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Lariat Laureate

of Sandy, Utah

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A Cowboy Country Christmas

It's a cowboy Christmas evenin',
Cain't hardly hear a sound,
It's quiet by the old wood stove

There's no fightin' on the ground.
 
There sure is some there overseas,
We trust it's for the right,
But still you feel it deep inside—
Our kids have gone to fight.
 
The wind's a pickin' up some,
The fire it throws a spark,
The coal oil lantern flickers bright—
As it illuminates the dark.
 
Some things will never change,
They've always been this way,
Red hot flames will all burn out—
Their coals will cool to gray.
 
On a country Christmas mornin',
With horse drawn sleighs and such,
A fresh cut pine and turkey plate—
We'll invoke the Healer's touch.
 
May winds of war stop howlin',
May flames of hate burn out,
May our lanterns lighten up the dark—
Mid bitter storms of doubt.
 
It's a cowboy country Christmas,
Why, there's singin' comes alive!
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail -
Where faith and grit survive.


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

Photos from Paul Kern's cabin in Island Park, Idaho—cowboy country.

This poem is posted with other 2006 Christmas poems.


Bring 'Er Home

Along about December,
On a western mountain slope,
When the snow is deep an' crusted,
An' yer head is full of hope.

When each breath crystallizes,
An' clings a moment to the air,
Then falls upon yer horse's mane,
An' hangs—jest like a curtain there.

Night breezes shuffle southward,
The sky is clear and cold,
Ya' pick a star an' tell yerself,
An old story you were told.

Of a baby in a lowly barn,
Well—I reckon jest a shed,
For unto you is born this day...
Those words dangle in yer head.
 
An' live jest like an evergreen,
On that frigid mountain slope.
So ya' cut a pine that'll do ya',
An' dally tie it with yer rope.
 
The sun will soon start climbin',
The mornin' star has jest blinked out,
That tree yer draggin' on yer horse,
Recalls what He's about.
 
It's jest a little evergreen,
To spread some Christmas cheer,
So bring 'er home to remember Him,
As we celebrate this year!

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

This poem is also posted in our Christmas Art Spur project.

 

Prayer Comes Easy in a Barn

When sunlight bathes the winter morn,
All creation is reborn.
The horses watered, fed and warm,
Prayer comes easy in a barn.

When Mary's babe his eyes did open,
He saw the sheep, the goats, and oxen.
In a feeder filled with fresh cut hay,
He first began His earthly stay.

It was cold without, but the warmth within,
Came from the love of his Next-of-kin.
He was not kept from the noble beast;
Nor from the shuffle of its cloven feet.

Simple folk there went and in awe they stood,
Unbathed, unschooled, unread, but good.
To welcome in this newborn king,
Amid the livestock and the steam.

The sounds and smells of earthy creatures
Caressed the child as gentle fingers.
Mary his mother gave birth that day,
To a shepherd for all who've lost their way.

It all began in a humble barn,
With the animals, our King was born.
There's something special that I find,
With the hay and beasts - a peace of mind.

When sunlight bathes the winter morn,
All creation is reborn.
The horses watered, fed and warm,
Prayer comes easy in a barn.

© 2003, Paul R. Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Prayer Comes Easy in a Barn is posted with other 2003 Christmas poems

 


Paul, Kathie, and their registered Palomino Aspen

 

My Blue-Eyed Bay

We did some horse tradin' just after the molt,
Kirby got old Dan and me - an unbroke colt,
When I first handled him he lingered to stay,
This was a real good sign for the blue-eyed bay.
 
Still only a yearlin' he wasn't much use,
I just wanted a horse that'd had no abuse,
To get one I'd have to break it my way,
We'd get along fine, me and this blue-eyed bay.
 
Months of workin' him and sackin' him out,
One step at a time each day left no doubt,
He was a good one and had a good place to stay,
I was startin' out fine with my blue-eyed bay.
 
It took five bouts of buckin' 'fore I hit dirt,
When he finally threw me just my pride was hurt,
That was the last time he'd toss a rider away,
It all came together for my blue-eyed bay.
 
Months passed, he grew and he learned each gait,
But to lope with a rider he preferred to wait,
It would come out in time but in his own way,
He was movin' out fast now - my blue-eyed bay.
 
He loped first on the trail on an uphill swell,
That November mornin' it was clear as a bell,
There was more to come I could easily say,
I'd be gettin' there soon with my blue-eyed bay.
 
