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Mesa, Arizona
About Mike Dunn

One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up
Recognized for his poem, Spellbound






The view is vast from the middle rim;
        dismounted... he gazes across the land.
The same land more than a century before,
         in settling, his family had taken a hand.
Weather's dry in a cloudless sky,
        summer'll be hot, he can tell.
But the gathering, along with springtime chores,
        has really gone quite well.

Three mama cows and earmarked calves
        graze upon the offside ridge.
A quarter mile on, a doe and fawn
        are near its upper edge.
Sister's mare with her new foal,
        he watches down below,
Along with Dan, his old retired horse,
        oh... it was hard to let him go.

 The rim's edge... is a rugged ride,
        checking for the last of the strays
But the trail is so, once starter down,
        they'll pretty much find their own way.
And it's no chore, it's a welcome ride,
        one he's done time and again.
When first he rode along that rim...
        he'd had not yet reached ten.

The age, his kids are now far beyond,
        which gives him cause to pause,
In awe... of how life's played out
        and how it continues on.
Both up and down his eye are filled
        with that of earth and heaven,
With wonders of life, more often then not,
        only passing thoughts are given.
His horse stands quiet as stars appear,
        the cowboy lingers longer.
Immersed in thought of past and present,
        it's the cowboy's time to ponder.
He's got to go, he tells himself, but
        suspended, gazing through time's eye,
His delay continues, even though the ranch
        is still a two-hour ride.
With sounds of night, the skyline's lit,
        the city's glow has sat upon,
Breaking the dark, above the ranch,
        some thirty miles beyond.
In the valley there's a single, distant light... 
        from the ranch house his granddad built.
Humbled... knowing family is there,
        far safer then their forbearers could have felt.

Thoughts are deepened, petition laid... 
        as if in prayer he asks to tell,
Why life, with all its blessings,
        has cared for him so well?
Time holds fast the past and present
        and for the cowboy... a glimpse is given,
The wonders of life that leaves him Spellbound, on a rim...
        somewhere between earth and heaven.
© 2002, Mike Dunn
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


This poem was inspired by the poster art for the The Fifteenth Annual Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering at Prescott, Arizona in 2002. Each year at Prescott, poets are invited to write a poem about the painting used as the poster. The poster's painting, pictured above, is also named "Spellbound" and is by notable Western artist Bill Anton.



Store Bought Buckle

He wears a store bought buckle...  but he's cowboy through and through.
He rides, ropes, and wrangles, been thrown more then a time or two.

His younger years didn't yield the time to do the rodeo rounds.
On a working ranch, the oldest of five, he waited his turn to come around.
Too young, he became his Dad's best hand, the responsibilities he accepted well.
For him, after school sports were fixing fence, feeding stock and milkin' the family cow.
He didn't play football or run the track, or play an instrument in the band,
His brothers and sisters did, while he took to ranching as he grew to be a man.

Riding, roping, and working stock, were things he had to know.
But when he displayed his skills, it wasn't for prizes or for show.
His efforts were out of necessity, helping to keep the ranch alive.
Each year, the next was to be better and that would be his time.
He'd take off school for the gathering.  He'd brand, mark and cut.
He'd work as long and hard as any hand but never drew a check.

His Dad gave him the old ranch truck to get around and do the chores.
That's when he started dating his sweetheart, when they were both sophomores.
He became an accomplished rancher by the time he'd finished school.
Managing, working and worrying, as a cowman's destined to do.
His brothers and sisters won the buckles, and his kids won more then their share.
When his time came it was for helping them and he was always there.

He rides, ropes, and wrangles, been thrown more then a time or two.
He wears a store bought buckle...  but he's cowboy through and through.

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



Just Beyond the Clouds

Near 80 years a cowboy,
ranch and family were his pride,
And after 57 years of marriage,
the cowboy's lady now must say good-by.

He's been hers it seems forever,
even before grade school there's memories that bind.
In high school they were sweethearts,
it was after the war, she became his bride.

Her aged lips now tremble, as still he lies,
unconscious of those around him.
She holds her breath, as she holds his hand,
his chance of recovery is slim.

"The situation's dark" the doc admitted,
"he may not come around".
A horse had throw'd him upon the rim
that put the cowboy down.

A horseman from his youth,
though cattle paid the bills,
He'd rather work at wranglin'
then build fence or fix windmills.

The gelding Quarter had learned his lessons,
could work a calf to a stand.
The old man had said he's proud of the colt,
a bit clumsy but made an honest hand.

Moving the 'gather' down off the hill,
the hardest work was done.
When something happened on the eastern flank,
and the herd went on the run.

The young colt perked, stood tall,
enthusiastically he waited.
Excited, he wanted to play
but... no signal had yet been given.

