart.
But being full blood buckaroo, said "I finish what I start.
There's still a couple calves to brand. I can't leave a job this way".
Honor is important on an ordinary Adel day.

"One calf left? I believe that's all" came encouragement from Jake.
But once we'd finished that critter, he realized his mistake.
Stan found another then dragged him in, the last calf once again.
Catlin called "One more heifer's in the back corner of the pen."
"And there's another" hollered Duane. "He's white with a patch of brown"
But despite a valiant effort, Duane just couldn't pull him down.
"They're multiplying, or so it seems" I said with some dismay.
Miracles sometimes happen on an ordinary Adel day.

The white calf scurried like a rabbit, cutting both left and right.
No one could lay a lariat round him try hard as they might.
Seeing daylight beyond the gate he plotted a bonsai course
throwing up dirt and digging hard directly at Jimmi's horse.
Through the gate, then into a fence, he bounced like a rubber ball.
He charged again and bounced again. The opening was too small.
Then wiggling tight between two strands, he was free and underway.
Perseverance matters much on an ordinary Adel day.

While Jake and Stan were cut off by the barbed wire barricade,
into the thickest greasewood scampered the white-faced renegade.
To the next gate they galloped hard in a furious pursuit
intent on wasting little time to capture that wily brute.
Once out front they headed him off then staged a surprise attack.
Whopping and whipping they turned him round, too far to drag him back.
We stepped aside and hunkered down not wishing to spook this stray.
Caution is required on an ordinary Adel day.

In our clutches once again we polished off this final calf.
Victorious in our closing task, we all began to laugh.
Then before we cut loose the cows to scavenge the range once more
the voice of Lafe yelled out to us from the pen's interior,
"Boys, you've done one hell of a job, and I know you'll understand
how much I hate to be sayin’ this. There' still one more to brand".
We finished the feat, then broke camp on our cowboy passion play.
Life is sweet when savored on an ordinary Adel day.

© 2007, Jim Cardwell 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Buckaroo Vang

The kid got his name in the darndest way. I'm the man who should know
Without me that Laotian kid wouldn't be riding rodeo.

I'd had worked in emergency rooms for just about twenty years
Every conceivable crisis had dampened my deepest fears.

Except for one, that dreadful event, the second stage of labor.
Terror from shear insecurity cut through me like a saber.

The first stage is best, a brainless response. You just take then to OB.
There's little to fear, no clean-up chores, nothing you don't want to see.

The third is a breeze. Tension has passed. Events have mostly resolved
The second stage is dangerous ground. My confidence dissolved.

Now I've seen my fair share of birthing calves using both rope and chain.
But when it comes to human beings, the encounter just ain't the same.

His mom arrived as New Years tolled, sprawled out in the back of a van.
The way she clutched her abdomen would chill an ordinary man.

I fetched a chair then wheeled her to the nearest elevator.
"Baby coming," she calmly moaned. I'd start the paper work later.

"How many babies have you had?' I asked as doors sealed my fate.
Bracing her legs and leaning back hard, she managed to mutter "Eight."

I donned a pair of latex gloves then heard a horrifying squeak.
The algorithm of L&D required that I take a peak.

Eyeball to eyeball I gawked at a face, and not a happy one.
Locked alone with this crowning event I cowered under the gun.

The smock I wore on this New Year's morn was all the linen I had.
Soon as I managed to pull it off, the second stage turned truly bad.

With one final push Buck arrived like a breaker thrown from a mount.
The chute flew open and he shot out, about a two second count.

I scooped him mid-air with my right hand, draped by the disarranged smock.
He bounced a bit off the wheelchair's frame, thus took his first hard knock.

Then like a football wide receiver pulling in a rain-slick ball,
I tucked the bundle to my chest, preventing a harder fall.

His cry was hardy, his arms were stronger, his face a rosy hue.
I welcomed this handsome newcomer, "You're a right strong buckaroo."

Unknown to me his mama believed that the name bestowed on a son
should be the first words spoken to him when his earthly life begun.

So Buckaroo his name would be. There never would be remorses.
And sure enough, since he first talked, the thing he loved most were horses.

It may seem an odd career for a second generation Hmong,
But for a young man named Buckaroo, any other would be wrong.

He's moving up fast, a golden lad in the saddle bronc category.
Now that you've heard it straight from me, you know the rest of the story.

