Many people admit to thinking of only cowboy poetry when considering poetry from South Dakota, so I’ve focused on many non-cowboy poets so far; I’ve also been doing them in alphabetical order, so it’s taken a while to get to my very favorite cowboy poet, Bruce Roseland. I worry about that adjective being too limiting, though; Bruce Rosland is a great poet—of any type—because of the depth of feeling and the simple grace of his expression. Here’s a good example, “Just Another Day at the Ranch,” from Cowboy Poetry:
Just Another Day at the Ranch
by Bruce Roseland
The calf was being presented
upside down and backwards.
Experienced vets say, “Rotate,”
a difficult maneuver at best.
But if you try pulling calves out the wrong way
they just don’t come.
So I pushed the legs back
into the womb,
twisting and turning,
trying to get what was wrong
back to right.
Finally the legs pointed the right way
for a wrongway breach calf,
a hard pull from the get go.
The cow went down
as I pulled the calf through the birth canal
and I heard and felt something snap.
Dead on delivery,
a big one, at that.
I should have done better.
But another cow had just calved a set of twins.
I would split them
to give this cow a second chance.
I picked up my stuff
and threw the puller over the gate,
but somehow in the toss
my left index finger got ripped up.
Bleeding badly, I stuck my hand
under a cold running hydrant in the barn.
Crouching down, cold water running over a hurting finger,
a cow down in the headgate,
a dead calf on the straw,
I could only hope no neighbor,
friend, or stranger would show up.
Nothing I wanted to explain or discuss.
I wrapped up my finger,
dragged the dead calf out of the barn,
got the cow up and out of the headgate,
penned her with her foster calf,
had my supper and went to bed.
Next day the mother and calf
walked out together
like they were meant for each other.
It’s a poem of redemption, both for the cow and the speaker—I am crushed by the admission “I should have done better,” but the poem veers away from sentimentality because it also recognizes the reality that this maneuver was “a hard pull from the get go.” Still, I’m drawn to the honesty in the lines, “I could only hope no neighbor, / friend, or stranger, would show up,” and the feeling is emphasized by the (slant) internal rhyme of “neighbor” and “stranger.” Those names for these hypothetical people seem to reach toward specificity (neighbor, friend, stranger), but really open out toward all-inclusivity; is there anyone who isn’t either a neighbor, a friend, or a stranger? An acquaintance, I guess? And who cares what they think anyway? If they mattered, they would have become friends.
Featured image by CAFNR under the creative commons license on Flickr. Post by Barbara Duffy.
Read about more South Dakota Poets.