Then, the neck rein moved, a squeeze of the leg,
the colt, in place, spun around.
He dug in deep and bolted,
leaving the old man on the ground.

A younger man may have weathered the fall
but the years had taken its toll.
This time, broken ribs, a punctured lung,
and a badly fractured skull.

Hope was fading, the family...
advised to stay close,
For those who may want to be with him
just before he goes.

On the evening of the forth day he awakened,
his devoted wife there by the bed.
It seemed t'a us, he gathered his thoughts before speaking,
and to his wife, with his family to hear, he said.

"Darlin', my time is short
and there's so much I'd like to say.
You've been my love, and my strength,
each step along life's way."

From building fences to working stock,
you were always my best hand.
Didn't even complain when money got short
and we hocked your wedding band.

Remember when we were pullin' wire
and stopped to rest a while.
Ol' Roany spooked, the roll caught my leg,
I thought I'd been drug a mile.

The summer fire that took most our herd,
starting over wasn't fun.
You hung in there, you kept us together,
a lesser women would have run.

When the recession hit, things were tough,
I lost that job in town.
It hurt you so, seeing the kids do without,
but still you stood your ground.

The drought in the 70's set us back,
the bank wanted to call our note.
Feed was scarce, water was worse,
not a drop on the southern slope.

Some of our misfortunes now cause us to laugh
though not funny at the time.
When the boy turned "Hippie" in '67...
we could only wondered "Why?"

There was the year spent on the road
chasing the rodeo circuit.
I had a plan to make it big, but all I did
was max out our limited credit.

Spent our last few dollars on entree fee
at the old Payson Rodeo.
I wouldn't of blamed you if you'd left me...
but it just wasn't in ya t'a go.

Got shot by rustlers in '56,
alone, up riding on the rim.
Three days it took to find me
but you nursed me back again.

That time the hay truck run me down,
I thought for sure I'd die.
You were there, can't remember the year,
it was back when Dad was still alive.

"Every time you've been right there,
t'a fix me up when I'm broken.
It won't happen this time, it's not your call,
my name in the Book s'been written."

"I've seen just beyond the clouds", he declared,
"this ain't the end, the trail it goes on through.
My time's now spent, but with family and friends,
Darlin', I'll be waiting for you."

"I'll stay close, hanging back,
I'll be taking it slow.
When you're called, I'll be here,
t'a get ya, when you're ready to go."

He knew it was his cowboy ways
that brought him to this end.
What he now wanted most was his sweetheart's smile,
as she held on to his hand.

"You know what dear?" he boyishly asked.
She softly replied, "No...., what....?"
He smiled and winked, like he so often did,
then said, "Darlin', I'm thinkin' maybe, you're bad luck."

The family's laughter was strong, then the room was hushed,
I LOVE YOUs were tenderly spoken,
His eye's then filled, as so did her's,
as the angels came and got him.

In great sorrow she smiled, just as he had wanted her to,
and she would not let him go.
She held him close, she was his alone,
she already missed him so.

Not two weeks later she passed on,
again... the family gathered around.
And thanks was given, for the heavenly reunion,
just beyond the clouds.

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


(Posted also in the collection of poems about
Cowboy Moms and Grandmoms)



Mom's Kitchen Table

I'd like to be at Mom's Kitchen Table again
in the surroundings as when I was a kid.
Life seemed easy, worries were few
and Mom found good in all we did.

We'd gather around the table each morning,
and again at the end of day.
Mom would make sure we's washed and clean
before bowing our heads to pray.

The table was long and a bit narrow
but it fit all us kids just fine,
Along with Dad, Mom and the hired hand,
and a border from time to time.

Made from planks of four-inch pine,
scrapes from when the barn was built.
A leg on each corner, another in the middle,
sturdier, strong, and stout.

Benches split from cottonwood,
running along each side.
Once rough, now worn smooth,
butt polished over time.

At the head of the table Dad's chair was sat,
Mom's at the other end.
But when Dad missed a meal, she'd fix him a plate
then take the bench seat next to him.

A center for family gatherings,
the Good Book might be read at night,
Where life's discussions were common place,
by the glow of a coal-oil light.

Figuring out which field to plant,
which calves to send to sale,
Horses to work, cows to cull,
which fields to cut and bail.

At the table's were quilts were sewn,
peas were peeled, peaches canned.
Where wild berries and cactus apples
were preserved, jellied, and jammed.

It's where Uncle Ben, in agony was laid,
when fighting rustlers he got shot.
Where the doctor labored into the night
to dig the bullet out.

A workbench for minding saddles,
or studies when the day was done.
There's a hole where Dad shot it,
he clamed while loading his gun.

