Folks' Poems

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Kansas City, Kansas
About John Anderson




Eatin' Dirt

It's been years since I've been horseback, but you know, I can't forget
The feel of rump and saddle, and the burn of lariat
As it whizzes through my fingers, too slow, I missed the horn.
As I watch my efforts trot away, I know I'm not a cowboy born.

Now, by brother, Dad, and nephew could ride anything with hair,
But every time I tried it, all I ever spurred was air!
I've eat enough area dirt, whole sections should be gone,
An' I mighta tried it oftener, if I coulda just stayed ON!

I resin'd chaps and saddle, hopin' I could keep my seat.
I woulda velcroed butt to horse, but they wouldn't let me cheat.
I grew up around the rodeo, so I know the buzzer's sound.
It's that funny little noise I heard, shortly after comin' down.

It was not humiliation that drove me from the game,
Nor was it when I figured out I'd never earn the fame.
It wasn't even buckin' off, and knowin' I'd get hurt.
The thing that finally made me quit was eatin' all that DIRT!

It seems the critters always knew where the fresh deposits were,
And each time I went a-sailin', it was always just that fur.
Each time I tried, I came right down, there never was relief.
I've eat enough horse apples, to grow spuds between my teeth!

So, I'll not keep on tryin' to get past that buzzer's sound.
Folks, I'm just plain weary of eatin' all that ground.
Although I know cowboyin' is surely in my blood,
I also know, for stayin' on I surely am a DUD!

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


John told us: I was inspired to write this one one day as I was thinking about the very different paths taken by me and the rest of my family.  I started wondering why I didn't spend more of my energies on the rodeo I grew up in, then I started laughing--I knew exactly why--hence this poem.


No Regrets

Daddy's cane of Diamond Willow, strong and gnarled as his old hands
Fingers hard and muscles knotted, strong from workin' on the land.
Daddy's Diamond Willow cane, why, you could bend, but never break it,
Daddy's Diamond Willow heart, well, you could break, but never shake it.

Lowly, ugly Diamond Willow, sought and caught while it was growin'
Lowly, ugly Diamond Willow, stripped and smoothed with juices flowin'.
Shaped with thoughts to please the Maker, by hands of brown Lakotah race,
Tommy Ducheneaux's Respect-Gift, smiling pride upon his face.

When Momma died, the cane was Dad's, with it's knob of brass antique,
Not as old as he who carried it, but equally unique.
That cane and Dad went everywhere, it was always close to hand.
He never had to look around, when he sought its help to stand.

Leaned against his chair, like that, or laid across his knees,
He'd rub that Willow cane and talk, and reminisce the breeze
That carved and set the character so deeply in his face,
The clean print of serenity, stamped by years of steady pace.

He never wished to be a burden, thought it made him less a man.
He'd always pulled his own weight, since fourteen, when he began.
As he lay there a-dyin', he looked so lonesome on that bed,
As always, it was hard to tell what was happ'nin' in his head.

It looked like somethin' missin', without the Willow in his hand,
And his gaze just passed right through us, like he was lookin' 'crost the land.
As he passed, we stood beside him, with some singin' and some tears,
And through all that passed between us, no regrets for all the years.

In the box they came to see him, that craggy-faced old man,
It didn't look much like him, but for the Willow in his hand.
Some said "Plant it with him", but we just couldn't let it go,
To close your eyes and rub the Willow, is to let the mem'ries flow.

I know we never more will visit, over coffee, with some cream,
But, when I can't sleep at night, I sit in tears, and dream,
And promise him I'll try some more, I'll do the best I can,
If I could only hold the Willow, I think I, too, could be a man.

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


John told us: I wrote this poem because i had been doing a lot of thinking about my Dad. Starting a year after his death, I began writing letters to him, knowing full well he could not read them, just thanking him for being a better man and a better dad than he ever knew.  Those letters began to meet some need in me to communicate my appreciation of him, and this poem sort of naturally flowed out of that time in my life.  Dad has been gone for some sixteen years, now, and I still miss him and the times we were able to sit loose and easy, speaking of the little things that make up a life.  He never did know what a good man he was, but being that man was the most natural expression of a deep-seated character that formed early and grew roots that shaped everything and everyone around him.  Every man I have ever met, has, on one level or another been compared to him, and even the best of them has come up short in the count.

