Cowboy Poetry

Aztec and Other Real People
By Anne Haw Holt, Ph.D.

Desert stars are butterflies
of smooth obsidian.
Their twinkling glance
a reflection of the moon
On fluttering wings of shining stone,
hovering, just beyond man’s reach.

The Stonecutter
His long fingers touched,
divined natural fissures–delicate striations
in the face of the limestone.
Hammered wooden wedges in the minute cracks.
Kept them wet with splashes
a day and a day and a day.
Until the quarry face rent and split apart
In cubic chunks, flat square sheets.
He pressed with adzes, cut and carved,
polished with obsidian
the malmy newborn stone.
Subdued the waxy, workable surface
before the wind enfolded cured,
made it strong.
Imperishable as granite.

The Rememberer
I was but small when my father took me there
astride his great shoulders.
Through the forest of
dappled moonlight and moonshade.
Beside the pyramid,
among the people gathered.
the Rememberer sat inside a circle of smoky light.
The moon had finished her monthly meal of stars,
was full fed, gorged to her roundest and brightest.
The man’s voice was old,
his telling covered years of greatness, death and mystery.
He know of wondrous things of the sea,
things of the night.
Gods and owls and great green moths,
night flying herons.
In the time of full dark,
I slept, ensorcelled, in my father’s arms.

New Fires
In the turning of the fifty-second year,
yellow blossoms
fill the sir with fragrance.
High on the near mountain,
we watch with night eyes,
we pray for stars to climb above midnight clouds.
Pale cluster, six, or is it seven?
Followed by the bright red star
Slowly, not veering from their course,
not breaking asunder.
Right in place, right on time,
undimmed and new again,
after all the sheaves of years.

If your gift is only small do not scorn it.
The Gods can take even that away.
If your talent is great–remember.
The Gods denied this gift to someone else
that you might use it.

Dogs of War
The brass cannon jumped and thundered.
The sound of the horses iron-shod feet pounded the sand.
Riders put their mounts to a full gallop.
The great dogs ran alongside.
The horsemen came to the crushed and smoking ruins
Spears glinted, swords touched light
as they cut down the survivors.
The men turned their mounts and rode back.
The dogs remained.
My ears rang.
Distantly I heard men shrieking,
staghounds roaring,
I saw them returning,
their fearsome jaws smeared with blood.

Northern Lights
Long curtains of light
sweep the horizon,
sway and stir in cosmic breezes.
Making no sound,
Glowing coldly white, pale green, pale blue.
Soft, undulating
colors changing places, merging.
Eye of the North Sea,
omen of time,
marking six and sixty years.

One Life
Go the way you choose.
Take companions with you
a long way or a little.
Walk to meet the soaring eagle.
Give the sun the blood of your enemies to drink,
feed the earth with their rotting flesh.
In the shadowless noontime,
learn what all must learn.
There is only one life and you must live it,
your chosen one, most of it alone.
Before the blackened mountains
float between red water and purple sky,
before the sun draws down a sleeping mantle at the days end.

Milky Way
The ancient ones saw
milky stars in the night sky
tracked the backbone of the world.
Above the sun and the mountains, the sacred ground,
tamed and measured by man.
Stars broken apart and scattered into dust.

A white dove flies in an endless sky
sun kisses her wings.
Above the wild flowers, higher, higher,
captured by storm clouds filled with thunder.
Wild winds blow on a darkened world.
The dove falls to earth, broken.
A wolf stalks silent in the night.

Morning Flowers
Eating the flesh of gods,
black seeds of the morning flower.
Eyes heavy-lidded, glowing with hidden fire.
Gods whisper, speaking softly.
Sleeping haunting visions, crawling,
Lost—lost in dreaming
A red and yellow glare.

Golden men on horseback swept northward,
searching, searching.
their gift to the People lifted them to
masters of the plains.
The dreams of young men left the earth.
Soared above the clouds
They became companions of the eagle.

