by lyle e davis
Words are those magnificent elements of language which, when strung together properly, can produce a sentence or two that conveys an emotion, a thought, an idea in motion; that can then be formed into a series then known as paragraphs, or, in some cases, stanzas.
Wordsmiths are those rare individuals who can skillfully blend these words, sentences, paragraphs, stanzas, in such a manner that they can bring forth a smile, a chuckle, a tear, or a recognition of truth.
Meet Baxter Black.
Cowboy, Cowboy Poet, re-known practitioner of the Ancient Art of Wordsmithery, Veterinarian, husband, father, neat person.
For years Baxter Black has been recognized as the top Cowboy Poet of America. In heavy demand as a speaker, he travels the United States and Canada, speaking to sold-out houses as he regales them with his sometimes off-beat, sometimes poignant, always moving cowboy poetry. Throughout, it is clear that he has a keen grasp of the people, of the circumstances that make up the often rough and tumble life of the cowboy, the rancher, the country folk of this world. Whether his audience is comprised of weatherbeaten cowboys and their kith and kin, or of the ‘sophisticated’ horse set (called equestrians, in some quarters), all are fascinated with the way Baxter Black captures their innermost feelings as he spins a tale in poetry.
There are many examples of the Baxter Black touch.
Piojos! Lice! The biting kind. You see ‘em everywhere!
They’re thick as thieves on cattle’s backs and crawlin’ in their hair!
And ticks the size of Toostie Pops transfuse a cow a day!
And two can pack a yearlin’ off or pull a one-horse sleigh!
A team of scabies mites can slick a pen of weaners clean
And make you wish you’d never heard of two-dip quarantine!
But sheep don’t get off eaiser, there’s nasal bots and keds
Plus maggots from a screwworm strike that every herder dreads.
There’s deer flies, blow flies, horn flies, house, face flies, horse flies, warbles.
There’s pinworms, hookworms, lungworms, tapes. Nasty, horrid, horribles!
As if them buggers ain’t enough, row croppin’ can be worse!
It’s hard to make a cotton crop if bollworms get there first!
And if you think I’m blowin’ smoke try growin’ grapes or pears
When aphids, thrips and nematodes all take their rightful shares.
They took ol’ Noah at his word, “Go forth and multiply!”
But man has stepped into the breach and raised the battle cry!
We’re fighting back with pesticides, with dips and sprays and dust.
With tags and bags and fogging guns, “Insecticides or Bust!”
We applicate them airily, we mix it from a sack,
We give it in a shot nowdays or pour it down their back.
We hire consultants left and right to give us sound advice
So we can fight this pestilence of worms and flies and lice.
We tell ourselves God gave us brains to halt their ill effect
And, though He made all living things He gave us intellect.
So, how come we can’t beat these bugs? Methinks we’ve too much pride.
Though God made us, remember He ain’t always on our side.
Great stuff. But poetry doesn’t always have to be in rhyme. Black captures the mood, describes the scenery, in words we can all relate to. And he does it in prose every bit as well as with his rhyming poetry:
Corn Country Landscape
Corn country landscape - painted late summer - high clouds, heavy with moisture, waiting for afternoon to thicken and darken and start raising Cain.
You can see for miles. Brown, green, yellow patchwork pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. Feedlots in the distance, their pens spread out like dark blankets on the side of a hill.
On the horizon to the north and south, I can count three spray planes circling over the corn, like buzzards. They are so far away I cannot hear them.
Closer I can see circle sprinkler lines leapfrogging over the tops of corn rows, taller than a pickup and thick as pile carpeting. The stalks stand straight and tasseled.
They remind me of a crowd, waiting to hear the Pope. An orderly group. Corn is seldom unruly.
The fields of sunflowers are less organized. They are Wood-stockers, jostling and stretching to get a glimpse of the morning’s performer.
Suddenly, I pass a farmstead. Acres of lawn with a butchhaircut from the side of the road to the first row of corn. Who mows all this, I ask. A windbreak. Deep green paint by number rows of pine trees and junipers, beautiful, yet somehow out of place.
A fresh tilled field pushes within a few feet of the road. It smells strong, heavy on my lungs. On this humid morning it reminds me of chocolate cake.
I drop into a creek bottom. Cows of all colors lay like mixed nuts spilled on a green carpet. Bleached round bales hunker along the fence row like melting clumps of sticky candy. I follow the pretty three-line power poles, festooned with mushroom-like insulators. Proud they are in their orderliness, functional yet outdated. The DC3’s of corn country leading me back up.
Two giant 8 wheel jointed tractors sit visiting with each other in a quarter section field laying fallow. Resting? I don’t know, maybe just waiting.
More cornfield city blocks. Each row seems to have its seed company sign out front like a mailbox. Mr. Garst, Mr. Pioneer, Mr. Producers, Mr. DeKalb, Mr. Corn Tates, Mr. ICI.
The next town comes into view. A water tower and grain elevator. The implement dealer has his monsters on display along Main Street. Like elephants in the circus standing side by side, one foot on the stool, one in the air, trunk raised. Lesser implements parked beyond, like resting butterflies, wings folded.
I turn left at the one stoplight. Coffee time.
These selections are from Black’s newest book, “A Cowful of Cowboy Poetry,” a book that has been said to be mostly humorous, occasionally political and accidentally informative.
It’s available at $24.95 plus $3.00 postage. It should be available at your local bookstore but if not, call his office at 1-800-654 2550, or you can order through the website at www.baxterblack.com.
Baxter Black can shoe a horse, string a bob wire fence and play country music on his flat top guitar.
He was raised in New Mexico, now he lives in Arizona. Since 1982 he has been rhyming his way into the national spotlight and is generally conceded to be the best selling cowboy poet in the world. He’s written 12 books, achieved notoriety as a syndicated columnist and radio commentator. He’s appeared on The Tonight Show and PBS to NPR and the NFR.
Black still doesn’t own a television, fax machine or cell phone. He continues to focus on the day-to-day ups and downs of everyday people who live with livestock and work the land. Invariably, when people who work the land and its animals listen to Blacks poems, they shake their heads and say . . . “yep. . .he’s got it right.”