Cowboys 'n Poetry

Cowboys 'n Poetry!  Who'd'a thunk that you could ever mix 'em!
The way they talk, all drawley-like, you'd think their words'd trix 'em!

Roundin' up stray metaphors, to corral with wild c'ntractions
Makes the Cowboy's lang-u-age some kinda Wild West Attraction.

Jumpin' on a buckin' proverb and ridin' to the end,
Can make the baddest English-buster come up short of wind.

So take a deep seat, give your nod, and mark them phrases out!
Talkin' like you know your stuff, is what it's all about!

Y'know, Cowboys ain't just reg'lar, they be a special breed.
To make the word or phrase that says it, is to them a special deed.

Y'see, a buck-rein ain't a buck-rein, unless there's only one,
And a Hooey's just a half-hitch that says the tyin's done.

There ain't no dogs in 'Doggin', and the bendin' poles don't bend,
And the cuts that cuttin' horses make, ain't the kind you need to mend.

Now, when you cut a bull or stud-horse, that ain't what you get back,
And if a saddle's just a saddle, then what the heck's a KACK?

If ropes are just for ropin', why lasso, or lariat?
Is it tyin' fast or dallyin' that makes 'em win the set?

They 'dog the steers, and ride the bulls, and jerk the flank-strap tight.
They resin the riggin' then lift up a hand, just to make it seem a fair fight.

A cowboy's a cowboy his entire life, though cattleman he may become,
And, boy-like, keeps his countrified speech, even if they think he's dumb.

So, ride the wild sentence, young cowboy, and ear down a word picture, too.
If you didn't talk funny, and massacree words, we couldn't be sure it was YOU!

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

John told us, "At age four, my older sisters came home from school every day with a burning desire to 'play school.' This consistently translated into them being the teacher and me being the student (me being the closest available resemblance for five miles) regardless of my protests.  From my earliest recollections of this 'play' time, all they ever wanted to teach me was Phonics. I didn't' appreciate it much then, but  in retrospect, phonics at the end of a stick has given me a powerful appreciation for words. Couple all that with the fact that my father was a man of very few words and consistently succinct speech. His ability to sum everything up in one sentence was, throughout my growing up, a source of amazement and wonder. In high school, when I started trying to express myself with poetry, his talent with brevity was something I tried really hard to emulate. You can tell by this little explanation concerning this little poem, that I never have mastered it."

We've added this poem to our Poems About Cowboy Poetry.


I Ride the Deep Canyons

I live in the city now, boys I'll confess. 
     I don't ride with my hat on no more.
I drive with the herd out on I-35. 
     Let me tell you, it hurts to the core.
It ain't that I mind it so awful much,
     bein' out here among 'em like this,
It's the coyotes namin' the stars up above,
     and the long, sighing wind that I miss. 
I can't explain all the aching inside me
     for the things that I can't see and hear,
But my eyes feel hungry for distance,
     and my ears yearn for little bird cheer.
Here, if you smell any wood-smoke,
     it means there's a house on fire.
The sound of folks rushing every which way
     is an emotional funeral pyre. 
Though I know I'm in the very place
     that the Lord wants me to be,
Still I miss the rough-handed men I've known,
     a little wild, and strong, and free.
I ride the deep canyons of concrete and steel,
     searchin' for different strays
And the hunger inside me for the lonesome wind,
     like a cancer, it eats at my days. 
I've learned how to walk on the ungiving streets,
     with fear-haunted eyes all around.
Them that ain't scared of the sun or the moon
     walk dully, with eyes on the ground.
Ain't nobody lookin' a man in the eye,
     'cept funny-boys out on the make.
Some days the loneliness, stuck in a crowd,
     is pretty near too much to take. 
I'm not at all sure that cities were made,
     for the likes of this plain country boy.
There's boys that ain't boys, and girls that ain't girls,
     and burgers that's made out of soy.
But I'll ride the deep canyons, alert for the strays,
     and I'll do what the Lord says to do,
'Cause the fact that I'm here's not about me at all,
     The Lord sent me out lookin' for you.

