MICHAEL HENLEY
Cabot, Arkansas
About Michael Henley

 

 

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

 

One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for his poem,  "Packin' Sammy"

 

Packin' Sammy

Don't put that meat on Lucy
cause she don't take to blood.
And probably not on Kate
she ain't travelin' like she should.

Pay heed behind Lil' Satan boys
you know that outlaw kicks.
Don't put no dudes on Molly
Bob say's she'll buck off ticks.

Picket Dan with hobbles on
he's bad to want to roam.
If he takes a notion boys
he'll beat us all back home.

Slick's the stoutest thing we got
but he's a chore to pack.
With a belly like a barrell stove
and that hog ridge on his back.

Don't tail the roan to Shilo cause
them two don't get along.
This is a damn fine pack string
so gents don't take me wrong.

Just put the quarters on O'l Sammy
a girt that decker tight.
Then start him down the trail
and he'll take it down all right.

Nope, you don't need to lead him
cause he's seen the trail before
and he won't cause no problems
he always accepts the chore.

He'll be standin' at the trailers
when we all cross Eagle Creek.
He'll be the first into camp boys
when we start 'em back next week.

See he's the one I seem count on
when the tough works needin' done.
When it has to be done perfect
Sammy's gonna be the one.

Packin' dudes or catchin' calves.
Pullin' feed sleds in the snow.
Sammy's never shirked a task.
He's never told me no.

Cause of that he gets mistreated
overused while others coast.
Seems we put our biggest burdens
on the ones we trust the most.

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

 

This poem was submitted for our Art Spur Project which featured Pat Richardson's drawing.

Michael told us about his inspiration for the poem:

I've often used pack stock as examples of how we mistreat the folks in this life who we count on the most. The most trusted child, sibling, friend or employee will get the call on all the tough stuff and it's sure true with our horses and mules. I saw the great Art Spur sketch and thought of Ron Dube's outstanding pack string in Wyoming and the "politics" of who went where in the string before beginning a 26-mile, one-way trip.
 

We asked Michael why he writes Cowboy Poetry and he told us

My home, sometimes to my wife's chagrin, is a temple to all things "Cowboy."  While, I've had horses and cows most of my life, I'm a far piece from the "real thing," but like a lot of folks I know a little more about the West than the average dude. I just came home from a horseback trip to the Gila Wilderness area in New Mexico. One million acres untouched can give a man a glimpse of what once was. My cattle raisin' teaches me about genetics and the folks who left the security of the towns to cross that country or settle it or even drive a herd through it were the best of the breed. Their descendants represent the spirit of those folks today. I love to talk cattle with them, share a camp with them or just listen to their thoughts and try to imagine a whole nation full of people like that. The "Cowboy" is not a Hollywood manifestation for me, he lives in those deep lines in the faces of people who still live there, still do it right. I try to take that to paper and know that at best it's awkward sometimes, but I do it, always, to honor that image, the Cowboy.

About Michael Henley:

I've been a fan of cowboy poetry all my life. My pickup is littered with tapes of Baxter and Waddie as well as my favorite Red Steagall. I'm a business owner and rancher here in central Arkansas. I've hunted the western states and Canada for the last 25 years and share your love of the heritage of cowboy poetry. I am married with three children. There are not many ways to accurately describe the freedom, independence or spirit of the west and the cowboy life, but to my friends who seek an explanation, I've found poetry to do it best. I've been playing the guitar and writing cowboy songs all my life.

You can email Michael Henley.

 

Michael was previously one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for his poem, His Last Chore

 

 

His Last Chore

"Hardly worth eight hundred son, 'doubt he'd bring that much for killin."
That's what my daddy frowned and said the first time he saw Dillon.
A four year old appendix bred bay gelding with white markings
who seem quite unconcerned with dad's critique and Skipper's barking.
He showed more thoroughbred than quarter and his hips fell off a mite.
His head was long but his legs were straight, 16.1 if I guessed right.

I brought him home from Colorado, fourteen hundred miles in all,
in hopes he'd make a mountain horse when I went back that fall.
Maybe help around the farm to catch the odd sick cow or two
and push 'em through the pens next spring, that's all he'd have to do.
But that was 1983 and he's long since proved dad wrong.
He'll be twenty five tomorrow and both our best days are gone.

Hell, he's a legend in the Rockies, they still talk of things he's done
in the blizzards and on the bad trails that the best old mules shied from.
He caught every sullen cow and held 'em, did it every time I asked
and made me look better than I was for sure and never shirked a task.
There isn't time to tell you all the stories 'bout his worth
but the world will be a poorer place when Ol' Dillon leaves this earth.

Just last Saturday's when I realized he had one last job to do.
One last favor from my old friend before his tour was through.
I eased a nervous eight year old up, real gentle, on his back.
She looked tiny on that giants back, a sittin' my old kak.
She'd been three years ridin' ponies, doin' what the ponies chose to do.
Now she's toppin' off a champion and he began to lead her through.

When she first felt the 'power steering' a broad smile crossed her face
and the confidence kept on building as they crisscrossed the place.
I had to turn my head so she'd not see my eyes get full
the first time she slid to a stop with just the slightest pull.
Atop the finest horse I'll ever own, there rides my little girl.
That's a memory you can't buy for all the money in the world.

Now she pesters me each day askin', "When can I go again?"
And I'm more than proud to saddle up my faithful mountain friend.
I keep wonderin' what he's thinkin' and wonderin' if he knows.
If it bothers him to teach a "pup," I can't see that it shows.
So here's a prayer of thanks Boss for that big bay, heaven sent
and the best eight hundred dollars a cowboy ever spent.

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

We asked Michael how he came to write this poem and he told us: This one happened just like I wrote it and she's gettin' a little more forked every day. I know some folks have the privilege of owning many fine horses in their life. I've fed a bunch, trained a bunch, sold a bunch, even liked a few, but only one "Dillon."


Michael told us "I took this picture the day my little girl first boarded the old horse."

See another poem about Dillon below.

 

Michael Henley was previously

one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for his poem, Twilight for the Cowboy

 

Twilight for the Cowboy

I heard that song again last night that lightens up my load,
  'bout how "he's still out there ridin' fences, you just can't see him from the road."
It helped me feel good for a while, ridin' through these pinyon hills,
  but the truth keeps comin' back, it don't help to pay the bills.

I'm proud of the way I make my livin', out here chasin' steers,
  but I can't ignore the things that have changed a lot down through the years.
It's never been a job for a ol' boy lookin' for top pay,
  but the truth is that the western cowmen may have seen their better days.

I got a friend who lives in Georgia on a thousand acre spread,
  with a feed sack and a four wheeler, he can run 400 head.
Yep, I'm the real McCoy, down to my hand tooled 'slobber straps,'
  but how many boys, in the last ten years, have worn out a pair of chaps.