© 2007, Jim Cardwell 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Jim comments: In this poem I merged the worlds of the cowboy with the emergency room
nurse. Why can't a guy or gal be both? Most of the lines are so true that they could be honestly submitted as legal medical documentation of the event. I am sometimes referred to as a teaching tool for young RNs with no OB experience (yet). Believability of this poem requires acceptance of a yet unknown future for "Buckaroo."

 

   

The Freeze of '42

Euriah and Elizabeth set off across the plains
Pushing hard a wagon through the summer dust and rain
Leaving far behind them their Indiana home
Starting new in Iowa never more to roam

They packed two hundred pound of seed, her mother’s rocking chair
A year’s supply of salt and cloth, her bridal of earthen-ware 
They homestead in a land of promise, luxuries were few
Expecting that in springtime they’d start their life a-new

And they gave thanks for their faithfulness in moments of despair
They gave thanks for the oxen that pulled more than they could bare
They gave thanks for their stubbornness that helped them make a stand
They gave thanks for health and fortune from  their Father’s hand 

Working hard to carry out their optimistic plan
Little time was left before the winter months began
Summer ended swiftly as they built a home of sod.
Autumn arrived harshly. Now they had to trust in God  

That Thanksgiving morning in a cutting frigid breeze
They praised the Lord for all these gifts while singing on their knees
Hope had brought them to this land. Faith would see them through.
Survival was un-certain in that freeze of Forth-two

And they gave thanks for their faithfulness in moments of despair
They gave thanks for the sage grouse that had stumbled in a snare
They gave thanks for the draft team they’d need to work the land
They gave thanks for their health and fortune from their father’s hand

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


Jim tells, "After some success in writing songs, my wife thought I should write many more. She suggested I use some of my own poems as the basis for songs, starting with 'Iowa 1842' (a free verse poem). I took some of the original images and mixed in others with a strict rhyme scheme. The music was influenced by a classical piece."

 

Mojave August

Mojave august
Searing heat sucks every drop
Thirst rages silent


Sunrise

Desert breeze ablaze
Sunrise entices fury
As hostile sands dance


Fragrance

Brief fragrance of rain
Dust smolders on thirsty sage
Passing with each breeze


© 2008, Jim Cardwell 
These poems may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Average Drive to Elko

I rousted everyone early wanting to leave about five.
My wife and girls were grumbling about the upcoming drive.
The cats and dogs were kenneled except for our big guy Herman.
He’d chase away or keep at bay any unwanted vermin.
Except for the thermos of coffee still sitting on the stove
I can’t recall an oversight. So I expeditiously drove
to the Highway 20 junction and an all night coffee shop.
Gas could wait until out of state where prices would surely drop.

With the girls dropped off at Grandma's house very good time we made.
Highway 20 cut a canyon deep through pines up the Washington grade.
Needles blown with spitting snow swirled across the littered road.
Brake lights flashed some ways ahead, a car momentarily slowed.
As we approached there lay a deer draped across the dotted line.
Likely he’d been hit by that car. I’m lucky it wasn’t mine.

I pulled over to clear the lane. No doubt this poor buck was dead.
The only injuries I could see was to his neck and head.
The flanks were both clean, not one scratch and on a different day
a man might claim him as his pay for clearing the right of way.

Where 20 merges into 80 snow was starting to stick
but all the lanes were open for now and moving pretty quick.
Too quick it seems for Frisco gamblers speeding in SUVs
spun out on the uncleared shoulder stuck in drifts above their knees.

Fifteen miles from the summit they stopped everyone for chains.
Fifteen minutes later with blue hands and bulging purple veins
we proceeded in mounting snow navigating through the tracks
of a four-wheel drive Suburban with an over stuffed ski rack. 

Snow continued steadily. I expected a foot might drop.
But chain controls were lifted just over Donner Summit’s top.
Passing Truckee my wife gets antsy, I know the tell-tale sign.
I’m hoping to stop in Reno, she’s hoping for the state line.
But price of fuel in these mountains runs excessively high.
We’ll make good time to Reno where gas is a much better buy.  

In the clutter of casinos I found a convenience store.
Nearing the pumps, before I could stop, she bolted out the door
muttering something at me about taking her own sweet time.
I bought us coffee and sandwiches as payment for my crime.
Our appetites appeased for now I start checking out the map
just as she is settling into her seat drifting off to nap.  