It's where the preacher sat to visit,
when Sister was to be wed
And where the family was called to gather
t'a get the news... Grandpa was dead.

Family decisions, plans laid out,
where meat was prepared for the smoker.
Laundry was folded, gifts were wrapped,
an occasional a game of match-stick poker.

It supported Dad's arms, holding his head,
when the spring crop didn't come through.
Late frost, hot winds, or a blight of bugs,
there was little any one could do.

Where a proud man confessed
the shortcomings of his life,
To the one woman with the willing ear,
his darling, my mother, his wife.

Where Sunday meals of wild turkey or beef,
were served as a festive feast.
And music, around that table was made,
to the tapping of tired feet.

Now there's quite remembrances
and stories told with laughter and tears.
That old table's been part of it all,
spanning those decades of years.

At Mom's table, great lessons were learned
more then at school, work, or church,
Lessons of life, respect, and caring,
the lessons of a family's worth.

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

(Posted also in the collection of poems about
Cowboy Moms and Grandmoms)


Had I Known

Had I known, or should suppose, it was the last time I would see,
   That old cowboy at the end of Ranch House Road, I'd a not been so quick
to leave.
Certainly no disrespect was meant in the lightness of my ear,
   It was apathy in the belief he'd been...  and would always be there.
I'd inquire on his health.  He's response was as always, "I'm doing fine".
   With a disposition hard spoken and rough but a heart that was easy to

I never told him how I cared, guys don't do that sort of thing.
   Even thought it was the truth in spite of everything.
I always figured deep down he knew, the same as I did of him.
   But now I wish I'd a said it, instead of assuming, as I did.
Had I known his leaving, a more pleasant visit I'd a made it be.
   I'd a been glade to just let him talk of Mom, my brothers, and me.

I'd a been a bit more cheery, as I walked up to his door,
   maybe sat a little closer and smiled a whole lot more.
I might of said I's sorry, for not heeding all the lessons that he taught.
   I'd a taken deeper notice of the things...  he had and had not forgot.
I could have told him of my pride toward what in life he had done.
   I'd a let him have his bragging, instead... recalling times that had gone

Thinking there's always tomorrows, another day would come anew,
   Was a way of keeping me from doing those things, I knew, I ought to do.
The grandkids, they all miss him, his play and the holding of his hand.
   Struggle as they will, tears still fell, trying their best to understand.

He was pleasant enough as I left him but I'm guessing that he knew,
   My chore was done, so I had to run, to more important things to do.

"Dad, I know you can hear me and I'm betting you're not alone,
   Mom's standing there beside you, along with family and friends you've
Listen Dad, give Mom my love and say hi to your brother Ben.
   Don't be joking too much, if you get throw'd out, they may not let ya in
One last thing I've got to say, as you're smiling from Heaven's Gate,
  Forgive me Dad...  though I know you have...  I'm asking just the same."

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


Mike tells us the above poem "was written with my Grandfather in mind...Grandpa was a father-figure to me much of my life so those thoughts are easy for me to share."  

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


Ben's Family

His wife left him at childbirth.
No... she wasn't the type to run.
The Lord reached down and took her away,
in her place, he was left a son.
A better closeness there never was,
between a father and son.
And to them, ranching was other then work,
so they'd play 'til the work was done.

While mending fence or working stock,
the Dad shared stories of another age,
When a ring of wire couldn't be found
stretched out along the range.
The boy wanted to learn it all,
he's so full of life.
He'd lived more in 16 years
than those confined to city life.

Creating challenges, he worried his pa,
the boy thought himself so clever.
Like bulldogging steers on the open range,
calling out to his Dad to be the timer.
To young the boy was called away,
while doing what he loved the best.
Working cows from dawn to dark
on a day much like the rest.

It was just a ranching accident,
the boy was helping to pull a calf.
The cow kicked, caught him wrong,
went down as if he were dead,
But life left the boy in his father's arms,
Ben felt the spirit go.
Like with his wife, this can't be right,
it was tearing out his soul.

Then, a presence was felt, a whisper he heard,
 Ben uttered the name of his wife.
She was there, telling his heart,
"In time, all will be made right."
But life took more than its share this time.
The lad turned cold in his arms.
And this time the hurt came permanent,
only death would stop the burn.

Next to his mother, the Boy now rests
and has for 30 years.
Ben's only comfort, they're together,
which yielded silent tears.
Tears of both joy and sorrow,
a loss to heaven's care.
Never again, his heart to give,
alone, deaths pain he'd bear.

One more time Ben's left alone,
this would be the last,
He lived his life an honest man,
but his heart stayed in the past.
Help's now hired to work the ranch
but for years he'd gone it alone,
Living in the house with memories,
his wife and son called home.