A horse worth ownin' has to give satisfaction,
A good head, soft eye and a whole lot of action,
You can get all this for the mere price of hay,
Most horses keep a' givin' like my blue-eyed bay.
 
One holiday mornin' in the soft arena dirt,
A loose rein, no spurs and no need for a quirt,
He picked up his leads and loped circles each way,
This, a true gift from my blue-eyed bay.
 
Now in that same spirit at the end of the year,
True gifts are those given in love without fear,
They come from the heart and in their own way,
So, Merry Christmas to all! - from me and my blue-eyed bay!

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

 

My Blue-Eyed Bay is posted with other Holiday 2004 poems


Horsing around with the Blue Eyed Bay

 

The Rush of the One-Horse Sleigh


They try to get me to, but I can't convert,
To a motorized sled - now what would it hurt?
It's not that I object to that kinda' fun,
Making curves an' all on a downhill run.

But what I really prefer is a different kinda' ride,
In a one-horse sleigh with my bride at my side.
There are few thrills that can compare,
To thundering hooves kicking snow in the air.

I call out his name with a touch of the whip,
We charge off in an instant and hope we don't tip.
Snuggled up warm in a buffalo robe,
Ears covered in fur right down to the lobe.

With gloved fingers ever so light on the reins,
A swish of the tail and a flying lead change,
Spraying fresh snow from a high stepping steed,
A turn to the right he again changes lead.

The creak of the harness and the groan of the sleigh,
Are all notes of the music of a cold wintry day,
Sleigh bells ring out as we flash through the snow,
We dash away now with cheeks all aglow.

The hours rush by in the wink of an eye,
The horse is tired now and, well so am I,
It's hard to have a better day than this,
I reach over to steal a midwinter's kiss.

For years we've all sung the songs of the sleigh,
There must be a reason for those carols to stay,
It's a whole lot more than - the horse knows the way.
Must be the ride and the rush of the one-horse sleigh.

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

 

Caroline Was a Cowboy's Wife

Caroline was a cowboy's wife,
She could have chosen an easier life,
Well bred and pretty she let it all be,
To marry that Jacobsen boy - Lee.

She fell in love and Lee did too,
He was a 1910 vintage buckaroo,
Who first wandered into Island Park,
On horseback where he left his mark.

A young cowboy on the Railroad Ranch,
The Herrimans gave him his chance,
To live out his dream on the back of a horse,
Caroline followed with no remorse.

From there they worked the Flying R,
A ways up the road but not too far,
Two sons she bore him - one for each knee,
They named 'em Cody and Larry Lee.

Two lives entwined in the livestock trade,
Caroline made the cowhand grade,
She rode and trailed and fenced and hazed,
Making a home where the cattle grazed.

Caroline knew livestock better than most,
She helped Lee build fences post by post.
All the same she would cook and sew,
Her favorite mare she called Latigo.

In time they bought a place of their own,
The kids were big now, nearly all grown,
Their brand? - the Quarter Circle J Bar,
Still they kept on working at the Flying R.

They shared their cowboy ways with me,
How to find strays and where they'd be,
How to run cattle throughout the year,
And how to use old-time cowboy gear.

I'd got thrown off by a horse named Buck,
Caroline came over in her pick-up truck,
She always said to just get back on,
I would have, but that horse was gone.

Lee claimed never to have lost a steer,
Or a heifer or bull regardless the year,
And so the years came and then flew by,
Caroline departed for the sweet by and by.

One quite morning Lee opened the door,
Caroline's sewing room was left as before,
Just as she left it before she left him,
Lee's eyes were misty but not all that dim.

He told me on his headstone next to hers,
There'd be an empty saddle, a rope and spurs.
Someday when he crosses that great divide,
Caroline will be riding at his side.

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

Paul told us:  Lee Jacobsen rode with us up until his 94th year.  He now lives in an assisted living center in Idaho Falls surrounded by women of his same age who would love to have his attentions, but Lee says that he already has a wife and she is just waiting for him to show up.  Caroline and Lee were our neighbors in Island Park.  My wife hates this poem 'cause it makes her cry.

 

This poem is included in our Cowboy Love Poetry collection

 

Up Alaska Basin Way

Up Alaska Basin way,
Then north to Hurricane Pass,
You'll find the trail to a crystal lake,
Still and smooth as glass.

Forty years have come and gone,
Since packhorses, family and friends,
Made camp on the rocky shore,
Of Sunset Lake where the sky begins.