Traffic is sparse. The desert’s drying. While she sleeps I’m counting
on driving straight through without slowing until Battle Mountain.
But just shy of Winnemucca a State Trooper with a flair 
diverts traffic for a toppled trailer in the thoroughfare.
She awakes. Her stomach's grumbling almost as loud as mine,
body language telling me I’d best find a good place to dine.
I wasn’t about to argue. Plus that bone spur in my hip
can't stand too much just sitting down on a seven hour trip.

Fed and stretched we’re good to go with two hours separating
us from our motel room and a little recuperating.
But frigid winds pervaded the passes. Forward momentum slowed.
Temperatures outside the windows were becoming mighty cold.
Since the heater in my Chevy’s never working up to snuff,
my wife pulls out two blankets,
a pillow,
ski hat,
scarf,
ear muffs,
gloves,
and some other foul weather stuff.

In short time we’re in Elko, and we find our motel gladly.
They even took the Visa card. Things didn’t go too badly.
Yah, this year's trip was uneventful. Nothing really went awry.
My wife said that I can drive next year. She intends to fly.

© 2009, Jim Cardwell 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Saddle Pal

We first encountered the problem when one day, Charlie Smyth
got to thinking of all the things he hadn't done with his life.
And when a cowboy gets to thinking about mortality
you never know what may happen or what the outcome will be.

He’d been working outfits since a scrapping lad in his teens
And never worried much about saving for his future means.
Last year at a County Fair he stopped to watch a puppeteer
observing how ventriloquists moved an eye, a hand, an ear.

For many weeks those images kept running round in his head.
Then armed with faded flannel long johns, buttons, needle and thread
he fashioned the first of half a dozen fabricated pards.
One by one those shifty saddle pals slickered us off our guards.

He finally crossed the border line of these simple saddle shows
when he mail ordered to New York where puppet building pros
built a pint sized cowboy puppet designed to look just like him
with a handlebar mustache and deceptively friendly grin.

"Billy" arrived in a padded box that locked both high and low.
Charlie's one day needing' the same was something we'd yet to know.
Both signed on to work Alturus through the Summer and the fall
practicing the skills they would need to play at Carnage Hall.

Now Charlie is a cowboy true. He's honest, brave, and gallant.
But as for ventriloquism, he sadly lacks the talent.
The third night out, around the fire, with one man singing low,
Charlie unbuckled Billy and started putting on a show.

They both wore faded Wrangler jeans and a long sleeve flannel shirt,
buckskin boots, a new grey hat. Not one sign of brown trail dirt.
This quickly caught our attention. We stopped and watched a while.
The two of them looked so alike at first we just had to smile.

But a hitch became apparent that got us all to gawking.
We were never really sure which dummy was doing the talking.
And they really weren’t very funny, much too personal too.
It got to wearing thin if they started talking about you.

There were a couple arguments, and it could have caused a fight
until the boss intervened and turned us all in for the night.
In the evenings following when we'd normally socialize
Charlie would sometimes sneak out Billy and take us by surprise.

He'd joke about me, he'd joke about you, anything at all.
This would become unbearable if it lasted until Fall.
Hands volunteered to ride night herd, or doing unsavory tasks.
If it wasn't with those two jokers, you didn't have to ask.

We thought it odd when one day the boss sent Charlie into town
to get supplies we needed, and new duds for his wooden clown.
Once out of sight he called us in. A meeting was swiftly held
so everyone could speak their minds. Some complained. Some begged. Some yelled.

Billy would cut you where you hurt. The pain was hell to feel.
We all got to believing that Billy was live and real.
Now I ain't one for murdering, so Charlie Smyth could live.
But as fore that New York City menace, something had to give.

Convincing us to rise and act, the boss didn’t have to try.
The only question remaining now was how soon would Billy die?
The very next night with supper done the boss to Charlie said
"Why not give us all another show before we're off to bed."

That's all it took to bait the hook. They sat up straight and sturdy.
I whittled, Jose braided, the boss cleaned his 30-30.
Out of the darkness came pounding hooves. A branch snapped off a tree.
A voice from behind the wagon yelled "A horse is runnin' free."

The show came to a sudden halt. Two men ran to inquire.
The boss ejected two cartridges into the blazing fire.
"Jump for cover!" Jose hollered. I pushed Charlie off his seat
leaving Billy grievously close to the growing deadly heat.

