Thursday, January 29, 2009

Old Cowboy

I rarely give any background on my poems, but I feel this one merits it because of the subject. I am fascinated by people who do dangerous things and in doing so stir something in all of us. Some are driven by money, others by the love of their sport, and others because they crave the rush. I enjoy watching a good boxer, or an accomplished rough stock rider. They are able to push past the pain and fear and do something most of us would not even consider. The price they pay physically is often severe. What do they think when they get old? Are they sorry they participated? I was investigating arson fires out of Austin, TX back in the eighties and had driven to Kileen, TX to look at a scene. I was tired and dirty as I started my return trip along the rural roads back to Austin. I spotted an old pickup truck along side the road loaded with watermelons and decided to stop. The slow moving old cowboy who was selling the melons turned out to be Joe Hood a former rodeo star and bull riding champion of the forties and fifties. He and his brother participated in rodeo on the senior tour until fairly late in life. Two hours later I had a water melon and a wealth of stories from a man who obviously loved his work. The physical price he paid was obvious, but his spirit suffered no damage. I wrote this poem in tribute to his smile and enthusiasm as he shared his life story with me that day.


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.

Dennis Price

If you're ridin' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there. Will Rogers