As the alpine lake touched the sky,
Vespers glowing of red and orange,
Cast their spell upon the eye.

As it was then so is it now.

Lakeshore rocks of years gone by
Untouched forever by father time,
Anchor still water to the sky.

Forty years had come and gone,
We rode good horses on a rocky ride,
My father, my son and I returned,
To Sunset Lake on the Idaho side.

Up Alaska Basin way,
Then north to Hurricane Pass,
We followed the trail to a crystal lake,
Still as smooth as glass.

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

Paul told us: I first started riding the backcountry when I was eight years old.  When you start at that early age it's amazing how easy it is to rack up forty years since the last time you went someplace.  This poem is a story of two visits to the same place four decades apart.  So often there is no going back because of too many changes or so-called improvements.  The places you once loved have either been run over or have been all shot to pieces.  Once in every other blue moon or so, it happens that the place has not changed and is still the same.  When this rarity happens, it is gratifying to the soul. Sunset Lake is the same now as it was then - a bewitching natural reflecting pool high in the Tetons.  This poem follows an ancient literary form known as chiasm.  It is verse, which is structurally a mirror image of itself - not too different from Sunset Lake.



 

If He Nickers At Yer Comin'

If he nickers at yer comin',
And is waitin' by the gate,
If he perks his ears up right,
And they're standin' tall and straight,

If he softly nuzzles nose to cheek,
And is blowin' light and easy,
If he draws his head into yer chest,
And around his ears ain't queasy,

If he opens easy for the bit,
And in cinchin' just ain't bothered,
If he's got a soft look in his eye,
And he lingers when unhaltered,

If he trailer loads from twenty feet,
And stands calm to trim and shoe,
If he moves out fast on yer command,
And pays attention to yer cue,

If he nickers at yer comin' --
It ain't the oats within yer pail.
He nickers at yer comin' --
'Cause he knows he ain't for sale.

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



Paul told us about his inspiration for this poem:

In 1926 Will James wrote in Cow Country, "Then in the evening there'd be songs, old trail-herd songs that some used to sing.  There was even poetry at times, made right there at the cow camp.  It'd always be about some cowboy and some bad horse, and the whole outfit chipped in or suggested a word to make it up.  Then sometimes that poetry would be illustrated too, for it seemed that there'd always been some cowboy around that could draw pretty well. "

Here is a poem about a good horse.  They say that no one ever sells a good horse.  I have a couple that are for sure not for sale that I describe here.


 

Where Warmth Means Wood

In the winter of nineteen twenty-one,
Before the arrival of their firstborn son,
Alf took Amy through snow and ice,
Forty miles by sleigh from Preston to Paradise.

My grandfather felt a little regret,
That a horse and a sleigh was all he could get,
To visit her family as he knew he should,
When travel meant horses and warmth meant wood.

In the winter of nineteen sixty-eight,
Thanksgiving that year just had to wait,
My father drove cattle through drifting snow,
To the shelter of valleys down below.

We just put off our holiday feast,
Grateful for safety of man and beast.
The cattle were cared for best as they could,
When rescue meant horses and warmth meant wood.

A little closer towards the end of the year,
We called on poor families living near,
In a Quonset hut and a tarpaper shack,
Heat was by fire and water they'd pack.

Country radio had made a plea,
To donate a Christmas gift or a tree,
So we took a present to each little child,
They were ragged, dirty and a little bit wild.

Plastic sheets on the windows let in daylight,
And the wind and the snow and the cold of the night,
We tried to help out as they expected we would,
Horses lived better than this; still warmth meant wood.

So here we are in two thousand and some,
It's hard not to let your feelings go numb,
So we remember our folks' blood, sweat and tears,
We try to pass it on down through the years.

From horses to cattle to neighborly ways,
From harness and saddle to one-horse sleighs,
To being kind to man and to beast as we should,
It still means something where warmth means wood.

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

 

The Tales of the Trail

If time rushes over a blacktop bridge,
It slows to a walk on a rocky ridge.1
I have followed this backcountry call,
Since just a boy barely five feet tall.

Imprinted young at eight years old,
To follow the tales of the trail I was told,
Those old time trails that I still ride,2
Burned deep their brand into my hide.

Up ahead in the next drainage over,3
The past meets up with a mounted rover.
Ghost riders of pintos untacked and unshod,
Rise up through the dust of unplowed sod.

