Monday, April 14, 2008

Cowboy Up

This old feller looks like he needs a bit of help. We found him outside a Saloon, Grill, and Roping Arena near Brownsville, TX. I looked at him and thought of the phrase "Cowboy Up". Words, used mostly on the Rodeo circuit when someone has just been thrashed in a bull ride, for example, and is having trouble getting up. His fellow competitors might say it to encourage him to forget the pain and continue with the competition. It has been the creed of cowboys, and others who were too far away from any help for it to do them much good, throughout history. It reminded me of an old rodeo cowboy I met one day on the highway between Kileen, TX and Austin, TX. I often wondered what cowboys on the circuit do after they are finished with a career that batters their bodies week in and week out. I wrote a poem about the few hours I spent with Joe Hood, a retired rodeo cowboy. He rode and roped in the days before huge purses and riding associations, when the only doctor who might be available to treat you was a vet. I hope you enjoy my impressions. Hats off (cowboy of course) to all those who give up their bodies for our entertainment.

I saw an old pickup all loaded with melons
one hot summer’s evening not too far from Austin.

Sitting beside it, a graying bent cowboy
in faded blue Wranglers watching the cars pass.

I stopped, we spoke, he arose from his lawn chair,
struggled to stand, and walked to his truck’s bed.

“Good ones?” I asked. “Sweet ones?”
He nodded. “Three dollars a piece or two for a five spot.”

“Pick me a good one.” I said as we stood there.
He turned a few over, and looked at their skin.

“Rabbits won’t scratch the ones that aren’t sweet.”
He said nonchalantly, his blue eyes a’ sparkle.

I found a scarred one and placed it aside.
“I’m Dennis,” I offered.
“I’m Joe,” he replied

“Did you farm all your life?
He answered, “No”.
Then I stood there and listened for two hours or so.

“I’m a Rodeo Champ.” He smiled as he spoke.
“Or I was through the fifties, that’s a few years ago.”

“I did it all. Rough stock, ropin’.
“We had to back then - the purses were small.”

“Bulls were my favorite. Everyone liked them.
I got extra money when side bets were made.”

He told me about it, the good rides, the great ones.
Clay Bank, Poison Ivy, the rankest of all.

Each ride was re-told from cinching to buzzer.
The bucks, the twists, the bruising come downs.

I finally left. He was smiling and waving.
Three bucks and two hours well spent for us both.