His brother's kids checked on him,
when ever the neighbors call.
He liked it when they came around
but he'd be OK 'til fall.
When fall came and the leaves turned,
he got cold, stiff and sore.
Well meaning, he's pushed to move to town,
a request he learned to ignore.

And the cowhands looked in on him
but never caused a fuss.
They respected him more then that
though some thought he's nuts.
Cause he spent time in reminisce,
deep...  in his own cowboy way,
Then saddled up to visit those graves,
every couple of days.

Ben wouldn't go, cause what he loved,
was buried on the hill.
Time could not get him to leave
nor the winter's northern chill.
But one cold evening his horse came in,
saddled, dragging a bridle rein.
They found the old man frozen dead,
sitting between the graves.

There seemed to be an air easiness
though his passing was hard to take.
As I approached I thought I heard
a quite discussion taking place.
As others rode up, they stop to listen,
they too, thought they'd heard a sound,
The sound of voices, coming from where...
he sat upon the ground.

The voice of a boy and a woman,
we listened then it was gone.
Words came and went, barely heard,
in wonderment, we listened on.
There was light laughter, distant and faint,
the cold had lost it's bite.
A feeling of being in the presence of good,
that all the world was right.

A rider's sent back for the buckboard
to take him down the hill,
But returned instead with shovels and picks,
which gave the crew a chill.
Cause the boys had already been talkin'
to take him away didn't seem right.
So the cowboys stayed and dug the grave,
through frozen ground, that night.

Now the voices, some say was only the wind
but I say it was more then that.
I seldom speak of it but when I do,
with reverence, I take off my hat.
Figuring out what happened that night,
is speculation at it's best.
But by dawn, between the wife and boy,
the old man was laid to rest.

It's easy to say it was just the wind,
of course, I don't guess I really know.
But the last thing I believe I heard,
was the boy to say, "Dad, it's time to go."
The voices then stopped, air went cold,
there came a feeling of being alone.
The cowboys all stood quiet
while the wind continued to blow.

That night I felt a testimony
to the bond of Ben and his wife,
And for some, families carry on,
into another life.
I visit those graves when the wind wants to blow,
with the hope...  the cold will loose its bite,
And when it does, I listen for the laughter,
as I remember it, so well, that night.

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

Mike told us that the above poem "tells the story of a father's love and commitment.  Stories like this one are often looked on with disbelief, yet the West held many tells with instances that were outside everyday happenings.  Maybe it's the disbelief that prevents our seeing beyond mortality, I don't know.  I believe in a here-after and enjoy sharing stories that touch on those possibilities."  

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



The Pet Snake Incident

There's few things a cowboy enjoys more—just for playfulness—than to hassle someone, or to be hassled, in fun. This poem is based on a true story
that had to do with my Uncle Jack. Changes made were meant to protect the innocent (that'd be everyone but Jack), an effort to save possible
embarrassment to those closest to the real happenings. It also shows how quickly things can get out of hand and the cowboy's seemingly disregard for the consequences as they might willfully proceed to make matters worse. Then there's the cowboy's self-imposed responsibility to draw a conclusion from the outcome, a moral to the story. These happenings are typical of fun loving cowboys, as well as the cowboy I know as Uncle Jack.

The Pet Snake Incident

This story is true,
    I'm about to tell to you,
    details changed to protect the incident.
Was it brought on as a joke,
    or was it mean spirited folk,
    what's become known as...
        The Pet Snake Incident?
Jack didn't hesitate,
    to kill him the rattlesnake,
    that had taken residence under the barn.
With kids there about,
    it'd a bit one no doubt,
    so he eliminated from the yard.
A dangerous reptilian of course,
    to cow and horse,
    killer of many a good hand.
So Jack sat in wait,
    at the corner gate,
    to put a bullet through its head.

Oh yes, I can hear it now,
    "Poor snake, oh wow!"
    From do-gooders,
        "The snake's been violated!"
Well, a long time yet,
    the boundaries been set,
    it's the snake - threatened and invaded.
Jack took him out,
    when the shot rang out,
    a 22 placed just right.
But it didn't bleed,
    the shot was clean,
    the whole was near out of sight.
A single round,
    announced by a bullet's sound,
    with little sign of red.
To look at the snake,
    ya did a double take,
    to find the hole through its head.

With baling twine,
    Jack lopped a line,
    "The rattler's dead," he said.
As on a leash... he pulled the thing,
    to give it a fling,
    to where the buzzards would get fed.
But lookin' afar,
    Jack spotted a car,
    comin' around the bend.
Raising dust and smoke,
    in a cloud that'd chock,
    on the ranch road headin' in.
Unknown to him,
    this car comin' in,
    the snake... it's still a squirmin'.
So Jack ties the twine,
    to the fence post line, then...
    went to see who it was that was a comin'.