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


John told us: I was driving slowly through rush hour traffic, thinking how much like a herd we all were, bellowing, bleating and groaning, while the more rambunctious among us were jockeying back and forth to gain a car-length on the rest. Some of the lines of this poem started rolling around in my head, and with little else to do at the moment, I grabbed a piece of paper and began to write them down. Later on that night, I sat down and brought it all together. I guess I will always be amazed at how much like and at the same time, how much unlike, the ranching life is, living in the city. Most of the time I feel very out of place, until I recapture my focus, thinking about why I'm here in the first place.


Cookin' Lessons

When Mom and Dad got married, back in nineteen twenty-eight,
Moved to the Reservation, she couldn't hardly wait.
Fourteen men lived on that place, not a woman to be seen.
It only took a day to learn, her job was "Cook and Clean."

She was Indiana city-bred, her hands had never toiled,
She'd never had a blister, nor a fingernail soiled.
Mom was scared most all the time, knew not what to expect.
With all them cowboys pokin' fun, her mind was nearly wreck't.

Her first mornin' on the ranch, she stepped out to view the day.
What she saw so startled her, it took her breath away.
She tried to scream, but stood there, her jaw a-hangin slack,
A hundred yards from her a teepee, and an Indian, starin' back.

When Dad came out behind her, the screen door slammed in place.
She thought a shot had echoed forth, so she ducked and ran, in case.
She ran smack into Dad, there, spillin' coffee, burnin' hide,
When he saw what she was runnin' from, he laughed until he cried.

Dad had to teach her cookin' so he made a stew of sheep.
When it came her turn to eat some, he said, "Dig, the puppy's deep."
She dropped the bowl, and ran outside, and puked upon the yard,
She couldn't eat a thing for days, forever on her guard.

He taught her how to make the bread, how to knead, and let it rise.
She said, "Tomorrow, I will do it, make my man a nice surprise."
She put ingredients together, then watched with careful eyes,
She thought she had done everything, but it just would not rise.

She had to hide her failure, somewhere none would ever look.
She could not show stupidity, while she was learnin' how to cook.
Grabbin' dough in double armloads, she went out to look around.
At last she found the perfect place, nice holes, straight in the ground.

She tossed in failure's evidence, then kicked in a little dirt,
Thinking "All's OK that ends OK," and "What he don't know, won't hurt."
When Dad came in for lunch that day, all he could do was laugh.
When she asked him what was funny, he said, "You don't know the half."

The thing that Momma didn't know, is that dough takes heat to rise,
And that's just what was pourin' into postholes from the skies.
What she saw when she and Dad went outside to look around,
Was big ol' dirty mushrooms grown from postholes in the ground.

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


John comments: My mother was a great story teller, and by the time I came along, she had honed her skills to an amazing degree. She had an amazing poker face, and for her the story was just as much fun if she was the object of the laughter, as it was if it was somebody else. She knew that eventually, everybody gets laughed at, so you'd better start early not getting too offended when your turn came up.

This particular poem was inspired by the hours I spent listening to my mother tell stories about her "breaking in" (or maybe I should say "being broken in") to country life after marrying my father. She always maintained that the integral part she eventually played in the Anderson Ranch was created much like breaking in a new pair of shoes—After a while it gets comfortable, but one is never sure if the shoe changed, or the foot.



Country Deep

My legs are bowed and my walk is odd,
     my eyes are wrinkled at the squint.
I talk too much, I laugh too loud,
     I don't know how to take a hint.
My life's an odd cacophony
     of silence, sight and sound.
Of things resembling "normalcy,"
     I'm hopelessly out of round.

I say weird stuff like "purt' near,"
     and call groups of people, "folks,"
I agree by sayin' "I reckon so,"
     and laugh at my own jokes.
My clothes don't match, and I don't care
     I have no fashion sense at all.
Sad movies make me nervous
     and new-borns make me bawl.

