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Port Perry, Ontario
About Neil Harding McAlister
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The Hole-in-the-Wall Café

At a big hotel that I know quite well
Is the Hole-in-the-Wall Café.
It's a fine retreat when you're feeling beat
At the end of a tiring day.
On the cluttered walls hang prints large and small,
And the skull of a longhorn steer,
While the cowboy hats, guns and lariats
Recall days of yesteryear.

When a hostess fair with impeccable hair
Comes to greet you at the door,
You'll walk into a room that could use a broom
For the sawdust on the floor.
But this artful mess, groomed to look its best,
Makes you think of a bygone age --
You're a traveler bold in the days of old
While you wait for the evening stage.

The place comes alive as the guests arrive,
Looking suave in a rustic way.
They like to be seen in designer jeans --
Not the togs of yesterday.
And the steeds they ride with such evident pride
Are neither cheap nor quaint:
Parked out back are the Cadillacs,
Where you'll never see Old Paint.

In that cowboy club they serve fancy grub
That a wrangler might find strange:
Chuck wagon fare you won't see there
Cookin' on their kitchen range.
And the beer that's sold is always cold!
Just order what you desire
From the deferent host when you drink a toast
By the natural gas campfire.

It won't give you a feel for what might have been real --
But a legend seldom does.
So raise a glass to a mythic past,
And the West that never was!
Overworked and tired?  Come get re-inspired
At the close of a hectic day,
And if you're free, come along with me
To the Hole-in-the-Wall Café!

© 2003, Neil Harding McAlister
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Neil told us this poem was inspired by the Western motif in a fancy Phoenix hotel restaurant he visited while at a medical convention.  He says "I particularly enjoy visiting Arizona, where the desert scenery is an exotic change from the abundant lakes and forests of my home in Ontario."


An Easterner Looks West

The West is more than just a place.
It was a time, a frame of mind
In black and white; a state of grace
Where good and bad were well defined.

The spunky gals, the stalwart sons,
The Westerns on the silver screen,
The psychopaths who toted guns --
All icons of what once had been.

Vague legends of some bad guy's crimes
Become an epic, moral tale
Of conflict back in simpler times,
Compared to which our lives look pale.

This theatre of the Old West
Speaks of a mythic day gone by
When heroes faced life's toughest test
With steady nerve and steely eye.

The wild, wild West was soon constrained
By fences, laws and railroad lines
'Til little of that world remained --
But for the past, the heart still pines.

In city canyons made of steel,
Our complex days are rushed and stressed.
We yearn for things more plain and real,
And dream of vistas 'way out west

Where spires of red rock touch the sky,
Instead of towers of sterile glass;
Where open range beguiles the eye,
Not urban wastes where taxis pass.

And so we don our jeans and boots,
And with our little ones in tow
Vamoose by lesser-traveled routes
To see some county rodeo.

And no one thinks it's even strange
To emulate as best we can
The cowpokes who still work the range,
As if the clothes could make the man.

It seems we need our cowboy tales;
So we their image still embrace,
While speeding down our asphalt trails.
The West is more than just a place.

© 2003, Neil Harding McAlister
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Neil tells us that with this poem, he wanted to show "how easterners view the whole 'cowboy' image with a peculiar mixture of nostalgia and affection - much of it misguided to be sure, but an honest homage nonetheless."


The Far Side of the Fence

The dairy herd was gathered
Near the fence one summer day.
Young Gerty to the other calves
Was overheard to say,

"The grass on Farmer Potter's side
Is greener than our own.
His cows must feast all winter long
On hay that he has grown."

Old Bossy shook her head and mooed,
"It's better to stay home.
Who knows what's on the other side?
It's dangerous to roam."

But Gerty stomped and pawed the earth.
She knew what she would do.
She found a space between two posts,
And managed to squeeze through.

When evening came, the herd returned
For milking in the barn;
And Farmer Jones was short one calf,
So he raised an alarm!

Then Jones, his son, and Rex, their dog
Went searching high and low.
Jones phoned the neighbors all around
To see if they would know.

A few days passed. They found no trace
Of Gerty, dead or live,
'Til Farmer Potter wheeled his truck
Up Farmer Jones's drive.

Poor Potter stood there, cap in hand,
His face looked sad and pained.
"Is something wrong, old friend?" Jones asked,
And Potter then explained:

"The story I'm about to tell
Is pretty grim, but true.
The long and short—I have a debt
That I must pay to you.

"I went to town the other day
And left my kids in charge
When fellers from the slaughterhouse
Fetched cattle from our yard.

"I thought that they had paid too much—
More money than they'd said.
But they are sure their count was right:
They took one extra head.

"I know that wanderin' calf of yours
Was never meant for veal.
A stupid accident, it was.
You know I wouldn't steal."

With that, he pressed some money
Into Farmer Jones's hand.
Jones said, "I thank you, neighbor, 'cuz
You are an honest man."

Out in the field, old Bossy sighed,
That young cow had no sense.
The grass is always greener on
The far side of the fence.

© 2006, Neil Harding McAlister
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Neil comments: Our family enjoys living in a rural area of Southern Ontario. We drive past fields full of black and white Holstein dairy cows every day on the way to and from our son's school and our work in the city. Our 14 year old son James is particularly fond of cattle, which he considers to be his favorite creatures. This poem was written for him one day, when he was feeling somewhat envious of a friend at school.



About Neil Harding McAlister:

Neil Harding McAlister is a physician specializing in Internal Medicine, who practices in Ajax, Ontario, Canada. He graduated in Medicine from the University of Western Ontario (M.D.), subsequently earning an M.Sc. in
Clinical Epidemiology from McMaster University, and a Ph.D. in Medical Science from the University of Toronto. Dr. McAlister has published many scientific and popular articles in professional and general interest

Some of his other poetry (and his son James' poetry) can be read on the Internet at:

Neil and son James on vacation in Mexico



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