'Twas visitors from town,
    on the road comin' down,
    a delegation from a church congregation.
Amongst'um...a preacher and his wife,
    with no fear of strife,
    here to check on the family's salvation.
Jack welcomed them in,
    with smile and grin,
    as they stood in the yard to visit.
The preacher... he wanders about,
    without a doubt,
    the blessings of heaven he'd be-set.
He'd wandered to the side,
    to were the twine had been tied,
    expounding on the world's sinful ways.
When he got close to the snake,
    the snake started to shake,
    the rattler rattled like he hadn't in days.

Well... the snake was still dead,
    but gave the sound that we dread,
    twisting and whirling on the twine.
When the snake's nerves come alive,
    the preacher made his way by,
    leaving all others behind.
With fear in their eyes,
    folks then scattered like flies,
    hearts racing as if in battle.
The preacher's wife... she can't move.
    she's left behind too,
    as the rattler continued to rattle.
The kids saw it all,
    they were having a ball,
    knowing the snake's dead and tied by a rope.
Professing... visions of reptiles,
    wide eyes and big smiles,
    the preacher commenced praying
        with vigor and hope.

Jack's quiet and still,
    as the preacher ranted and reeled,
    the wife's looking a little fray.
She wanted to faint,
    but too close to the snake.
    so she waited 'til we'd moved her away.
When the preacher's composed,
    he let all the folks know,
    he'd a shot the shake if he'd had a gun.
With a pause and a smile,
    in traditional cowboy stile,
    Jack decided to have him a little more fun.
He retrieved the twine,
    from the fence post line,
    as the rattler was still flailing around.
It flipped and it flopped
    and it didn't stop,
    making that rattlesnake sound.

They's having to holler a bit,
    cause none would come close to it,
    as Jack pranced the shake about.
Continuing the charade,
    as on parade,
    for self-amusement, there was no doubt.
Jack's at his best,
    with what he said next,
    having more then his share of fun.
"It's a pet," Jack said,
    "he sleeps under the bed,
    and he's just out for a little sun.
You could shoot him I guess,
    and it may please you at best,
    to do him in like a desperate criminal.
But it's you who's to blame,
    'cause he's really quite tame,
    it's you who scared my rattlesnake, Rascal."

"You should be ashamed,"
    the preacher exclaimed,
    "it's made an attempt upon my life!
As it threatened it smiled!
    It's the devil's child!
    Just look what it's done to my wife!
Befriending the devilish thing?
    You must be insane"
    twisting his face into a frown.
Excited and hot,
    he's babbling a lot.
    got to the car and headed back to town.
Jack's wife, Aunt Louise,
    is more than a little bit peeved,
    she scolded him half the night.
She insisted. Jack done it on purpose,
    lead the preacher to the serpent.
    I don't know. she could be right?

Well, we'll not soon forget,
    how short the visit went,
    when the preacher come the ranch.
They'd come there to pray,
    but not long did they stay,
    I believe... the preacher soiled his pants.
If you get to Jack's place,
    get him to talk about snakes,
    and he'll tell ya how all them folks roared.
And the preacher with a frown,
    who rode back to town,
    riding on the running board.
The moral is, I guess,
    if you tie a snake to a fence,
    and the preacher shows up uninvited.
Thought he'll want to rant and rave,
    your soul there to save,
    it's best not to let him get to excited.

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


The theme for the 2003 Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering was "Tools of the Trade."  The poster for the gathering, a panting by Western Artist Ray Swanson entitled "Turning the Remuda," beautifully depicted the most relied on "Tool of the Trade," the horse.  The task was to write an original poem taking inspiration from that theme and poster.  The format is reminisce, thoughts unspoken, as seen through the eyes of a working cowboy.  I could have called it "Tools of the Trade" or "Turning the Remuda" but settled on:

Chores I Don't Guess I'll Tire Of

Have you ever dipped a cup made of bailing wire
        wrapped about an old tin can,
Miles from most anywhere, then...
        gave thanks for the cool in your hand?
At a windmill pushed by the softest breeze...
        pumping cold and deep,
Your horse playin', splashin', bridle rattlin',
        finding pleasure in a simple treat?

After miles of re-setting staples,
        seasoned-cracks in posts let fall.
Puttin' stays in place, thanking the Lord...
        for wire ya don't have to pull?
Tending cows in trying weather,
        wind blowing hard on your face.
Sunburnt and frozen, wet with sweat...
        recalling a better time and place?

