Cowboy Poetry: Yvonne Hollenbeck’s ‘Ranch Wife’s Top 10 List’ and Linda Hasseltrom’s ‘Where the Stories Come From’

Ever wonder what life is like for a rancher’s wife? Wonder no more, as the question is answered in Letterman-esque verse in Yvonne Hollenbeck’s “Ranch Wife’s Top 10 List”:

I don’t know if Letterman’s had this on, we can’t stay up that late / But I made a list of top ten things that all ranch women hate /

I know I’ve probably missed a few and you could add some more / But here’s the things that top the list that most ranch wives abhor / 

TEN is when his minute turns into half a day / And plans you made were scrapped because of the delay / NINE is dirty laundry from their socks up to their caps / That is filthy, wet and sticky because of a prolapse / 

Or perhaps they stuck a bloater or had to pull a calf / And when you choke and gag they look at you and laugh / Here comes checking pastures and you cannot shut a gate / Because someone made it way too tight that comes in at number EIGHT / 

SEVEN’s waiting dinner and trying to keep it hot / When telling you they won’t be home is something they forgot / Because they were helping neighbors it was sure an oversight / So dried up meat and vegetables is what they’ll eat tonight /

SIX is backing trailers, those great big gooseneck kind / And FIVE is when the truck hooked on has gears you cannot find / FOUR is windy salesman that always stop at noon / And leaving they inform you they’ll be coming back real soon /

THREE is pulling tractors when it’s cold and they won’t start / And why you have agreed to help just proves you’re not too smart / To figure out hand signals that comes in number TWO / It’s tied with pulling pickups that are stuck because of you /

And without a doubt the number ONE thing every ranch wife hates / Is when they’re sorting cattle and her job is on the gates / He hollers, “Hold that black one!” and they’re all black in the pen / And that is just the start of where your sorting woes begin / Like I say, there’s probably lots of things that I have probably missed / But there you have it, black and white, the Ranch Wife’s Top Ten List.  

In her free verse poem, “Where the Stories Come From,” Linda Hasselstrom revisits a haunting tale:

“You didn’t know? He died—young and hard and bad.”
That voice could fill a stadium but he spoke low 
and flicked a glance beneath his Stetson brim at me.
I turned away but I’d already heard enough.
the tale began to grow, to put down roots within
my brain, already thick with other tales. I chose
this job of telling stories, counting lives gone by
too soon. What I don’t know, I’ll guess. I suppose
his father made him tough by being cold and rugged.
He learned to be a man by never showing fear.
His mom spent all her time alone, fixing meals
and counting hours in that old ranch house
two dozen miles from town—before she met
the guitar picker she ran off with when the boy
was ten. His dad bought him a pickup when he finished
high school, took the boy to his first fancy bar.
(His sister got advice: to go to school, find
herself a husband, settle down and have some kids.)

I didn’t hear enough to know if it was drugs
or drink that got this one, but I can see him gun
a graveled curve on some Montana back road,
laughing fit to kill as headlights sweep around
the bend, baffled when the stars come down to meet
him. I can hear the crash. I wonder, did he leave
some girl in terror, pregnant with the memory 
of his grin? His dad just drinks and stares at pictures,
empty spaces—where he hoped for family
settled on the land that bore his name.

I heard a bit of talk I wasn’t meant to hear, and now
I can’t get rid of it. I might as well get dressed
and write it down. I’ll sleep no more tonight.