One shell exploded, then the other, sparks and stuffing scattered.
None of the crew was shot or burned and that's what mostly mattered.
We raised our heads up carefully, Charlie called out Billy's name.
His saddle pal lay face down burning, feeding the fire's flame.

Jose cried out. "I couldn't move. My Wranglers snagged on that stump.
I knew I was a dead man. And that's when I saw Billy jump!
He saved my life, and maybe yours. I know I'm sounding insane.
Except for that New York puppet I'd be in a heap-a-pain."

There wasn't a doubt. Billy was Dead. Charlie just left him stay.
Every cowhand hung down their heads. No one dared to walk away.
Now, all of this was carefully planned, of that there's no denying.
Strange thing is, I saw Billy jump too! And I'm not one for lying.

© 2009, Jim Cardwell 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

 

Son of California

It's good to live out West in California
Far from killer hail and hurricanes
Never was a safer land discovered
But drivers go plum crazy when it rains

I was born and raised here in California
I could live 'bout anywhere I'd choose
Soft winds soothe the valleys in the Summer
Happy cows make happy buckaroos

And I'm proud to be a son of California
A melting pot not matched in many lands
Where steak and quiche are served with homemade salsa
and folks and cows all wear designer brands

Grass is tall come March in California
Rain can come a-plenty overnight
Flooding hardly hits us in the Springtime
when the levees manage to hold tight

Earthquakes don't concern us Californians
Though we see some bigger shakes than most
Tremors are a cheap form of amusement
Still I wouldn't live out on the coast

And I'm proud to be a son of California
A melting pot not matched in any land
Where fish and figs are served with guacamole
And life just ain’t the way your mother planned

Politicians love us Californians
Money of our kind is hard to pass
Movie stars can learn a new profession
When they finish Arnold's acting class

It costs a lot to live in California
and I'm a man of fairly modest means
Still my cookbook's sellin' well at Borders
"Fifty Ways to Feed a Cowboy Beans"

And I'm proud to be a son of California
A melting pot not matched in any land
Where shrimp and beans are served with chicarrones
And strangers for a price will lend a hand

Where beef and quiche are served with homemade salsa
And anyone can join a cowboy band

© 2010, Jim Cardwell 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Jim comments:  While watching weather news, with hurricane Katrina hours away from ripping into New Orleans, I said to myself, "It's good to live out west in California"... No song ever came easier to me.

[Jim's garden yields some of the best salsa in the West. He often donates his salsa to events' silent auctions, and he's been known to arrange for special deliveries at those events.]
 

Clown

Upon regaining sight he squints
blinded anew in a rainbow
blur beamed from three
triangulated spotlights, smelling
grease paint and leather,
then watching someone’s hand,
numb and contorted,
dig fiercely with splintered nails
into fresh sawdust and dung.
Muddled still in stupor
he hears a thousand screams,
none too clear, some calling his name
though he does not know why.
Then one memory.
Fierce untamed eyes, frothing
snout, and blunted yellow horns
slamming him deep into the dirt
breaking more than his fall.

© 2012, Jim Cardwell 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Jim told us that a version of the poem, with the title "Acrobat," received an honorable mention at the 2012 Bay Area Poets Coalition "Poets Dinner Contest."

 

Patty's Brand

They were surly, they were snooty when we pushed them in the pen.
The day was dawning difficult for a dozen gals and men.
And though we started crack of dawn, only half the herd was done
when chilly morning winds gave way to a glairing mid day sun.
One renegade, a stout bull calf, had been slipping loops all day.
He slipped another then found his feet, stampeding hard my way
where Mike and I had started work on a calf already down.

Gazing backward, not quite in time, I observed a blur of brown.
That renegade head rammed us hard and I heard a hapless gasp.
The glowing iron was knocked clean out of Mike’s reliable grasp.
Events now moved in slow motion. Our reactions seemed delayed
The sparkled rod fell square between myself and that renegade.
Sizzling from the Double-Bar left a most distinctive brand
on the belly of that bull calf, and the back of my left hand.

Now
At the Western Folklife Center, in the G-Bar, on display,
flows a quilt of brands and names honoring folks you can’t repay.
At the bottom, in the middle, I found Patty Clayton’s name.
This brand adorning my hand and hers looked exactly the same.
Mike consoled me, “Too bad, Jim. She’s got a good claim on you‘re hide.
Don’t you worry about your family. I’ll explain things to your bride.”