It's never been just about the money, simply ranchin' to survive,
  but without some gas wells or some hunters, its hard to keep the place alive.
Even knowin' how much a man can come to love this crazy life,
 its harder than ever to explain it to your children and your wife.

I suppose punchers have been whinin' since they hit the first cow trail.
  'Bout the weather and the cookin' and the cow towns and the rail.
So I'm the last one in a long line who said he was the "last of his kind."
  But, I think, in 20 years a real cowboy might just be hard to find.

© 2003, Michael Henley
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

 

The Guide

 I've rounded 'em up in Dubois in the spring
   and shipped from Nevada in the fall.
I've summered the sheep and strung the barbed wire,
   hell I reckon I've damned near did it all.
But I live to throw the diamond loop on the lost Decker trails
   in the Clearwater, the Selway and the Bob.
Down the Absaroka and across the Grand Mesa
   and on the Kaibab is where I found my job.

From the mighty Peace river, the Bull and the Snake
   the Colorado and the Platte.
There's memories of 10,000 horses and trails
   stored under this old dirty hat.
I'm Apache and Crow, I'm Irish and Scot,
   I'm white and Mexican and red.
And my voice echoes with the sounds of old Decker men
   who are long since dead.

I can stitch 'em together like your granny's best quilt,
  20 head tied nose to tail.
Just to watch 'em blow up like an engineer's nightmare
  when old "silvertip" crosses the trail.
I've stood in the airport patiently waiting
  while you royally stepped off of the plane,
And I shook your hand and we said our howdies,
  but you've long since forgotten my name.

Hell, I sighted in your rifle, looked at pictures of your kids,
   I even know why you left your third wife.
I was there when you teared up over the first six point bull
   and I watched as you learned about life.
I've stood in the frost and saddled your horses
   while the sleep tent was quiet and still,
Then talked you through a long shot up in the Book Cliffs
   and you tipped me a ten dollar bill.
I've been your preacher, your wrangler, your bartender, your friend
   your carpenter, your judge and your cook.

Then I taught you things about mountains and men
 that ain't wrote down in nobody's book.
I took away your bottle when you had to much to drink,
   and shared mine when you hadn't enough.
And enjoyed breaking the spirit of both horses and men
   that spent too much time acting tough.
I walked off the San Juans in belt buckle deep snow
   with your lion hide hung 'round my neck,
Just to have the boss tell me my roll would be short
  'cause you called and stopped pay on the check.
My name is Chuck and Mark, Pedro and Wade,
   it's Wilf and Jake and old Clyde.
and God knows you've called me a hell of a lot worse,
   but mostly, you just called me "The Guide"

© Michael Henley
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 


 

I Won't Tip My Hat

 We all pulled our chairs in a circle ‘round the fire,
   The wind howled and screamed outside.
Two days work behind us, three days left to go,
   And we were too tired to sleep if we tried.
Then the old man said, ”boys, there’s a scar that won’t heal,
   From a lady I met in Cheyenne.”
“Then she left me at the ‘Stampede’ in ’73,
   and she’s the reason that I’m what I am.”
Then he pushed back his hat and sat down his bottle,
    Said “boys punchin’ cows makes me sore,
And I won’t say I won’t love a woman again,
   But I won’t tip my hat anymore.”

Well, there’s 200 head up in Blue Creek tonight,
   And the snow must be hitching post deep.
And if we’ve got a prayer of ever bringing ‘em down,
   I’d imagine we’d all best get some sleep.
But the young kid said, “I met her at the Four Star Café,
   On the border down near old Mexico.
I had two weeks back wages from the XO in Pecos
   And we rode it up to Colorado.”
“The last time I seen her was in a beer joint in Denver,
   with a roper from San Angelo,
and I may not have learned much in 22 years
    but I knew it was time to go.”
Then he pushed back his hat and sat down his beer,
   Said, “boys punchin’ cows makes me sore.
And I won’t say I won’t love a woman again,
   But I won’t tip my hat anymore.    

    © Michael Henley
    This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Dillon

Me and Gary was on the porch sippin' last July
When he spotted Dillon grazing by the fence.
"My Lord, how old that plug of yours got to be,
keepin' him around here sure don't make much sense."
Well Gary's been my partner for over 20 years,
I trust his judgment almost all the time,
But his word went down harder than the whiskey in the glass
And the memories came floodin' to my mind.

I bought him from a ranch in Colorado as a colt,
Just out of Denver on the eastern slope.
The ol' boy said he would load and pack and cow,
And did a fair job strechin' out a rope.
Our first day together, we trailered a thousand miles,
Brought back here to the flatland where I live.
I felt good about my purchase and I knew the colt was sound,
I had know idea how much the big bay had to give.

That fall we went back across the Great Divide,
To hunt the country on the Utah rim,
When I recall it now, I know there's not a doubt
I never would of made it 'cept for him.
He was as steady and calm as a twenty-year-old pro
As we slowly picked our way along those bluffs.
He did everything I ask him to and never let me down,
That 4 year old was savvy, mountain tough.

The next year we went high, almost to timberline,
It was November 1981.
We got caught out in a blizzard tryin' to make it back to camp
And the quakies snappin' sounded just like guns.
We were lost out in that "white out", couldn't find our way
And there seemed to be no end to the gale.
I stepped off of Dillon's frozen saddle, put my trust in him
And wrapped my hand tight around his tail.
He started walkin' slowly, steadily downhill,
At ten feet you could not have seen a lamp.
When at last he stopped movin' his nose was on the gate
That wrapped around our little mountain camp.

All totaled we've traveled over 60,000 miles,
And twenty hunts he's safely led me through.
Taught my three children how to ride, caught every sick old cow
And did everything I've ever asked him to.
I know he not an athlete, any hand could tell you that
And his head a little longer than my style.
But if you're looking for a friend you can count on every time
That crossbred bay will go the extra mile.

Mostly I just feed him now and watch him graze around,
We both know he's had his day in the sun.
But when the wind turns from the north each fall we both can recollect,
The majesty of what we've seen and done.
So I look back at Gary as he suggest I "soap him out"
And say, "I guess that I'll just let him be."
When his time comes I'll lay him in that little patch of oaks,
And he'll spend forever layin' right there next to me.

© Michael Henley
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

 

The Saddle

Sittin' on a saddle tree, by the fire in Momma's den,
Is a work of art that only gathers dust.
I like to take my coffee there, sittin' by the fire,
And recall what's come to pass for all of us.

Mark George made the saddle for my Dad in '82,
It was his pride and joy from the day he brought it home.
I can see it cinched up on Ol' Skipper with him aboard,
But it looks ghostly in that corner all alone.

Some say Mark was the best saddle maker in the state.
Some say for 500 miles around.
All I know is his shop was a hangout for us boys
And I never failed to stop when I was in town.

He let me hang around the store and gawk at all the treasures,
We talked of spurs and bits and how to shape a hat
While we talked, his hands were makin' magic with a steer hide,
I miss him most whenever I think of that.