While bunking out of a line-shack, lonesome...
        months missing family and friends,
Calling by name... every mouse in the place,
        wondering when winter's goin'na end?
Then... comes the gathering of the remuda,
        in spring... when life is good,
Vanquishing thoughts of tough times,
        when ya'd a quit if ya only could.

We turned'um out late in October,
        free to rest and play.
Rounded'um up again in early spring
        once again to earn their pay.
Frisky, kit, and kickin', as
        warming weather greets the dawn.
Brings a smile and thought of thankfulness...
        for blessings... so few have ever known.

Now I see Grumpy's gray with the twisted lip,
        and Shorty's sorrel right beside.
Here comes Deryl's ol' dapple...
        a most pleasursome horse to ride.
Bob's buckskin mare is older then dirt...
        and the best horse of the lot.
With grit and savvy, she'll pony-up...
        to keep her cowboy on his spot.

That little blue roan with the Rail "A" brand,
        the one they've put the new kid on,
He'd settle right down if the kid would sing
        or hum a trail riding song.
The way that horse bucked when he was young
        ya'd think he'd jump the sun.
Now he's as good as they come at working cows,
        t'a him it's all in fun.

There goes Charlie getting loud...
        waving his arms, hollerin' at the kid...
For the same things we hollered at him...
        for the things that he once did...
"Quit pushin'um, hold up a bit,
        before you put'um on the run!"
Granddad's smilin' as he's listening...
        to all the ribbing that's going on.

That appy colt with the whipping tail,
        the frisky one with the little star,
I knew his daddy, an' if he's half the horse...
        as a cowpony... he'll go far.
One day I'll grasp the reins of that lively colt,
        pushing mesquite out of our way or
Brush through thickets of tangled sage
        to bring out a bawlin' stray...

And if we confront a mountain bull,
        years missed... now plenty mean,
A half ton plus of beef on the hoof,
        long eared fighting machine,
Ornery as a devil, snortin' slobber and snot,
        lucky not to get someone hurt,
Dangerous and unpredictable but we'll carry on,
        'cause it's all cowboy work.

These cowboy tools, that live and breath,
        cursed with love and scorn...
A beast of burden to the cowboy life?
        Yes. that and a whole lot more.
Tools of the trade, put to work...
        along with rope, hot iron and gun,
Fencin' pliers, furrier bag... with spring,
        the work has just begun.

Ropes whirling, leather squawking...
        straddling a willing mount,
Hat, chaps, spurs, boots,
        a saddle that won't give out,
A bedroll dry, sharp pocket knife,
        good 'chuck' to keep you stout...
Hard working, willing, men like the Kid,
        we'll not survive without.

But the remuda, the horse - that timid beast.
        most essential to the cowboy trade.
The having, the handling and caring for...
        it's how a cowboy's made.
Ride'um, gather'um, watch'um play,
        turning the remuda to fresher ground,
Are chores I don't guess I'll tire of...
        not the dust, the sweat, or the sound.

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


The Card

This story's told on my Uncle Jack
and a young fellow from the BLM.
A kid set out to make his mark
had come to check on him.

A city kid with a half cocked grin,
friendly enough at first.
The wife provided refreshment,
something to quench his thrust.

Visiting on the local news,
cattle prices and the drought.
All the time the kid's taking notes;
Jack's wonderin' what it's all about.

Finally the kid come out and said...
he'd come to look around,
The condition of the land and its use,
from the treetops to the ground.

Jack told him, "Go right ahead,"
but then he pointed toward a gate,
With a warning... "don't go in there,
that would be a big mistake."

The kid spun on his heels, lost his grin,
returned to where Jack stood.
Took out a card, held it high... said,
"I don't believe you understood!"

"This is a bonafide government issued card
...none can take its place
For allowing me to go where I want,"
as he waved it in Jack's face.

He'd come to see what he could see,
called it a random inspection
And since he had his little card...
there'd best be no objection.

Jack easily relented, "Well, go on then...
suppose ya know what you're doin'.
Inspect the place to your heart's content,
I'll not be interferin'."

In spite of the warning, there he went...
headed straight for the gate.
Went on through, disappeared over the rise,
not a moment did he hesitate.

A hundred and sixty acre pasture...
no tellin' what he expected to find?
He wasn't gone an hour...
when his world began to unwind.

Jack first heard a cry for help,
faint... but soon grew stronger,
Emanating from the bull pasture,
frantic... and getting louder.

Jack looked up for just a moment,
then back to what he's doin',
As he'd given his word, plain enough,
there'd be no interferin'.

The commotion brought the wife out,
to see what had gone wrong.
Found Jack busily working,
humming and singing a song.

She inquired, so Jack explained,
"'Twas the government man from town,
He wanted to inspect the bull pasture...
so he'd gone in to look around."

