July 05, 2007

A Cowboy Brigadoon

In the backwoods of Island Park, Idaho not too far from Big Springs and the fabled cabin of Johnny Sack stands a weathered and battered railroad corral. It stands next to the railroad bed that once was dressed out in hand hewn wooden ties and iron rails. All of that has been ripped out now to make room for mountain bikes, ATVs and urbanized yuppies of one persuasion or another. But the corrals still stand - mostly intact.

My Swiss great grandfather worked on the railroad line that is now gone. It was the first line that went into West Yellowstone. Reinhold Kern kept his family in Rexburg, Idaho at the time where one of my great aunts was born, Ida - named after the State of Idaho. They lived in a leaky-roofed log cabin on five acres in the southwest corner of town. Times change and sometimes only vestiges of the past remain.

This poem evokes the past as it may have been - and most probably was - at the old Railroad Corral. I have posted an audio file to my podcast with this poem and an old cowboy song "The Railroad Corral" sung by Jim Dunham on my Podcast (See left hand side bar to go there.) The photo is of the actual corral taken by myself last summer.

A Cowboy Brigadoon
by Paul Kern

The railroad corral is quiet tonight,
Ain’t seen life goin’ on fifty years,
The timbers are grayed and weathered.
-- Rusty iron and hinges and gears.

I’m alone tonight on a top rail,
Lost in those days long past,
And some bats and a noisy barn owl,
-- Sure make the night go fast.

Shadows cast from a big full moon,
Flit through the bars like a dance,
They dart here - dash there then gone.
-- As if the place had a chance.

But it don’t and we all know it,
They ripped out the rails and the ties,
And there’s a whole new crop of stars,
-- Metallic ones up there in the skies.

Here below we still move along,
At a slow and deliberate pace,
And not always forward as we all know,
-- We’ll get there - so why the race.

Why if I ain’t seein’ things again!
That shadow there – you hear?
Lookin’ like a bawlin’ heifer,
-- Well maybe not – could be a steer.

Whoa – there’s more than one,
Now that’s a nice little bunch,
All the same color and weight,
-- Just right for a feller to punch.

And the wafting smell of manure,
And the bawling and kick of cow,
And the banging of the old pole gate,
-- What’s that am I seein’ now?

Those upright shadows a walkin’,
And those further back in the trees,
Are a talkin’ and a ridin’ on over.
-- Things happen strange on nights like these.

It’s comin’ on fast as the rails roll out,
I must be as looped as a loon,
The scale house grows back its paint,
-- Why it’s a cowboy Brigadoon!

The dust is a risin’ there by the trail,
It shoots up high in some billows,
A big herd from down on the flat,
-- Busts in from the sage and the willows.

The weathered gates fling open wide,
And riders of point, drag and swing,
Hustle past me ridin’ the rail,
-- Can’t hardly believe this thing!

They’re pushin’ through to the chutes,
They wait their turn at the scales,
I can see the brand of the Flying R,
-- There, left hip ahead of their tails.

The smell of smoke, release of steam,
And an engine – it’s the old number eight,
Linin’ up cars for Bozeman,
-- Load up the ramp and shut the gate.

The cattle head north to Bozeman,
From there they’ll all ship east,
Cattle from the mountain ranges,
-- Well, they’re fat ones at least.

The dust falls back then covers the tracks,
Of the horses and cattle and men,
The train rolls out and the rails roll up,
-- The corrals are dead quite again.

The moon has set and the east is gray,
I have been here all night long,
Lost in the days of the cattle drives,
-- Lost in that night owl’s song.

The railroad corral is quiet again,
It wakes up ‘bout twice a blue moon,
And it all comes alive when the stars align.
-- For a cowboy Brigadoon.

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