Mark had served with the cavalry back in World War II,
And worked with leather since 1951.
I used to sit for hours while he carved and stamped and sewed,
And recalled all the things he's seen and done.

It seemed like all my Dad did was work from dawn till dusk,
Makin' a livin' for Mama and us boys.
Seldom took the time for pleasure or spent money on himself,
Seemed to have no need for fluff or frills or toys.

Mama said it was because he grew up hard, pickin' cotton,
That made him choke a dollar like he did.
If he ever wanted anything fancy for himself,
For our sake, I guess he kept it hid.

But Daddy loved Ol' Mark just as much as me,
And one day when we had stopped by the saddle shop.
He asked about a saddle, brand new one, custom made.
If they'd have looked at me, they could have seen my jaw drop.

They were talkin' bout more money than Daddy's last two pick-up trucks
As they planned out every detail of the kak,
Dad gave him a deposit and the two good friends shook hands,
Then we headed for the pick-up parked out back.

After a long silent moment, Dad began to talk.
Said, "Mark won't be around forever son.
I always wanted me a real good saddle made just right.
I figured it was time I got her done."

After that, he never mentioned it again.
He brought it home and rode it when he could.
But he kept in the den on that oak saddle rack,
And oiled regular, like Mark said he should.

Well, Daddy had a stroke in 1988,
Mark George passed on in '93.
With Dad in a wheelchair and Mark, cold in the ground.
It just a cup of coffee, that saddle there, and me.

I've lived long enough to know that all things have to change,
There's no way to go back to where you've been.
But that saddle in the corner's more than dusty memories,
It's the last bond between me and two good friends.

© Michael Henley
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

This poem is also included in our special collection of 
poems about Cowboy Dads and Granddads

 

The Better Ride

Sittin' in the airport lounge in Denver
Talkin' to a salesman from St. Paul.
He looks me over from my hat down to my boots.
From where he stood, I had it all.

Oh what he'd give to just trade places,
Long enough to remember bein' free.
No one knowin' where he'd been or where he's goin'
No one carin' where he' be.

"It's not that I don't love my wife and children." he says.
"but mister you're the luckiest man I know.
You're not tied to one durn thing but that old saddle,
And every nights a rodeo.

The words went down like rock gut whiskey.
The blindness of the man cut just like a knife.
Cause I wouldn't bet the difference in the last two cows in Texas
He hadn't made the better ride.

We boarded the same plane to Minnesota.
When we arrived his family gathered 'round.
Their smilin' faces told just how much they loved him
As I sat my dusty saddle down.

It seems so strange that people envy
This way of life they've never known.
They believe the freedom of this old rodeo
Makes up for all the empty nights alone.

So I took my shiny trophy buckle
And placed it in his hand just so he'd know
If I'd had a little bit more courage
I might have tried to ride his rodeo.

The images still burn like rock gut whiskey
The courage of a family man still cuts me like a knife
And I wouldn't bet the difference in the last two cows in Texas
He hadn't made the better ride.

© Michael Henley
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

The Little Rounder

Some folks attract trouble like a flower draws a bee,
And Gary's always been that kinda guy.
He never seems to start it, it just seems to seek him out.
After all these years, I still can't tell you why.

The trouble is Gary's not too large a man in size,
Even though it never seems to slow him down.
So when fightin' comes a callin', he's always rough and ready.
Besides, he know I'll always be around.

Like that time we stopped for drinks at that roadhouse out in Moab,
It was October, but I don't recall the year.
We'd been ten days on the mountain, wranglin' dudes and chasin' elk
And we'd just sat down to have ourselves a beer.

These four miners, big as football jocks, started yappin' and a starin'
and pretty soon came strollin' cross the floor.
Said they didn't like our looks and thought we needed taught a lesson,
And invited us to follow 'em outdoors.

There seemed to be surprise and a little apprehension,
as "little Gary" took their offer without fear.
They reminded us, "There's four of us and only two of y'all."
Gary said, "Shoulda thought of that 'fore you came over here."

And at "The Rose" down on North Avenue, in ol' Grand Junction town,
He saw a cowhand pull a mean and nasty trick.
Stuck his boot out as a waitress hurried past him haulin' drinks.
The way the poor girl fell made a decent feller sick.

I got that quesy feelin' when I saw Gary standin' up
And make his way to those three fellas laughin' there.
Said, "Since there's only three of y'all at this table set for four,
Would it be alright if I used this extra chair?"

They nodded their approval, and Gary nodded back,
"Thank you kindly",was the only thing he said.
Put those little stubby fingers 'round the back of that wood chair, then
smashed it on the top of that boys head.

At the S bar X saloon in Hillsboro, New Mexico,
Gary was headed to the alley for a fight.
He tells the local bartender, "Let's keep this nice and fair.
Just me and him, one on one, let's do it right."

That 'whiskey slinger' promised he'd keep it one on one,
Then added smilin' with a toothless grin.
"You may think every man in New Mexico's on you son,
But you have my word, it'll only be just him."

So for thirty years me and Gary's tramped around this country
Makin' no exuses for his slight size.
And every time my little friend stands up for what is right,
I'm the one who's windin' up with two black eyes.

We know we've been lucky to live the lives we've had,
But my last wish would not be hard to figure.
If the Good Lord would grant this old cowboy one last prayer,
I'd just wish that Gary was a little bigger.

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

 

 

Rancher's Prayer

I sit beside your bed and watch your peaceful sleep.
The possibilities of your life fill my heart.
So many dreams and hope and fears your Daddy has for you,
Endless trails lead from where you start.

It's in heart and mind the tangled thoughts are born,
Of all the pain I'd like to save you from.
At the same time realizing, most of the good things that I've known
Came from the hardest things I've ever done.

No one would wish the hardship of this fierce ranchin' life
On this tiny helpless angel lying here.
But the thought that you might never know all of it's sweet rewards
Seems to overshadow all my other fears.

It's not that your Daddy wants you to be hot and cold and broke
Or to fight this way of livin' till you die.
But I wish you could sit upon the ridge in sweat stained clothes
And let the mountain sunset make you cry.

If you could get that magic feelin' of pullin' a new calf
And helpin' with the miracle of birth.
Without goin' to the sale barn six months later with the steer
And giving it a way for half of what it's worth.

If you could spend the spring plowin' and puttin' brand new pastures in
And never watch 'em die in August's drought.
If you could marvel at the beauty of those heifers you kept over
And never see a late spring blizzard take 'em out.

If you could break a colt, that suited you, and keep him thirty years
And never have to call the vet to put him down.
If your children always knew how much you truly loved 'em
And never saw the other kids dressed better when they's in town.

Seems unfair when I look down at this sleepin' little baby
To offer up a life with so much pain.
But I believe without the sweat, the heartache and the blisters
There's really not much glory in the gain.