My favorite smells are new-turned earth,
     and freshly laid-down hay.
I love to hear wind softly sighing
     at a newly-minted day.
My skin can feel the winter bite,
     and summer's kiss, so sweet,
But for the taste of drought-end rain drop
     the whole world cannot compete.

I'm country deep and country true
     in every part of me.
Ne'er mind if I go near or far,
     it's country when I bleed.
Growing up I didn't think life unique,
     it was just the way things go.
A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do
     and there ain't much room for show.

Perched on a horse at ten years old,
     watchin' sheep on the short-grass hills,
When a rain blows up and there's no place to go,
     it's decidedly less than a thrill.
Down in a draw, as fast as can be,
     tail to the wind-blown force.
There ain't no possible way to stay dry,
     not even under the horse.

Ridin' herd on the sheep, or brandin' the calves
     is a wonderful life for boys.
I didn't know  'til much later on
     that I grew up without any toys!
The draws and the hills were my playground,
     imagination was my friend.
I could go anywhere and be anyone
     of freedom there was no end.

I spent hours alone in the hay loft
     braidin' miles and miles of twine.
Seeing me swing from the rafters so high
     brought chills to my Momma's spine.
I laughed at her fears and rejoinders,
     thought her courage was so poor
'Til the day the rope broke on the downswing
     and hung my legs out the hay loft door.

I'd go swimmin' at the stock dam
     just a half mile down the road,
Filled with moss and mud and such,
     t'wasn't fit for man or toad.
The bank's slow slope, and the slick-sticky mud,
     the water's not even that deep.
The most fun to be had in the whole dang mess
     was divin' off'a that dead, bloated sheep.

I feel sorry for kids who watch TV too much,
     there's adventure no where to be had.
Consequences for actions cannot be taught
     when entertainment is folks being bad.
City folks don't have much to adjust attitudes
     like sayin' "Clean that South chicken coop."
Nothin's better for cleaning up bad attitudes
     than movin' a few tons of Poop.

The country's a grand and marvelous place
     for growin' up free as a cloud.
All of that space and the hard work, too
    makes a boy grow up proud.
Pride in himself and his raisin'
    makes a fella hungry to do.
Th'ain't a country boy walkin' nowhere in the world
    that ain't just a hair better than you.

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

John comments: Sitting at work on a slow day, I started thinking about my early childhood and the many benefits I had growing up on the ranch, not knowing at the time they were benefits.


Sid was a good and solid man, and honest through and through.
Whatever work was needed done, why, he’d be glad to do.
Everything Sid had to do seemed like more and harder work,
He never one time entertained the thought that he should shirk.

He got a job a-feedin’ cows, when he and Tillie wed.
The work was hard, and days were long, but, “That’s all right,” he said.
He fed those cows, and made it work, made wages for the day,
He worked and froze, and worked and sweat, for rotten, awful pay.

Now, Sid, he loved his Tillie, and it didn’t take too long
In the natural course of things, ‘til Donnie came along.
The twins, and Jim and Bobby came along when they were due,
To five sons growin’ in the world, their little family grew.

The Sandhills brought some hard times into Sid and Tillie’s life,
But Sid could handle anything, with Tillie as his wife.
They moved to Minnesota, just to try to earn their keep,
The cold was hard and deep enough to make a strong man weep.

They made some money here and there, but mostly they worked hard.
When they finally bought their own place, the banker owned the yard!
They tried their best to pay it off, and sure enough they did,
A man of great tenacity, my stubborn grandpa Sid.

Sid ran the place, and built it, for Virginia and for Bill.
The work was hard and days were long, it all seemed right up hill.
‘Til one day they came over, gave him thanks and shook his hand.
That hard work, strength and honor had become his well-known brand.

He wound up rich in other things, foundation stones were laid.
When men and bosses praised him well, he thought himself well paid.
He gave the world his five strong sons, each trained to do his part.
He taught them work and honesty, and leading with their heart.

Tillie was the love of Sidney’s life, as the blind could tell.
Without her filling life and heart, he’d rather go to hell.
Heaven here is what he found, in the arms of Tillie sweet.
He said, “Girl, we’ve got each other, and that just can’t be beat.”

