RUFFIN-IT: WORKSHOPPING A COWBOY POEM, PART II
[If you’ve been keeping up, you’ll recall that I was out in Midland a few years ago to speak at a poetry event, and a couple of lawmen knocked on the door of my hotel room. After they had come in and sat down on the edge of my bed, I asked them what it was all about.]
“Tell you what it’s about,” the short one said. He glanced at the door, then continued. “We heard the clerk mention that you had something to do with poetry. . . .”
I was surprised at how quick my draw was. “Naw, he said poultry. As in chickens. I’m in the chicken binness. We got a chicken convention going on here too, you know. ”
“Hell’s bells,” the tall one said. “A chicken man. We mighta knowed it, Darrell. ”
The short one stood up. “Yeah, well, we sorry to trouble you. We was hopin’ we could talk to you about poetry, but we don’t care nothing about chickens, except when they’re fried. Come on, Redus.”
At that I waved him back onto the bed. “So what exactly did you want to talk to me about in reference to poetry?”
The one named Redus lifted his hat and scratched his head, put his hat back on. “We write poetry, me’n Darrell here, and we was hopin’ we could talk to you about it. But a chicken man don’t–”
“Hey, I was joking about the chickens. You just have to be careful when people find out you’re into poetry. ”
“Tell us about it,” Darrell said.
The upshot is that they were a couple of deputy sheriffs from Laredo who were also cowboy poets, which you hear a lot about these days, and they were eager to share their art with anyone who would listen. They thought maybe I was some kind of big-caliber poetry authority, so they were especially interested in hearing my response to their work. I told them that no, I just published a little poetry along and edited a journal and press.
They said that was enough authority for them, more than they were accustomed to, and asked whether I’d listen to their poems. It was early and I didn’t have anywhere to be, so I said sure, why not? This is almost always a mistake, you see, but these guys did have badges, and they were big–the guys, not the badges, which were pretty much regular size.
Here’s the poem the one named Darrell started off with–he passed me a handwritten copy of it:
I got this cow named Molly,
Who most of the time is jolly,
But she hung a tit on a bob-wire fence
And now is melancholy
And won’t give no more milk.
With the two of them sitting on my bed, I relaxed in the only chair in the room and read the poem over, twice, then said, “Would ‘teat’ be better than ‘tit’ maybe?” You have to start somewhere, you know, and that seemed like as good a place as any.
“Teat?” Darrell said.
“Yeah. That’s the, uh, the more formal term for one.”
“Don’t nobody say ‘teat’ for ‘tit’ out here. Where you from?”
I cleared my throat. “Huntsville. Mississippi before that. But that’s neither here nor there.”
“It might be. I can’t bleeve anybody from Mississippi would call a tit a teat.”
“Let’s just drop the teat–or tit–for now.” I shifted gears. “For a poem about a cow it’s nice enough, I guess, but a little sad, and–”
“It ain’t about no cow,” Darrell said. “I mean, yeah, it’s about a cow on the surface, but it’s deeper than that, the way poetry’s s’posed to be, you know. There’s a cow in it, sure, she’s there, but there’s a, there’s a–hep me out, Redus.”
“It’s gettin’ deep in here alright. Hell, I don’t know what yer trying to say. I thought it was about a cow too.”
[Next week we talk more about the cowboy poem.]