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Coupeville, Washington
About Julian Taber




The Ballad of a Bull Rider Bureaucrat

Old Tom rode out from D.C. town
to regulate the boys
who bust themselves by riding bulls,
wild bulls they think are toys.

He talked with all the banged up lads
who'd fallen from their steeds.
They said they loved the thrills they got,
that people loved their deeds.

"Wild bulls have got to go," said Tom,
"you'd better switch to mules."
And then he dropped another bomb:
"I've got a list of rules."

"We ain't gonna ride no damn jackass,
we'd surely look like fools.
We'll tell a man of your low class
just where to put your rules."

That's what they told that federal man,
and ran him out of town.
"Go back and ride your desk some more
you silly federal clown."

But Tom came back that very day.
"Rodeo clowns," he said
must have steel safety barrels and
a helmet on the head."

Old Tom by now had lists of rules
the boys would have to use.
"Put safety belts on all your mules,
such risk we can't excuse.

"Get rid of all those Stetsons, too,
and wear hard plastic hats.
Install air bags and when you ride,
please spread some safety mats."

In their respect for government,
the riders climbed on mules
protected from all injuries
with pads and belts and rules.

The thrills were gone and no one came
to cheer. The clowns dozed off
while all the bulls made love to cows.
The town began to scoff.

Then late one night the boys corralled
the biggest nasty critter
in all of Texas. Mean as dirt,
his attitude was bitter

That hairy bull was huge and strong.
and Comet was his name.
They lashed old Tom to Comet's back
with seat belts, so they claim.

"You're violating safety rules,
and you will pay a fine.
This is a real offense, you know,"
was all that Tom could whine.

They tied firecrackers to his hooves
to speed the Comet up,
then opened wide the gate for him
and gave that bull a whup.

Old Tom has not been seen of late,
there's some who say he died.
But where's that bull he rode off on?
And did he like the ride?

Just now up in the starry sky
a nasty, buckin' critter
can still be seen a shooting 'round
with Tom, a true bull sitter!

2006, Julian Taber
(No animals were injured in the writing of this poem.)
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Dr. Taber told us: I love the traditional ballad form, and many modern poems called a ballad simply are not. And I love watching bull riding on t.v., this inspired me most. Personally, I would never get any closer to a bull than the grill I cook steak on. Although a liberal, I often resent the ridiculous regulations our government often imposes on us, but in the long run it helps us stay alive, I guess. Some of the rules must rub on the bull rider's independent spirit. In my V.A. practice I did come to know a number of former bull riders, all of with the creaky bones and scares left by their efforts in years past. 

This poem was a finalist entry into a Poems In Performance production a year or so ago, an annual fling held by the Washington State Poets Association.


Crow's Autobiography

These are the stories he told.
These are the things he showed to us.
These are his words.

When I was little they named me Crow.
I am big now, but I am still Crow.
Grass Woman, my aunt, strung the beads
that hold the tail of my hair.
This canvas bag holds my life things,
things I will show to you now.

This bottle holds water from Mother Lake.
I was born on her shores.
Mother Lake gave us this water to drink.
She gave us fish to dry and save for winter.
She brought deer to drink.
 From all the animals that came there to drink,
we killed what we needed for food and fur.

This lead is from my first deer kill.
I used the skin to make this vest.
My uncle decorated it with the old drawings.
It is too small for me now.

This rock is from the reservation where I grew up,
and this jar of root bark is what the men smoked
in tribal ceremonies as they purified themselves.
Here is a drawing of our sweat lodge.

My father beat me hard and drank.
I would not let him beat my mother.
This is a label from one of his whiskey bottles.
He killed himself.
It was a good thing to happen.
I felt joy that he and I were now free.

I do not write. Things are my memory language.
I do not keep a memory for my own drinking.
I do not keep a memory for white man work I did,
but I made jewelry in the old ways.
This is a serpent ring I made for a woman.
She was dead when I finished it.
That is why she could not pay for it.

When my mother was sick, she begged us
to take her out from the hospital,
back to our home by Mother Lake.
She wanted to die where her ancestors lived.
She wanted to be buried at the shore of the lake,
but the white government did not like this.
She died in the hospital, away from all that she loved.
She was cremated, and when we came to scatter
her ashes by Mother Lake, I kept these parts of her.
These little pieces of bone are from my mother.

But, they are the bones of all of my ancestors.
That is what I think they are.
Mother Lake is gone now,
destroyed by a government dam.
The tribe gets money from the electric power,
so it is a good thing.
But, I can never die where I was born and grew up.
I am alone and must decide about everything
without help from the old tribe,
without the spirit of the land I knew.

Those were his words.
Those were the things he showed to us.
Those were the stories he told.

2007, Julian I. Taber
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Dr. Taber told us: This poem is a fictionalized (details and names changed) account of a personal autobiography given during a group therapy session with recovering alcoholics at a V.A. facility in Reno, Nevada. I am now retired from work as a clinical psychologist, but some of the most interesting personal stories came to me from men who had histories on the range or in the western culture. I learned to appreciate bull riders, lumber men, fishermen, cowboys miners, and, in a few cases, the women who shared their lives. For a long time I worked with problem gamblers and eventually spent five years of retirement in Las Vegas where I flew ultralights with a wild bunch of guys. So many stories, so  little time...


About Julian Taber:

Trained as a research psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Taber spent eight years teaching at Case Western Reserve University before entering full time work in clinical psychology. He is best known for his work with problem gamblers, but he also specialized with drug and alcoholism clients while at Veterans Administration hospitals in Ohio, Nevada and Oregon. He has written extensively on addictionology and related topics. Now retired, Taber continues his special interest in writing directly for the recovering addict. As a  hobby, he writes fiction and poetry.





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