So
If Patty comes to gather me like some long lost lonesome calf
I’ll bolt before it crosses her mind to slice some part in half.

© 2013, Jim Cardwell 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Jim told us, "Last year I showed up at Elko with a deep red, cast iron burn on my hand. A quilt on display at the Western Folklife Center included Patty Clayton's name and brand. Mike, fireman-cowboy-friend, gave sympathy to the wound. The poem came together instantly."

Jim is referring to the quilt that award-winning South Dakota poet, ranchwife, and champion quilter Yvonne Hollenbeck conceived and created to commemorate the 25th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering:

Find more about the quilt and see a larger photo here.

 

Read Jim Cardwells Prelude to a Drought posted with 2005 Christmas poems

and

Iowa 1842 posted with 2006 Christmas poems

 

 

About Jim Cardwell:

In 1951, I was born in Cherokee, Iowa and soon moved by well-meaning parents to California for the benefits of city life. Love of the land never left my heart. After high school, a year of college, Navy service that included a Vietnam tour, I returned to college studying nursing and writing. I also embraced rural life expecting to live off the land. That dream led me to a mountain cabin near North San Juan, then an olive orchard in the foothills near Oroville. I wanted to raise produce (organic salsa and olives) and livestock. Mostly I've raised Children. Since finishing nursing school in 1979 I have worked as an RN. most of those years in emergency. I seasonally cowboy at round-ups and brandings for the Rafter H brand out of Colusa, California, and Adel, Oregon.

My serious writing began fifteen years ago. Cowboy poetry became a large part of that. Poetry and essays of mine have been published by THE ACORN, POETALK, ZAMBOMBA, THE JOURNAL OF NURSING JOCULARITY, NEVADA COUNTY POETRY SERIES, THE PEGASUS REVIEW, STRUGGLE, RATTLESNAKE PRESS, REMUDA, COWBOYPOETRY.COM, and won multiple humor awards at the Berkeley POET'S DINNER CONTEST. My poem/song "Four Horse Trailer Man" appears on the JOEL NELSON BENEFIT video from the Elko Gathering in 2002. For two years I produced and hosted POETRY ON REQUEST on KRBS Radio, Oroville, CA. My cowboy poetry and music CD, FIVE SILVER DOLLARS, was released in October, 2007. My cowboy poetry CD, A SON OF CALIFORNIA, was released in April, 2006. I regularly perform both featured and open mic sessions in Visalia, Salinas, Monterey, Grass Valley, Auburn, Willits, Sacramento, Chico, Vinton, Reno, Elko, and other locales.



Five Silver Dollars

Five Silver Dollars includes six songs and five poems:


Waiting for You
Four Horse Trailer Man
Painted Pink
Son of California
First oak
On the Peach
Sixteen Pills
Buckaroo Vang
Ordinary Adel Day
Los Banos Bypass Blues
Streets of Laredo (Traditional)



Jim Cardwell, vocals and rhythm guitar
The Feather River Gypsies (Brett Johnson, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, musical direction;
Jimi Tears, Mandolin, Fiddle; Nick Caspers, Bass)
Fiddlin' Pete Watercott, fiddle and mandolin
 

Available for $14 postpaid from:

Froggie Lane Productions
PO Box 5282
Oroville, CA 95966

or e-mail:
onecowboypoet@dcsi.net


 

A Son of California

A Son of California includes Jim Cardwell's original work: fifteen poems and two songs:


Ferrari's Dairy
Itching Denied the Benefit of Scratching
Thrasher
Prelude to a Drought
Average Drive to Elko
Sombrero
An Open Grave
Leadfood
Saddle Pal
Dick Plummber
A Chat with My Rooster
Priss's Secret
Iowa 1842
Clementine
Snakestale
Four Horse Trailer Man (song)
Son of California (song)

Jim Cardwell, words, lyrics, vocals, rhythm guitar
Bret Johnson, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass
Fiddlin' Pete Watercott, fiddle and mandolin
Andrew Cardwell, percussion

Available for $15 postpaid from:

Froggie Lane Productions
PO Box 5282
Oroville, CA 95966

or e-mail:
onecowboypoet@dcsi.net

 

www.cowboypoetry.com

 

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