by R. T. Smith
Don’t try to understand them, just throw and rope and brand them.
The teenaged groom leading my long-toothed
rental mare has the lope of Pete Nolan,
a savvy scout with Gil Favor’s Rawhide herd
for several seasons and portrayed with witty grit
by Sheb Wooley, who blends easily
with the decency of Eastwood’s callow Rowdy,
wry drover Jim Quince and the ornery
cook Wishbone, as they drive the beeves over
desert, through Comanche and rustlers,
tick fever, stampede, the staggers,
to far-away Sidalia to feed the eastern swells
and spend their wages on rigged roulette wheels
and women called Dallas or Dolly.
I also recall Sheb as a country guitar
picker with a novelty gift who hit it
almost rich in ’58 with “Purple People Eater,”
which as a boy I loved to caterwaul and yodel.
He also gave us Hee-Haw’s theme,
“White Lightning” and “Hoot Owl Boogie,”
but I liked him more as a wrangler, puncher,
scrappy cowpoke with tooled boots and kerchief,
the battered hat and a knack with a rifle,
just like the riders of the Purple Sage. I admired
the way he sat the saddle and dismounted
at a gallop, a stunt he’d picked up riding rodeo
and managed without breaking a sweat.
Pete was lean and sideburned, quick with a quip
or pistol, the one I wanted to mimic
on Uncle Ike’s pasture nag Cinder, who walked
in her sleep and woke to buck me every time
I sneaked a halter on and scrambled aboard,
headed, I guess, to Dry Gulch or
some flooded gorge with swollen steers floating.
And while I’m drifting into rider’s reverie,
full of prime time fantasies – beans
and coffee, mouth harp whine, sidewinder or stars
wheeling to the growl of a famished panther –
the groom tilts back his Hokies cap, hands me
the reins and asks, “Need a leg up, mister?”
his superior grin fenced with braces
brighter than Mexican spurs.
In honor of Sheb and his cadre of savvy buckaroos,
the whole history I missed and yearned for,
not to mention sweaty Stetsons and home-plaited lariats,
I grab the horn, throw a leg over the cantle,
then point my Colt index finger to squeeze
the trigger, like any badlands jasper inclined
to keep his thoughts from strangers
but still mulish to have the last word.
Slapping the animal’s croup with braid-leather,
I hit the trail, growling, Head em up, move em out,
with two hours of freedom and a fistful
of Aleve ahead. I can nearly hear Frankie Laine’s
raucous theme, its whip cracking percussion.
Now I don’t care who hears me laughing,
content for the moment to be a yodeling fool
on scout for water with old Pete Nolan, Sheb Wooley,
whatever alias will suffer my company,
the pair of us easy on spirited ponies
traipsing across the dusty prairie, happy, so happy,
to be galloping saddle trash again.