Song Dogs
Old man coyote has many whims,
he means no harm.
Its strange to be alive.
Old man coyote sits up there at night
thinking how he created it all.
Blood in the sky, the sun is gone.
Old man coyote, grinning and beckoning.
as the song dogs run,
their trembling music clear and ringing under the stars.
The world will change and change again, under the song dog’s feet.

Early summer Green Corn Dance.
Kachina arrayed in splendor.
Men dancing to beating drums,
gourd rattles shaking.
Long life in evergreens, held aloft by copper hands.
unbound hair of women swaying to the chant.
White dresses embroidered in geometric messages.
Feathers drifting over circles.

Bright treasures of a desolate land.
A solitary snow-capped peak
One slender-leafed yucca blooms in silence.
El Dorado, Quivira,
All lost, but precious—richer than legend.
Glittering reflection of sun
on the golden-winged hawk rising,
burning poppies and splashing glare of sunflowers.
The glint of silver,
a tumbling mountain stream rushing, rushing
through a steep, rock-walled canyon.
Tender emerald meadow grass in spring.
Sun harsh against a jagged peak.
I hear forgotten voices echoing
in sun-dried bricks of ancient ruins.
The People remembered in red ocher on stone.
A maiden dancing,
Red Feathered God, my brother the Bear.
Magic of earth and sun never-ending.

The Unknown
Way back in dreamtime
alongside this place,
a’fore een the day come around—
old beasties they lived here-about.
Hungry they was,
and fearsome, and big.
They was hollows here, too,
all dankish and cold,
and places where stones walkabout.
De gubra – he tol me
’bout shadows in time,
‘bout faces laid fast ‘gainst the land.
I watches and listens
a’fore een I steps
a’fearing theys living around.
Oh! They’d nash me and hold me
for touching they face,
and the mist it would take me beyond,
a’weening and wimping,
to trap me in time.
To make me a shadow, a sound

We saddled our horses and tracked the footsteps,
dainty footsteps of the mare that broke the fence.
All day, with the sun on our shoulders
we rode closer, closer to the distant hills.

We found Red Sally, my husband’s prize mare
grazing in a green valley.
“Let’s camp.” Bob said, “It’s almost dark.

But there was no darkness in that night
Enclosing night that covered and protected us.
I welcomed shadows, felt cool breezes touch my skin.
Safely held in moonlit arms,
In quiet, spoon-shaped love we slept.


Golden men on horseback swept northward,
their gift made the People masters of the plains.
The dreams of young men left the earth
to soar above the clouds.
On horseback
they were companion to the eagle.

My Cowboy
I’ll buy you a saddle with four silver bangles
To ride into old Spanish Town.
I’ll love you forever and I’ll never leave you.
I’ll never leave you alone.

Benton’s Bad Man
Jake blew into Benton from down South.
Some said he’d been run out
Down Texas way
for bushwhacking a rancher.

He should have been satisfied.
When things got too slow for his nasty disposition
He’d guzzle half bottle of rotgut.
One-hundred-proof courage.

He’d brag he could outdraw any man alive.
When that brag boomed out folks didn’t say a word.
They could fight, most of them had, sometime,
But nary one had ever picked a fight.

He stayed in town.
Jake Tyler was his name.
Bullied men to death if he got a chance.
Usually picked a drifter, somebody passin’ through.

Jack claimed to have a way with a six-gun.
One morning a tall, thin boy sloped into the Red Wheel.
Jake braced him, thinking he had an easy mark.
“Hey you,” Jake bellowed.

“Who give you leave to drink in this place?”
Soft and mild the drifter answered,
not even turning around.
“This here’s a public place.”

Jake’s ears turned red as fire.
he jumped up and yelled, “Only if I say so!”
The boy turned around slow, easy.
his right hand out in the air.

Jake jerked at his forty-four
before he could clear leather,
He was falling back on the table
Blood was streaming from a hole where his left eye used to be.

That boy backed away careful, his colt ready.
Watching for Jake’s friends or the sheriff to try him.
Me and Paul Smith, Benton’s lawman
watched him get back on his pony and ride out.

Paul yelled at his deputy, Lin Willis,
“Git Doc Willard over here.”
Doc Willard’s the town undertaker.
Me and Paul ordered another beer.