March 28, 2007

At The Corral of the Rafter J

Saying goodbye to an old friend is never easy. I remember a conversation I had with a local veterinarian about the possibility of putting down one of our family horses that the kids had loved as much as they had ever loved any animal. He mentioned that horses are easier to put down than dogs because we don't share living quarters with them and don't get as attached. I looked at him and didn't say much, but I was thinking all the while to myself that that sure never held true in our family. Whether it is horses, or dogs or even bum lambs, the letting go is tough. This poem is a close-to-factual account of when my father had to put his good friend Ladd down. The only deviation from truth here is that in actuality a backhoe dug the hole, not picks and spades, but then a backhoe isn't all that poetic. I watched Dad as he read this poem for the first time, wandering from the cab of my pickup into my living room. His eyes moistened a bit, he folded the paper and put it gently into his pocket and said - Ladd was a good horse. The photo above is of the actual corral on the old Jacobsen Ranch, Island Park, Idaho where this took place.

At the Corral of the Rafter J
by Paul Kern

In the buffalo grass of Henry’s Flat,
At the corral of the Rafter J,
Picks and spades dug into my thoughts,
Cloudy as gunmetal grey.

A little to the off-side Ladd -
A cue I used to give him,
He’d side-pass right, left over right,
With so much grace and rhythm.

Didn’t know your younger years,
Those working the dirt that day,
For them Ladd you’re just plain old,
Breathing your last on the Rafter J.

Somewhere in that head of yours,
Don’t know where, never did -
Remember those cattle drives in July,
When you’d cut and spin and skid?

On forty mile runs you’d drink the wind,
Under saddle in the hills behind Bone,
In the rocks we both took a fall,
Wrecked – but you got us back home.

You never gave in – that is until now,
Stoved up for years you never let on,
Now listen - stand up ol’ boy - stand up!
Remember those trails in the dawn?

That’s it ol’ pal, easy now, take it slow,
A few last steps – there – you okay?
Over near the hole they’ve dug,
Near the bars of the Rafter J.

Now hold it steady and move in some,
There by the edge - just one last time,
Straighten ‘er out – to the off-side Ladd,
A little to the off-side boy - you’re fine.

The hardest aim a man can take,
Is that cross ‘tween eyes and ears,
Trembling hand and hammer cocked,
I shot – What’s this? - They’re tears.

My partner of some twenty years,
With thunder was whisked away,
He fell to the off-side into the hole,
On that cloudy windblown day.

In the buffalo grass of Henry’s Flat,
Seemed I heard a far-off neigh,
I turned him loose for good – he’s free,
At the corral of the Rafter J.

At the Corral of the Rafter J - Recitation

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