Well, I've got to get some sleep now Lord, the alarm clock's set for four.
Father, please keep close watch tonight on my "Little Pard."
I hope she gets to see some of Your glory that I've known
Without the vision being quite so hard.

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

 

Transitions

Just a couple of colts, green and totally unafraid.
The mountains are not steep enough,
The horses are too calm and slow.
Flat stomachs, dark hair and clear, clear eyes.

Reckless without knowing it.
Hopeful without considering it.
Honest without effort,
And most of all, immortal.

Now, wisdom born only of time.
The mountains are steeper,
The horses, spirited and quick.
The air is thin and cold.

Measured in word and deed.
Thoughtful without sacrifice of spirit.
Honest with history to prove it.
Begrudging of the unquestioned mortality.

But still, after all....
Clear, clear eyes.

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

 

Ironhead

We's four day into a six day hunt and the stock was purt near shot.
The "dudes" had flopped from side to side and sored their backs a lot.
So I rode down to Smokey's place and asked him 'bout a loan.
"Can I use that big black gelding and that little U neck roan?"

Smokey's always accommodatin' and this time it was the same,
So as I tailed 'em up to lead 'em back, I asked if they had names.
"The blue roan's name is 'Little Jenny'" Smokey smiled and said,
But with a twinkle in his eye, he said, "The black's called 'Ironhead.'"

He says, "The roan will ride with anything, but you best take this along,"
As he handed me a bridle, he said "Ol' Ironhead's pretty strong."
"Don't get the wrong impression, he'll usually do alright,
But one of the guides best ride him and keep that curb chain tight."

We grained 'em a little after four and saddled in the dark,
Then me and Gary and one dude started out cross Hubbard Park.
That sunburned black was snortin', walkin' sideways in the dawn,
When Gary dropped his flashlight and by God, the race was on.

Ol' Ironhead started runnin, just like he was scared to death
And I swear I had to turn my head just to get a breath.
There was granite boulders everywhere, big as a kitchen stove
And three hundred yards ahead, a "hair thick" aspen grove.

I had his head pulled back so far I could almost see his chin,
and that rusted, busted curb chain was floppin' in the wind.
My hat brim's back like "Gabby's," my eyes out on the stems,
In forty years, I've stopped 'em all, but I wasn't checkin' him.

Now fifty yards from that quakie patch was a little willow bog,
As I was lookin' for a place to bail, he jumps this little log.
His front feet hit that soft black mud and sunk up to the knees
And like a smooth rock from a slingshot, I went flyin' towards the trees.

I can't swear as to what happened next, though Gary tells it well,
But when the roll was finally over, I was sure beat all to hell.
I unrolled my busted body and finally got my wind
And waded through the water and walked right up to him.

It was like it hadn't happened, he was gentle as a kid,
Except for that danglin' curb chain, he looked just like he did.
I slowly led him back to my partner and the dude,
Then my best friend of thirty years sure did somethin' rude.

He was holdin' my Resistol that he'd gathered up some place.
He had both hands on the brim, a coverin' up his face.
But I could see by the way his body shook, he was laughin' awfully hard.
It's sure nice to know you can bring a little humor to your pard.

We walked back to the cabin and fixed the busted chain.
I dreaded it, but I knew I had to climb back on again.
And though he was a handful, I rode him five more days,
It gets a man to thinkin' just how little guidin' pays.

When I took him back to Smokey's, he asked, "How did he do?"
"Piece of cake", I says, "But he's got a loose back shoe."
But 'round the campfires in the Rockies, just before we go to bed,
Gary loves to tell the story of the "Flight of Ironhead."

© 2003, Michael Henley
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

We asked Michael about this poem, and he told us that it happened in the White River National Forest in Colorado on 1990 and " It is actually all true. I believe that horse might have been as stout a high country mount as I ever knew. There was a trail leading to a rock formation known as the Lombard Slides that took over an hour to reach and even the mules had to stop a time or two to blow. After the run away, I decide that would be a good place to clean ol' Ironhead's pipes out, since he was interested in running. As God is my witness, he never checked up as we climbed 1300 feet of elevation on a rough trail, all the way to the 'Slides," at a fair lope. Even with my bruises, I hated to give him back to Smokey."

 

Katherine

His shoulders leaned heavy on the door frame.
His hands groped for warmth in the cup.
His eyes were fixed on the ridge top
As the pewter gray clouds built up.
The storm that would come after sundown
Was no worse than the storm within.
And the memories that clawed at a broken heart
Brought the visions that tortured him.
They had laughed their way across Kansas
And spoke of nothing small.
The cabin was up before winter
And they toiled through the beautiful fall.
But the winter was tragic and endless
With the wolves and the snow and the flu.
She told him to lean on her if he needed,
"And when I have to, I'll lean on you."
But spring brought the promise of winning
And the cattle grew lazy and fat.
Sometimes he'd stop and smile from the hillside
As she worked in that silly old hat.
But today is a day full of storm clouds
And tonight will be heavy with rain.
He looks over the laughter of children
And blinks away droplets of pain.
If I had only the courage
This poem, I could turn to a song,
But the music is lost on a cold stone that reads,
"Katherine, Sweet Wife of John"

© 2003, Michael Henley
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Michael told us: My 7 year old reads constantly, the stories of the folks who settled the West. Most of it's pretty sweet, but the truth of was a damned site harder. I'll always believe that the independence that still exist in the western states is just heredity from some folks who had a lot of bark.

 

The Leavin's

When my Pawpaw passed in '68, we sorted through his things.
  Granny asked that we pick out the things we'd use.
It was treasure trove of memories and treasures I recall,
  Not a piece in that old trunk you'd want to lose.
Now I'm sippin' on this porch and thinkin' bout that day
  And wonderin' what I've got that mine might cherish.
In all my 'usin stuff', what would my children choose to take
  And put to work, should their ol' daddy perish?

Would they covet that ol' yellow knife I've carried all these years
  And drool to see those Crockett-Kelly hooks?
Could they steer the calves and maybe swaller fork an ear,
  Or will that be the things they read about in books?
Would the worn out orange woollies even get a second glance
  Or the hackamore of Matlock Rose design?
Would the woollies turn the snow again when the winter wind was strong,
  Would it make a lick of difference they was mine?

Would that bedroll feel the chill again, that catch string ever cut the air
  When the fire was hot on a workin' springtime morn?
Would that slick fork ever set upon the back of something special
  And creak to a rope burnin' on the horn?
Will those M.L. Leddy boots ever dance till after daylight
  When the fiddle and base outlast the moon?
Will my ol' Gibson even see another Rocky mountain campfire
  And play another old time cowboy tune?

I suppose to leave your children cash and property galore
  Is the modern, right and proper thing to do.
But these tools are how their Daddy made his way and paid the rent
  And  were counted on to get this cowboy through.
There some money in the bank for sure and six sections of ground
  It's paid for and it's theirs when I've passed on.
But I pray someone puts some value on the trinkets, tools and tack
  That's the "leavin's" of my life after I'm gone.