You may have known a better man, it’s really hard to say,
But you’ve never known a stronger, who paid for his own way.
You may have seen him angry, felt his bite, or heard his bark,
But you must say that on the world, Sid Rice has left his mark.

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

John wrote this poem for a co-worker, about her grandfather. He told us, "I talked with her at length about him, and the old boy fascinated me. I hope I have done him justice."



Short Grass Hills

Up on a horse on the short-grass hills
wind ruffling spring-cut hair.
Skin hungry to feel not-warm-enough sun
it's like time's not allowed out there.

Eyes see forever and clouds barely move
out where life's deep juices flow.
Beauty so vast it clutches the mind
where windy imaginations blow.

The smells smuggled in by the long-walking wind
bring hints from horizons beyond.
The feeling of almost-sensing
slows a moment, and then it's gone.

Like waves, the hills undulate, stretching
for horizons just one hill too far.
The man-planted trees in nice, straight rows
resemble not much but a scar.

Watch the grass dance and watch shadows play
between grassy blades and stems.
Hear the sighing wind breathe and chuckle
o'er another of nature's whims.

The land lives serene and patient,
deep breathing and nearly asleep.
Insecure, all that size can frighten,
unaware, it will make you weep.

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

John told us, "...during the spring of 2008, I started thinking about the vast beauty and thunderous incomprehensibility of the land I grew up on. The buffalo grass plains of South Dakota have carved themselves into my heart beyond all recovery."


In the Country

Walkin' out of a morn to the milkin'
     burning cedar perfumes the air,
Autumn sends warnings of kisses and nips
     at bare noses, cheeks, ears, and hair.

The nearly-morning, newly borning world
     of breath-holding beauty awaits.
The first scent inhaled, the first sight revealed,
     the world floods in through senses' gates.

Freedom breathes deep in the rare country air
     it seeps into the blood and the bone.
Lean into the wind, no matter the task,
     out here you're just never alone.

The far-seeking eyes own all they can see,
     flared nostrils, the winds of the world.
Here, the lowliest dominate kingdoms,
     as will, against nature, is hurled.

Owning the land's not the issue out here,
     it's living, just learning to be.
Out here in the wind and the sunshine's touch,
   you're almost unbearably free!

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

John told us about the poem's inspiration, "Thinking about how indelibly etched into my soul is the long wind and the amazing sky over South Dakota's short-grass prairie.  It is a good thing I don't want to get away from itI couldn't if I tried."




  About John Anderson:

Born in 1949 during the worst blizzard to hit South Dakota since 1888, I grew up right there on the family farm/ranch, surrounded by all the things that go with raising critters and crops.

The youngest of six children, for most of my early years I had no one but an active imagination to play with, the nearest neighbor being almost two miles away.  I grew up loving the time I spent horseback in the sun, and dreaming about being somewhere exciting.  Having been somewhere exciting now, I am now spending some of my time dreaming about being somewhere in the country!  I spent five years as a dairyman before heading out to prepare myself for the ministry. I have been a pastor for twenty-eight years now, and live in Kansas City, Kansas.

No matter where I live, minister or work, I cannot shake the country boy that is who I am.  My speech is littered with country-isms that bring chuckles from the inner city folks among whom I work.

My father made a living, early in his life, from the rodeo circuit. The youngest of my three older brothers rode saddle broncs all over North America, as did his son after him, both with impressive standings in the PRCA.

My mother was something of a local poet in her own right, and could make an interesting story out of anything, so I guess my early training in poetry goes back quite a ways.  Earlier in my life, whenever I tried to express myself in poetry, it came out so country I was embarrassed by it, having never heard of a genre called "cowboy poetry."  Because it wasn't cool, I didn't write for a while, until I tried to write a song about my Dad.  The musician I gave it to said he would not demean those lyrics with music because it was good Cowboy Poetry.  I didn't know whether to be depressed or excited.  I opted for excited, and started learning everything I could about this new thing I had learned about.  I started writing more and more and here I am today.

John and Delonn Anderson with five of their grandchildren



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