About that time he topped the rise,
running at full speed...
Cussin' the bull, as he passed the gate
...the kid was losing his lead.

"Well, don't you think ya ought'a help him,
do something to make him quit?"
Jack's reply, "That bull's tough enough,
the kid hasn't hurt him yet."

Behind rocks, over a ledge,
they danced around the trees.
The kid wasn't doing bad for himself...
but I's glad 'twas him and not me.

Shortly she demanded, "Do something!"
To help the kid, Jack had no choice.
Now, the wife seldom ever made a demand...
but Jack recognized that tone in her voice.

The thing is, if the kid would be still,
that bull would quit the attack.
Jack told him, "Stop!  And quit your yelling."
It's then... the kid started cussin' Jack.

Again Jack tried, as they'd pass by,
the kid's interest in listening was slim.
Now Jack's thinking, while the wife's insisting,
the kid's in less trouble than him.

Then Jack stood tall, winked at his wife,
walked to the gate in the yard.
For a last try, as they ran by, Jack hollered,
"Why don't ya...
show him your little CARD?"

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

Mike told us, "My Uncle Jack told me the story, don't know where he got it. He's well into his 80's and still ranchin'."

Autumn's Reflection

Ripples of wind bring autumn's scent,
pressed through golden leaves.
Sun light brightens shortened days...
adds warmth to cooling breeze.
Autumn; a cherished time...
as much as that of spring,
When the range puts off its summer's best,
to wait... that which winter's to bring.

The stream's abused by horse's hooves,
...dancing in autumn's reflection.
Nosin' the water with snorts and stomps, energetic, playful rendition.
Listening... I tarry in thought,
a concert to the discerning ear,
As pensioned horses and working stock,
mark their end to another year.

It's the time we let go the remuda,
with winter's needs so few,
To run with those retired souls...
freedoms of youth to renew.
And we visit, before I let'um go,
tellin'um, each one, how well they've done.
Even ol' "Sorry" gets some praise,
though he's always itching to run.

I'm thinkin' the year... it's been a good one,
chores got done at a reasonable pace.
Got some rain and the calf crop paid...
I'd say, we'd run us a good race.
The kids are well and doing fine...
...took it hard when ol' Ben passed on.
And though he's old and ready to go,'s tough to believe he's really gone.

But like Ben would say, at the close of day,
"We're all blessed a plenty,
And if we don't recognize the Good Lord's hand,
it would be for us a pity."
So with that thought, I thank ya Lord...
for Your care and conversations,
For blessing beyond worldly goods...
shown clear in autumn's reflection.

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

Mike told us this poem was inspired by Tim Cox' poster for the 2008 Durango Cowboy Gathering. You can view the poster image
here, in a report from Linda Mannix about the 2008 event.

Tim Cox' painting, "At His Own Pace," was the official poster for Cowboy Poetry Week, 2007. See the poster and read more about Tim Cox and his art in our feature here.


A Dissertation on "Cowboy Stories, Poems & Songs"

Poems and songs most start as stories,
from those told time and again.
Telling how things are... and how they were...
and how they ought to have been.
Stories told in reminisce,
for laughter and for fun,
To remember a fallen comrade
or an outlaw on the run.
About horses, dogs and bosses,
ranches, towns and the like...
About folks that could easily get along
and those that'd just as soon fight.
Storms, stampedes, guns and chuck,
big windies stretched and more.
What's the right way to pull a calf...?
or some other particular chore.
A favorite trial, a long lost friend,
why you'd let go the gal ya love,
What ya'd do to see the old homestead again,
or your thoughts of God above.
Empty saddles and watering holes,
the time ya'd roped a bear.
The tattered, unanswered, letter from home,
...can't be read without a tear.

Memories, thoughts, dreams gone by,
barmaids, broncs and busters,
Lessons learned, both good and bad,
life amongst wranglers and rustlers.
Cowboy parables shared with ease,
tales told by saint and sinner.
Characters with pride, courage and grit...
enduring lines from a bunkhouse liar.