© 2003, Michael Henley
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Michael told us: While helping my folks with some estate planning recently, I thought some on the things we'll all leave behind. No doubt, they'll know what to do with the stocks and cash and land, but what of the things we all hold dear that hang in our closets and tack sheds.  

 

 

The Physical

I was sittin' in the office waitin' on Doc Shaw to show,
Lookin' foolish in that 'gown thing' and more'n a little cold,
When he come bustin' in to check me out and askin' how I been,
So I tells him that I'm fine and fair and he jest starts to grin.

"'Cept this little touch of rhumatiz that acts up from time to time
And the cold stirs up that leg I broke in 1969.
Oh, this bob wire cut that's festered up and the slightest touch of gout,
And now and again that bad left knee's been known to just give out."

"I got some bruises on my thighs from bouncin' off the buckin' roll
When old Spook blowed up from steppin' in a blasted gopher hole.
I suppose the time come to try to fix these cataract.
Man, don't even get me started 'bout this achin' lower back."

"I laid this thumb clean to the bone castratin' steers back in spring
But I jest soaked her in some coal oil and tried to work around the thing.
Took a pretty nasty fall trying to patch up a windmill brace,
Probably should have got some stitches on this spot here on my face."

So he's checkin' my blood pressure and some temperature and such
While I'm explainin' bout my hernia, "that don't bother me too much."
Doc keeps scribblin' and a grinnin', looks up my nose and in my ear
Says, "Slim you're shore sound as a dollar, see you back, same time next year."

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



Michael added: I believe cowboys are as tough a breed of men as have ever lived, but when the women folk aren't around they aren't above a little whinin'.

 


The Widow 

If the Wyoming winter was hard on a girl,
  it's a damned sight harder on me.
At 77, that wind is like Satan
  as it screams through the cottonwood trees.

But February's for rememberin' things
  and that's how I'll be spendin' this time.
The dishes are washed and the fire's been built up
  and I've poured me a glass of red wine.

His Daddy said we'd never make it.
  We'd wash up in less than a year.
There was a hell of lot to fight in those days
  but one of them wasn't our fear.

My man got his share of the glory
  and I got my part of the pain,
but I added my measure of value
  when folk 'round here mention the name.

The 30's lay hard on a nation of folks
  but he reminded me day after day,
"Least we ain't in a breadline a beggin' for grub,"
  as my blisterd hands rationed the hay.

"It's bad, but this ranch is still ours" he'd say,
  "and them children ain't likely to starve,
I know four sections of ground ain't much at all,
  but it sure beats a repossessed farm."

We turned the corner in '50
  runnin' 1200 head and their seed.
The children scattered, then came home again,
  and this land fulfilled all of their needs.

Now the ranch is a beautiful, sprawlin' affair,
  but it's lonely as Hell to the Pope.
'Cause the man isn't here that carved it and tamed it
  with a glassed eyed mare and a rope.

So I'm trying to savor the memories
  as his saddle gathers dust on the rack.
And the laughter that rang from the wall of this house
  take a silver haired lady right back.

Not once did he look down upon me,
  or cast shadows that covered my face.
We stood side by side and said sir to nobody
  and made our stand here in this place.

His children still think he's a hero
  and they visit me from time to time.
They'll carve this place into a new subdivision
  just as soon as it's no longer mine.

I don't begrudge 'em the money,
  it's not the money I'm thinkin' of.
But they'll never know what we did here together
  that defined the true meaning of love.

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

Michael added: Those of us that have a partner like I do realize the road can't hardly be traveled alone. The women that settled the West are starting to get a little press but their contributions can never be overstated. 

Carson's Second Chance

Carson Swaim lived on Gill Creek above the Delores River
Spending his time mistreatin' either his neighbors or his liver.
He rode around his ranch on days when he could sit a saddle
And viewed the one thing he still loved, those coal Black Angus cattle.

He hadn't always been a drunk not always been so mean
But when the cancer took his wife in '64 he went downstream.
He drew back in that canyon, crawled in the jug and seemed to quit,
And if anyone approached his door, he'd throw a wall-eyed fit.

Wanted no help from nobody, didn't speak when he's in town,
Folks learned to just walk wide of Carson whenever he's around.
But the shame was they remembered what a hand he once had been
At the dances and the brandin's, they had thought the world of him.

Becca Swaim had seen the Unaweep in 1950 the first time.
Her folks lived 'cross in Delta and her daddy worked the mines.
She was so in love with Carson, made a dandy rancher's wife
And he was never right again after the cancer took her life.

So he rotted in that cabin with the whiskey and the pain.
They told of summer nights how he'd ride and scream her name.
But he took care of those Angus he'd nurtured all those years
And we'd see him standing silent when he came to sell the steers.

The BLM he leased, provided grass when years we're lean
And the water from the Delores kept the alfalfa meadows green.
A few of us kids hired on to work from time to time
But it was hard to keep us 'round a man so surly and unkind.

Then one winter night in '80 as Carson lay in his cabin drunk
A freak snowstorm came screamin' from the northeast 'cross the "Unc".
The drifts piled up in hours, cut cows off from water and the ranch.
By the time it quit at noon the next day, they didn't have a chance.

The Burwells came up from Gateway, the Grahms came down the Unaweep.
They'd been up all night movin' thier own stock and badly needed sleep.
But they fought their way to Carson's place and busted out the road.
He stumbled out when heard their horses startin' to unload.

He stared wild-eyed at the snowdrifts piled six foot against the fence
And then the scene before his foggy eyes commenced to make some sense.
He jerked a coat and hat from where they hung behind the door
And pulled his boots and hooks on as beneath his breath he swore.

But this time it wasn't neighbors that he cussed under his breath,
It was the first time he'd seen clearly since the night of Becca's death.
Slung a slick fork on a buckskin mare and turned with tearfilled eyes,
Said, "I don't know why your here, but I'm damned sure much obliged."

It took till almost midnight, but they saved every calf and cow.
In the freezin' cold the sweat still rolled, and I can see it now.
Snow caked ropes a pullin' wild eyed mommas head and tail
As friends, stirrup to stirrup rode back and forth to break the trail.

Later hands around their coffee cups let frozen fingers thaw
And then I saw the strangest thing, I believe I ever saw.
Ol' Carson started prayin', right out loud for us to hear
And I dropped my head a little so they wouldn't see that tear.

He said, "Lord, when my Becca died, I turned my back on you
And every thing I cared about and all I know is true.
I know you tried to reach me but I was hurt to bad to find
But you sent me down some angels, these ones I've treated so unkind."

"Lord, it's plain to me what happen here today in all this snow
Was just your way of herdin' your lost calf back to the fold.
If you'll give me one more chance Lord, I'll try to be the finest friend
And re-earn the respect and trust of these good folks, Amen."