Faint rings in the bottoms along a stream, 4
Come into view in the morning gleam.
Teepee rings face the rising sun -
Circles of home before the ride is done.

Voices of those, whose legends were made,
In rendezvous camps of the beaver trade,
Echo through canyons and fade in the trees,
Where a rusty old trap still holds the keys,5 

Of a cook fire ring that's still neatly made -
A circle of home lies there in the shade,6
Of a trapper blowing coals on his knees,
Over rocks in a clearing back in the trees.

And of time worn tracks and dusty trails,
Where an old time path is there - then pales.
Dust has settled followed by grass,
It comes into view and then seems to pass.7

Those worn out trails of olden date,
Spread over grassland in paths of eight.8
Riders and wagons rolled side by side,
To check the dust where the trail gets wide.

Dust that rises, takes wing, then falls,
Signals the past and quietly calls,
To tell the tale of those yesterdays,
And the circle of home over bygone ways.

Trails rocky and steep then easy and wide,
Circle me back each time I ride.
They circle me back each time I roam.
The tales of the trail are of going home.

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

1. Rocky Ridge - Old Oregon/Mormon Trail, Wyoming
2. Cascade Canyon - Hurricane Pass - Death Canyon, Teton Range
3. Headwaters of the Gallatin, Yellowstone Park
4. Headwaters of the Yellowstone, Bridger Wilderness Area, Wyoming
5. Trapper era beaver trap found near Two Ocean Pass, Wyoming
6. Campsite on the Atlantic side of Two Ocean Pass, Wyoming
7. Nez Pierce Trail, Camas Meadows battle ground, Kilgore, Idaho
8. Old Oregon Trail about eight miles east of South Pass, Wyoming

Paul told us: These thoughts came rushing in last summer on a pack trip through deep Wyoming wilderness in an area called "The Thoroughfare."  It's grizzly bear territory today but was prime beaver trapping country last century.   I had all four of my kids with me covering up to thirty miles a day.  I have been riding and packing the area since a teenager and felt very much at home there.  But it hit me especially hard when we happened to camp one night a short distance from an age-old overgrown cookfire ring - only a short distance from where my father had picked up an ancient beaver trap some years before.  The images of circling back, circle of home and so on struck me.  It applied to every trail I have ever ridden. I tried to capture some of that in the poem, making reference to a few of "those old time trails" that I love.

 

The Christmas Celebration of Helen Dutton

Christmas had come as quick as it went,
Cold was breezin' through the hot air vent.
Us rowdy kids didn't much give a care,
For what the teacher was sayin' there.

It was cold outside and the snow was high,
It squeaked underfoot as you walked by.
Your breath would freeze inside your throat,
Arctic wind nipped at your old winter coat.

Like colts in the mornin' of an early snow,
We were buckin' up and wouldn't let go.
And then she did it without makin' a fuss -
She asked what we'd all got - for Christmas.

Well, Mike he got a new pair of chaps,
A Stetson, new boots and a pistol with caps.
And Butch by golly got a bunch of new shirts,
Some games and a monster toy called Lurch.

Lanona, the quiet girl, if I correctly recall,
Got a blue gingham dress and a Barbie doll.
And Rayelle the redhead got somethin' too,
A three-speed bike that was fancy and new.

From kid to kid the teacher went round,
We listened good to what the others had found,
Under the Christmas tree - when all of a sudden,
She turned and asked that little Helen Dutton.

The Dutton's lived in a tarpaper shack,
On a ramshackle farm they rented out back,
And well out of sight on a rutted dirt road.
No one should ever go there - or so we'd been told.

Well, Helen brightened up just a speck,
And we did too, hey what the heck -
Maybe she'd had a celebration too -
Good, that's what families normally do.

Helen Dutton hadn't washed in a while,
But when she broke into this great big smile,
Could it be she was ready to tell us all -
About some new clothes, new shoes or a doll?

Or maybe about a holiday feast with her Dad,
With turkey and ham when he wasn't all mad.
Or maybe a box of oranges and treats and candy,
Or the party they'd had - that'd sure be dandy!

Now it was time for Helen to take the floor,
There'd been none of what was said before.
But she smiled softly as she began to talk -
She'd got a colorin' book and two pieces of chalk.

That's it?  That's all?  What about the toys?
And sugar plums for good girls and boys?
Not there. Just a crooked smile and tangled hair.
Helen had a few more words to share.
 