Whether a yarn's stretched to its limit,
or in truth a tale is told,
Eagerly... they'd listen for a bit of news,
or just amusement— from stories bold.
From connivers, punchers, and preachers,
Ya see... we's really all about the same,
Especially, when evenin' come, it's mostly fun
their stories told around the flames.
In time, a story might be put to song or
with a poet's rhyme they'd be sharing.
No real thought to being proper or nice...
just 'cause the telling needed telling.
And when a story's put to song
or meter, with rhyme for a poem,
As for following rules of song and verse,
most cowboys didn't know'um.
Be aware, when a cowboy tells a tale
or passes a story that he'd heard,
He may well mispronounce a term...
eagerly... slang or slur a word.
Oh, 'can be a strain on proper English...
I'd shutter to hear my ol' teachers describe
The way cowboys abuse the English language,
it'd work'um up in inside.
They'd push to fix that metaphor of yours,
correct that bovine recitation.
It may not end up the cowboy way... but
they'd have it comply with rule and regulation.
Well, them rules are fine for a parlor in Boston
or a tea in Tennessee,
And admired in cowboy song and verse
but... just not to the same degree.
Oh it's got to have rhyme and rhythm,
a beat that can be felt,
But about those rules, I'll say it again...
few cowboy knew about.
Now we's told—"conform to the rules,
before the whole deal goes all wrong!"
Not needed in telling a story
but... required for poem and song.
Nobody wants to share a sorry song,
and sloppy rhymes can make folks run.
But once a cowboy puts his name to verse...
well... that's the way he wants it done.
Don't get me wrong, my words aren't strong
as those of all the greats,
But a cowboy's got to say it—in his own way...
cowboy etiquette somewhere states.

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



Read Mike Dunn's 

Still Doin' Business

posted with other 2004 Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering poster poems


Spellbound, a poster poem from the 2002 Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering.

Read Mike Dunn's Wrappings & Bows, posted in 
the 2002 Holiday poem collection.




   About Mike Dunn:

I'm extremely proud of my Arizona heritage; it goes back to the first settlers.  In the late 1800s my Great Grand Dad had built up his own freight company that serviced the mines and ranches in the southeastern part of the state.  My Grandpa didn't care much for the freight business and in his mid-teens, took to ranching.  The Rail "A" brand and much of the ranch is still in the family today.  My personal experiences center along the east side of the Whetstone Mountains, southwest of Benson.  It was there I learned first hand what cowboy life was all about and I cherish those memories.  Much of my original poetry reflects my own experiences, and the experiences and stories passed down.

I've not made a living as a rancher but I help out when I can. Grandpa knew the ranch wouldn't support all the kids and grand-kids and the need for higher education was becoming more evident on and off the ranch. So he pushed us to get an education and what he referred to as "a more steady life."  Many of us followed his guidance but have still stayed close to the land.  Horses, land and cattle have always played an important roll in our families life and I'm hoping that will continue.

I enjoy sharing stories in rhythmic form.  Stories dealing with the joys and dreams, as well as the more serious, sad, and heart felt realities of cowboy life.  Humorous, energetic, patriotic, solemn, simple, caring, wild, sad, daring, trusting, the list goes on, and the cowboy's guilty of it all.  My hope is to share a bit of that spirit in my writings and recitations.  I have been known to sing a song or two, but unless you want to know what the cattle had to put up with while a cowboy stood night-guard, DON'T ask me to sing.

There is real value in the sharing of what has come to be known as "Cowboy Poetry."  Value of not only entertainment but also preservation through education.  What my Grandmother wrote as poetry, would be called cowboy poetry today.  Preservation is so important...

We asked Mike why Cowboy Poetry is important and he said: "I do believe if this art form is to continue, then the education of those around us is what is going to be required.  Bringing the poetry, song and stories from ranch porches, bunkhouses and family rooms is making a difference.  When I was a kid, I don't recall hearing cowboy poetry away from those settings." 


Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth (book)


Read about the Award here.

Mike Dunn's new book, Somewhere Between Earth and Heaven, includes 30 of his best poems, humorous and serious, many that reflect his proud fourth-generation Arizona heritage. The book is available for $14.50 postpaid from: 

Linda's Letters & Publications
3045 North Lemon
Mesa, Arizona   85215


Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth—Volume #2



Store Bought Buckle
Don't Call a Cowboy a Sod Buster
Grandpa Would Tip His Hat
Getting Older
Just Beyond the Clouds
Power of Prayer
T'was the Wind
Cowboy at the Reins
Jacob, the Parson's Son
Had I known
The Gift of Honey

musical accompaniment by Ken & Lyn Mikell

$18 postpaid

Distributed by: Linda's Letters & Publications
3045 N. Lemon
Mesa, Arizona, 85215


Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth—Volume #1




Mom's Kitchen Table
Natural Causes
Ben's Family
How a Guy's Apt'a Tread His Bride
Heaven Without a Horse
Live to Regret
Best Ride Ever
Cull of the Bunch
Wrappings & Bows
Stacy Got Thrown Off a Horse Today
Taking the Senator's Advice

musical accompaniment by Ken & Lyn Mikell

$18 postpaid

Distributed by: Linda's Letters & Publications
3045 N. Lemon
Mesa, Arizona, 85215

Member of the
Cowboy Poets of Utah



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