And that exactly what he done in all the years that came
And all of us was changed some too on account of Carson Swaim.
So dad smiled as we debated cullin' an old cow from the ranch,
When I said, "Lets do her like Ol' Carson, and give her one more chance.

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

Michael says:  I spent a few years huntin' the country on the Colorado-Utah border. The Unaweep is so isolated it didn't have electricity till the 60's and long distance service till the 70's. It is wild rough beautiful country and the people that live there have the spirit that makes the West what we all try to capture with these rhymes. The Burwell and Graham families are real, as is Gill creek, but the rest is just one of those 'labor pains' we get from time to time.

 

 

The Grave on Mogollon*

He knelt beside the gulping gray to fill a dry canteen
And used a damp bandana to wipe his brown face clean.
There was this heavy feeling that he wasn't there alone.
A feeling not uncommon on the rim of Mogollon.

It was then his eyes focused on the dusty pile of stone
Just below where the spring left its rocky home.
It was impossible to know how long it had been there.
Not a marker or a cross to show if someone cared.

So in the shadow of the cedars he slowly took a sip
And shifted that old Army Colt that hung there on his hip.
He even jumped up once to take a nervous look around
And flinched a bit each time the old gray made a sound.

He pondered who might share this place beside the spring tonight.
Was it man or woman or even child, was he Mexican or white?
Did they stop to say some words here in this desert high and hot
Or did some Christian find the body near this well known waterin' spot?

Was it a cowhand like himself whose pards covered him with stone
Or some drifter huntin' mavericks that met his end alone?
Was there gunplay or Apaches or a stampede late at night?
Did he run when trouble started or did he turn to face the fight?

Where would he 'buck out' began to slowly cross his mind.
An old man in a town somewhere or out here ridin' line?
Would they carve a board or fancy stone to mark the place he lay
Or would some waddie sit and ponder on his unmarked stones someday.

Would it be a snakebite or a gopher hole that took him in the end,
Or all alone just like tonight or ridin' with a friend?
Would he leave a wife and children to miss him once he's gone
Or sleep lonely forever beneath a dusty pile of stone?

The cowboy never closed his eyes that night on the rim of Mogollon.
His mind filled with the thoughts and questions brought on by the stones.
At daybreak he put out the fire and saddled up the gray
And spoke a prayer for who's buried there and simply rode away.

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

(*Mogollon is pronounced "muggy-own")

Michael told us, "I had the chance last November (2004) to ride through a lot of the Gila Wilderness on a good horse and listen to the stories and legends of that wonderful piece of country. The areas that straddle the Arizona and New Mexico borders are vast, rugged and mostly untouched and it must hold many secrets. I'll wager I'm not the only cowboy that ever set by a fire and pondered who past this way before me."

 

 

Leavin' Cheyenne

We'd swept five big pastures in the three hard days of ridin'
The talk, there was, was small cause there was somethin' he was hidin'.
As the fire burned down that night, Pete ask him 'bout it, straight up.
"What's eatin' at you Andy, you been cowed down like a pup."

"That's just it," starin' at the fire he slowly began to speak.
"I got the cancer boys, the dyin' kind, just found out last week."
"They say this is the last soiree like this I'll ever have a hand in."
"No more shippin' in the fall, no more summer brandin'."

"This 'dyin' deal' is queersome thing, hard to wrap your mind around."
"Can't seem to get 'er focused clear enough to pin 'er down."
"At first I seemed full of regrets about my driftin' cowboy past,
but three days out here with you boys and that feeling didn't last."

"It felt good to hit a real long trot and make a 'done right' gather,
 Then shade up in the afternoon with them ponies in a lather."
"Still, there's lots about the leavin' that I'm truly more than dreadin',
like puttin' my affairs in order and figuring out which way I'm headin."

"I ain't never been real 'churchy', you boys can swear that's so
And now I got to face my Maker and answer for the my show."
"There ain't much that I'm ashamed of, I'm no liar, thief nor cheat.
But I'm awful scared it may take more than that to git a seat."

"I guess there ain't no re-ride when the Big Boss takes a look,
It comes down to each and every thing that's wrote there in the book."
" I hope there's a little credit given for the kind of hand I've been,
more'n decent to all my horses, tried to be a square and honest friend."

We listened lookin' straight down so he couldn't see their eyes.
Each one, to a man, can't speak a word, no matter how he tries.
The fire burned down to nothing but the red, gray ashes glowin'
And Andy felt better somehow 'bout his three compadres knowin'.

Late that summer Andy cashed' em in at the hospital down in 'Cruces,
And we spent the fall reflectin' on just how much each man loses.
We spread his ashes on the "Ladder," watched 'em scattered on the sand,
Knowin' our time's comin', sure as sin, 'cause we all will "leave Cheyenne."

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

 

Bodie

Bodie Ketchum showed up huntin' day work in '86
We'd been short a man or two since early Spring.
So I asked him if he'd like to take a full time cowboy job.
Then Bodie said the beatin'est damned thing.

Nah, I'll do 'er by the day and there won't never be hard feelings
If I feel the need to ease on down the road.
And you never have no guilt when the work is sorta short
And you have to let me go to cut the load.

Seven days a week      since 1986,
Ol' Bodie took his mornin' chuck with us.
Not a man here can say he ever knew a better hand.
Not a man can tell when Bodie caused a fuss.

He was ropin', ridin' fool, no matter what the weather
And never said a thing to rile a soul.
Had a soft hand with his string and a true love for the cattle
And 'round here Bodie's word was good as gold.

He rarely went to town for the Saturday night doin's
And no one recalls he ever got a piece of mail.
He was pleasure durin' brandin' and shippin' in the fall
And in the bunkhouse we lived to hear his tale.

In 4 months shy of twenty years we'd seen his best and worst
And by God, a better cowhand I never knew.
But after all these winters we'd come to take for granted
We'd always have Ol' Bodie, tried and true.

He'd joke, "I'm doin' daywork, on the Sixes down in Guthrie",
When from time to time they'd ask his stock and trade.
But every puncher young or old that lives to take the wagon out
Knew a better man in camp was never made.

Thanksgivin' day '05 broke clear and cold for Texas
And I rubbed my whiskers dreamin' bout the meal.
The I saw the mattress rolled up where Bodie bunked for 20 years
And I couldn't help but wonder, what's the deal?

The note was just like Bodie, true as love, and just as short.
He said the time had come to move a bit.
"I always knew I'd feel it when I started slowin' down
And a man can't pull his weight just doesn't fit."

Not a trace in that old bunkhouse where he lived for twenty years
Shown a sign that he'd once lived there at all.
Nary a carved initial on the bed post or a broken spur or bit
Or a girly picture stapled to the wall.

There's a holler place inside us though no man will speak a word
And I know this place won't never be the same.
But if this ranch don't have a history that makes folks stand up and notice
It won't be 'cause the day help was to blame.