This girl with threadbare clothes and a dirty face,
Would teach us somethin' 'bout dignity and grace.
Little Helen Dutton went on to say -.
"Toys don't count much - 'least not on Christmas day.
 
"Mamma was home and the fire was warm,
And Daddy'd came in from working the farm,
He put up a sagebrush for our Christmas tree,
And we all got excited my sisters and me!"
 
After a meal of oatmeal and a horehound stick,
Helen reached under the sagebrush and went to pick,
The present with the colorin' book and chalk.
Then Mamma picked her up and gave her a rock.
 
She whispered somethin' as she cradled her tight,
Like Mary musta' done that first Christmas night.
Those quiet words of Helen Dutton just won't go away -
"Toys don't count much - 'least not on Christmas day."

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

Paul told us: This poem recounts an episode from my Sunday School class on the western edge of Idaho Falls when I was eleven years old.  Some kids came from well- heeled ranch families and prosperous potato farms.  Others came from families whose fathers were scientists working at the National Reactor Testing Station, located near Arco and commonly known as "the site."  Some others were the children of families who ran small businesses.  And then there were those that lived on the poor side of town - actually there were two - one called Happyville and the other Duttonville.  Many of these families had no visible means of support.  What do you get when you put a bunch of kids together coming from such different backgrounds?  Something
like this . . .

The Christmas Celebration of Helen Dutton is posted with other 2005 Christmas poems

 



Evening Sets on the Yellowstone

For miles you hear the rising howl,
It sends down a fleshy shiver,
Wolves are coming off the prowl,
Over there across the river.

It starts off hauntingly slow,
Then mounts up to the sky,
The pack all joins in down below,
'Til the howling pitch is high.

It hits you first with forlorn notes,
Drawn out in a minor key,
A dominant fifth from two silver coats,
Accompanies eerily.

A she-wolf joins in all alone,
Throat thrashing at the sky,
Letting fly a syncopated groan,
As evening drifts on by.

The primal whine is wild and high,
A call from another age,
They alone know the how and why,
As it echoes through the sage.

It starts off hauntingly slow,
With a piercing mournful moan,
The pack all joins in high and low,
As evening sets on the Yellowstone.

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

 


Paul Kern on the Blue-Eyed Bay (Target) leading Rory as pack horse through the Yellowstone backcountry, Summer, 2006.

 

Paul told us: To get to where the wild things are, load saddle and pack stock in Island Park, Idaho, follow the Nez Perce trail over Targhee Pass, enter Yellowstone, turn north at the Firehole River, pass geyser basin formerly known as Colter's Hell, travel east through thousands of buffalo, park at trailhead on east shore of Yellowstone Lake. Saddle up, balance packs and ride through scorched dirt from the 1988 fire, enter deep forest where griz scat steams on the trail, continue southwards to Beaver Dam ford, where the water is deep and dark. Horses don't like it, but cross anyway, hopefully still in the saddle. Camp on shore of Yellowstone river just after Cabin Creek. Good feed for horses. Lots of night sounds.

 

Paul told us that As Evening Sets on the Yellowstone has been "set to music by Crawford Gates, aninternationally renowned composer and orchestral conductor. His resume is quite long as he has guest conducted most major symphonies in the United States and for years conducted the Beloit and Rockford, Illinois Symphonies—and the list goes on. It was recorded by Utah based baritone Cliff Cole." Paul includes the song in an episode of his podcast, "Cowboy Poetry at the Corral of the Rafter J."  You can listen to that episode and others at his web site, here.

 

Broken Things to Mend

Broken things to mend,

Are easy to be found,

At my place beyond the bend,

They're scattered all around.

 

Broken things to mend,

My hay rake, fence and gate,

Some things need me to attend,

While other things can wait.

 

Broken things to mend,

Are folks tore clean apart,

Who so easy break and bend.

With human soul and heart.

 

With saving soul and heart,

One was born to be our friend,

Teaching us the healer's art,

Broken things to mend.

 

Sun don't shine the same on all,

So take time to lift a friend,

A pard' who's ridin' for a fall,

Broken things to mend.

 

Most everything can wait,

For that helpin' hand you'll lend,

Go on now—'fore it's too late,

Broken things to mend.

 

One thing matters most they say,

That will last until the end,

Christ was born on Christmas day,

Broken things to mend.

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

This poem is included with 2007 Christmas poems.

 

This is Page 2 of Paul Kern's poetry.

Page 1

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