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

 

Michael told us: I saw the "6666" in 1971 as a teenage runaway looking for 'day work' and I
love to hear Mr. Steagall talk about the big outfits 'round Guthrie. "Bodie" is just my image of the men I hope still ride there.

Calving Heifers


I thought I'd check my heifers once more 'fore turnin' in
 so I pulled on my coat and drove on down.
The cold glare of the Q-Beam sliced through the frosty night
 as I swept it back and forth across the ground.

Just like last time, three hours ago, they lay there chewing slow
 'cept if my math was right, one was not in sight.
So I slowly moved the light 'round the pasture and down the ridge
 'till two silver eyes reflected in the light.

She's flat out on her right side with her hind leg all stretched out.
 Looked at my watch and went to grab a thing or two.
Like a coffee thermos, towels, a rope and OB chains
 and my Catahoula female who "just knew."

We parked near enough to see what mattered in the lights
 but far enough away she wasn't stressed.
I knew the chances were she'd spit it out just fine.
 These black girls was bred up to do their best.

I always wondered what they knew from the instincts they have
 'bout all the pain and hell this night would put 'em through.
'Cause ever once in a while one of these heifers just gives up
 and every cowman knows that's when it's up to you.

My little mirror thermometer on my new Chevy pick up truck
 says its 17 degrees and headed down
If I live 'till spring next year, I swear I'll hold tham bulls till June
 and calve on somthin' other'n frozen ground.

She's been pushin' pretty hard and the front feet and nose is out
 but its been a spell and she's started slowin' up.
I'm always way too anxious to charge in and lend a hand
 still I explain my rescue plan in detail to the pup.

Then she stretches out mighty hard and the worst is surely done
 when the shoulders clear as she stops to catch her breath.
Then with one last squeeze and beller, she spits the poor thing out
 and I just know it's gonna freeze to death.

She pauses thirty seconds, struggles to her feet and turns around
 and finds the greasy mess upon the frost.
Then God starts takin' over, just like a million times before
 as she start to clean him up before he's lost.

The the bloodline bred down in him start to take a hold
 and he stands then fall and tries to stand again.
I want so bad to help him but at last he's on his feet
 with his and her steam a rollin' off of him.

And in 13 minutes flat, he's found a teat and he's a suckin'
 Another miracle right here on Winter Creek.
So I pray and me and "Samantha" are headed for the house
 "Lord, 5 left, help me make it one more week."

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

Michael writes, "If you've got 'em, you've done it. No matter how many times I watch the ones who've never calved before go through it, it's still a miracle of God. But its hell on us that watch it."


Tools

He's partial to his ranch rope,
 it's limbered up 'bout right.
He likes his slick fork saddle
 with the buckin' rolls on tight.
His truck is nearly twelve years old
 it don't use a drop of oil.
These are the tools he uses
 out here where the cowboys toil.

His leggins fit like old jeans
 and turn the wire and wind.
His nine year bay gelding's
 been a tried and trusted friend.
He leans on that Blue Heeler
 when they're holed up in the thick.
These are the tools he counts on,
 the ones that do the trick.

But without one word spoken
 he knows down deep within,
There's other tools God furnished
 to serve the likes of him.
Clear eyes and good strong hands
 are there each time he asks
Good instincts and a willing heart
 are faithful to the tasks.

The "try" it takes to finish
 the sand to try again.
The backbone not to back down,
 the hand lent to a friend.
The heart to know he's blessed
 ridin' range the Good Lord rules
The good sense to be thankful
 for a real fine set of tools.

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

 

 

Rules

Me and Cricket Murphy takes this job in Colorado
 wranglin' dudes in 1984.
The plan seemed sound at first but now it tops the list
 of things I swear I won't do anymore.

I'm thinkin' all the time, "How bad can this deal be,
 after all they don't get up till 8 o'clock."
"They can't ride very far, and won't go very fast
 so basically, we'll just be tendin' stock."

Cricket asked the question, "Have you ever wrangled dudes?"
 as I frowned and shot my answer back at him.
"No, but we ain't got no money, and we ain't got no prospects,
 'cept building fence on the blasted BLM."

The man that owned the outfit was R.D. McMahan,
 and seemed to be a decent sorta guy,
but the 'stud duck' on the ranch was the foreman, Lewis Whitney,
 and you'll get to know him better by and by.

The deal was pretty simple, lead 'em out and bring 'em back
 and entertain a bit along the trail.
Be mindful of your language and where you spit your dip
 and keep the kids from swingin' on the tail.

But the rule that topped the list for Mr. Lewis Whitney
 was that you never leave the saddle on the trail.
"It only leads to trouble and there will be no exceptions
and you're sacked, no questions asked, if you should fail.

The next day me and Cricket starts up the Leadhill trail
 with a dozen neophytes lined up behind.
Then the questions started comin' fast as hailstones down in Texas
 and we didn't know 'em all but we was tryin'.

"What's that tree called? and that bugs name? How fast can mule deer run?
Are you a cowboy and is that an evergreen?"
Then this pretty little blonde asked Cricket 'bout some flowers,
 said, "They're the prettiest thing I think I've ever seen,"

Well Cricket plumb forgot "bout the foreman's 'golden rule'
 and swung right down and picked her up and bunch.
But when we got to the ranch and Lewis seen them flowers
 he let Ol' Cricket go right after lunch.

I tells him, go to Montrose and I'll be there tomorrow
 cause I had a job to do 'fore I was gone.
I knew tomorrow Lewis would take Ol' Crickets place
 and what I had in mind won't take too long.

See Big Lew liked his coffee with about a pound of sugar
 so I knew it was a plan that wouldn't fail.
So I slipped a half a bar of good ol' chocolate Ex-Lax
 in the last cup just before we hit the trail.

By the time we hit the rim he's not only outta paper
 but his wild rag and both his gloves are gone.
And my ribs hurt from laughin' I could hardly set the saddle
 and I quit of course, just soon as we got home.

While me and Cricket are building fence on the Utah BLM
 I don't have a lick a trouble when I sleep.
I just think of Ol' Big Lewis and how hard he was on Cricket
 and that some rules are a little hard to keep.

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

 

Michael told us the poem "is pure fiction and fancy but reflects a lot on the characters I've worked with in the guide game over the years."

 

Packin' Sammy

Don't put that meat on Lucy
cause she don't take to blood.
And probably not on Kate
she ain't travelin' like she should.

Pay heed behind Lil' Satan boys
you know that outlaw kicks.
Don't put no dudes on Molly
Bob say's she'll buck off ticks.

Picket Dan with hobbles on
he's bad to want to roam.
If he takes a notion boys
he'll beat us all back home.

Slick's the stoutest thing we got
but he's a chore to pack.
With a belly like a barrell stove
and that hog ridge on his back.

Don't tail the roan to Shilo cause
them two don't get along.
This is a damn fine pack string
so gents don't take me wrong.

Just put the quarters on O'l Sammy
a girt that decker tight.
Then start him down the trail
and he'll take it down all right.

Nope, you don't need to lead him
cause he's seen the trail before
and he won't cause no problems
he always accepts the chore.

He'll be standin' at the trailers
when we all cross Eagle Creek.
He'll be the first into camp boys
when we start 'em back next week.

See he's the one I seem count on
when the tough works needin' done.
When it has to be done perfect
Sammy's gonna be the one.

Packin' dudes or catchin' calves.
Pullin' feed sleds in the snow.
Sammy's never shirked a task.
He's never told me no.

Cause of that he gets mistreated
overused while others coast.
Seems we put our biggest burdens
on the ones we trust the most.

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

 

This poem was inspired by Pat Richardson's drawing in in our Art Spur Project.

 

 

Home on the Range

Been so long since we talked Lord, I'm a little bit ashamed
and if you don't recognize me it' okay.
Haven't been down on my knees much in all my sixteen years,
but I knew I had to hit 'em hard today.

Caught myself this mornin' grousin' 'bout the load I have to carry
since Billy left the ranch for over there.
I was kickin' dirt and fussin' over all that's left to me
and allowin' how the whole deal wasn't square.

And I don't know if it was you Lord, tryin' to make a point
but in the middle of my childish, selfish whine,
an F-18 came screamin' through the clear Montana sky
and I knew the crosses borne today weren't mine.

So I'm beggin' for forgiveness on this windswept mountaintop
and even if my voice to you sounds strange,
let me never again forget why my brother's over there
so that I can be here safe, "Home on the Range."

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


 

Michael comments on his inspiration for the poem: "I held my daughter in my arms today...and they did not. May God bless them all."
 

Comin' to Your Senses

The feel of braided gut line whistlin’ through your fingers
The jingle of a pair of Kelly spurs
The first time you took her home to meet your folks
The day you drove to Lubbock to meet hers

The smell of burning hair before it gets good daylight
The sight of the fire when your long day’s through
That metal, salty taste of blood on your tongue
From a colt you spent all mornin’ tryin’ to shoe

The first frosty breath from a calf you had to pull
The last gasp from the one you couldn’t save
The bacon-coffee smell that clings around a kitchen
When neighbors gather up on brandin’ day

A horse that runs so fast you almost can’t get your breath
The first snowfall on the Pinion pine
The quiet as two friends drag their self to camp
Him in his thoughts, me as deep in mine

Lookin’ down a quarter mile of real straight six wire fence
The pride that comes from doin’ what you should
The sound of fiddle music in a dance hall down in Ft. Worth
Standin’ in the place where Crockett stood

A cold beer with a friend you haven’t seen since ‘96
The smell of wildfire screamin’ through the sage
The sounds of cattle bawlin’ when you’ve stripped their babies off
A prayer your Mamma wrote down on the page

Confusion in your heart when you're burying a friend
The wonder when your firstborn cries out loud
The smell of brand new leather hangin’ in the tack room
That ropin’ horse that really makes you proud

The blessing of the senses that let you know these things
The chance to make your livin’ where they’re found
So much to be thankful for in this old punchers’ life
If one only takes the chance to look around

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

 

Michael comments on his inspiration for this poem: "Driving home from New Mexico after a week with good cowboys and good friends was a chance to reflect on the values and the blessings that seem hard to recognize in hard times."

Nubbin Miller

He had worked for my family since back before the war,
lived in a trailer on the low end of the ranch.
Somethin' 'bout him attracted me ever since I was a kid
and I was with him every time I got the chance.

Pawpaw called him Nubbin' cause he lost three fingers to a rope
the first spring they came home from overseas.
I couldn't tell it ever slowed him down one little bit
cause he could rope and brand easy as you please.

My folks never liked him much, said he was bad to drink
seems he always owed my dad a buck or two.
Dad said, "A man that keeps a debt will never be no count,
you be careful son or he'll be owing you".

But Nubbin' taught me how to rope and how to shoe a horse
and doctor every critter on the place.
Pawpaw said he was the best dang vet he'd ever known
but I don't recall he said it to his face.

The big barn by the house was were the breeding stock was kept,
some of the best blood this county's ever known.
Especially the stud horse that dad called "General Lee"
and a dozen mares that held the seed he'd sown.

Last August lightning hit the barn and set the place on fire,
that hellish blaze lit up the summer night.
By he time we got our boots on I heard Nubbin from the barn,
Freeing horses, jerking stall doors left and right.

Every head of stock we owned came screamin' through them doors
but Nubbin never made it from inside.
The roof went down and trapped the old man in the barn,
so in savin' daddy's horses, Nubbin died.

Nubbin Miller left this world a hero in our eyes
still owin' my dad five hundred bucks.
When daddy tells the story he always starts it out...
"Let me tell y'all 'bout how Nubbin settled up.

"A man's life can't be measured by a mere five hundred bucks,
and all the faults the old man had I know were real.
But I hope that God forgives me for judging him so wrong,
cause I was there the night that Nubbin squared the deal."

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

 

 

"60"

No shame in gettin’ old, guess we’d all agree to that
But once this hat and hair were both brand new
Now the hair is mostly silver underneath this dusty hat.
And there’s so much of life this man still wants to do

I remember the first time I couldn’t swing up on my horse
First I got winded when I flanked a weanin’ calf
First pair of readin’ glasses this stockman bought of course
First time the bottle was offered and I said, “ pass”

First time the winter cold seemed to live down in my bones
First time someone said, ”not bad hoss…for your age”
First time ropin’ season came and I didn’t want to roam
Now this August it is time to turn a page.

There a rock on my place I go every ten years or so
To sit and contemplate what’s right and wrong
As I turned 30, 40, 50 and now 60 years old
And the first time I sat there seems not so long

But 60 is a sobering thing, somehow bigger than the rest
My ride is nearer over than it’s begun
The poncho on my shoulders is the fabric of my life
Mistakes clear now as the right I’ve done

So I will take my glass of whiskey to the rock when that day comes
And work through every memory in my mind
And pray that they’ll forgive me for the fight’s I haven’t won
And that the world still has some room left for my kind

© 2014, Michael Henley
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



 



 

Michael told us, "Turning 60 is momentous and fortunate. I have known many good horses and friends. Sixty is an evolution the mountains hardly recognize. Big deal to this stockman."

 


 

Read Michael Henley's:

Things I Lean On in our Art Spur project

and

At His Own Pace  in our 2007 Cowboy Poetry Week Art Spur Project

The Promise in our 2006 Christmas Art Spur Project

Headin' Home in our Art Spur project

Ridin' Out in our Art Spur project


The Guthrie Christmas Trail in our Art Spur project

and

Drag in our Art Spur project

and

  The Gate Cut posted with Holiday 2002 poems.


 

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