Folks' Poems

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Leadore, Idaho
Denise McRea

2009 photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski

Featured in "The Big Roundup," an anthology of the best of

One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up
Recognized for her poem, Ranch Wife's Resume



About Denise McRea:

I live in Leadore, Idaho. I belong to the Cowboy Poets of Idaho, and attend any gatherings that I have gas money for. I love cowboy poetry and music.  I have spent my life among cowboys and ranchers and have the utmost respect and admiration for them.  Once in awhile I am lucky enough to be asked to go to schools and teach cowboy poetry. I really enjoy that part of it.

I have a husband and 3 children, a few horses and dogs.   I cook at the school, and I love being around the kids.

In 2002, Denise told us how she got started in Cowboy Poetry:  I got started writing cowboy poetry about 12 years ago or more, when Roberta Green, Ethie Corrigan, and Ellie Corrigan, from Challis, Idaho put on a gathering in Salmon, Idaho.  My husband heard the ad on the radio asking for local poets to submit poetry for their gathering.  He encouraged me to send in a poem, and I wrote them a poem about our meanest cow.  They liked it, and used it in the gathering.  I wasn't able to attend the first few gatherings in Salmon.  Ten years ago, my husband secretly signed me up to to the St. Anthony gathering, then three days before, told me to get my stuff together, John Howell was expecting me. Yikes! I went, got up on stage, somehow remembered to breathe long enough to get through it, and found myself a a part of the grandest group of people it has ever been my pleasure to be around...the Cowboy Poets of Idaho.

We asked Denise why she thinks Cowboy Poetry is important and she said: This is who we are, a culture as vibrant and exciting as any other.  I want to pass it along to my children and others so they can know who we are and where we come from.

When we asked her why she writes Cowboy Poetry, she said: The happiest days of my life were spent on ranches and around horses and cows, and the wonderful people who tend to them.  I write to keep that happiness close at hand.

When we asked her what inspired "Ranch Wife's Resume" she said:
Heck, it is my life!
I like to do this poem at gatherings, because I see women in the audience poking their husbands in the ribs, saying, yeah, I know what she means!

The above bio was written in about 2002. In May, 2009 graduated summa cum laude from the University of Montana Western (Dillon) with a major in Secondary Education, English and another in Education, Art K-12. Fifty friends and family attended the graduation ceremonies and celebration. Denise is seeking a teaching job in English or Art.
When we told Denise we'd like to share the news of her accomplishment, she eventually consented, saying that it can "remind all of us over 21 that we still have so much to offer the world."

Denise McRea was been invited to the Western Folklife Center's 2010 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.


Ranch Wife's Resume

I was helping my sister the other day,
She was writing up a resume.
I got to thinking how mine would read.
Some things would sure look strange, indeed.
"What is 'cow bait'?"  they might say,
Well, I'd answer, it works this way.
When you're in the corral with a cow that's mean
This will do as good as anything.
You stand in the gate, and when she charges you,
Jump out of the way and let her through,
Then hop back over and slam the gate.
That's what's meant by being 'cow bait'.
Then, tractor puller, not the one
That's a sport, or meant for fun.
Lots of patience is a must.
Remember, ease out on the clutch.
Don't want to snap ol' hubby's neck
Or stronger words are used than "heck."
Next up, blade weight.  This don't take much skill,
But husbands can get looks to kill.
They ask you to stand out on the end of the blade.
The reason, well, they need more weight
So they can scrape the stackyard free of old hay,
But hubby don't earn no points that day.
I can be a fencepost or a gate,
Often times that's been my fate.
Hold that cow, don't let her through.
You're sure in trouble if you do,
'Cause you change from fencepost to cowdog.
It's awful helpful if you can jog.
Equipment mover, this one I hate,
Trying to squeeze them through the gate,
Combine, hayrack, rake, or baler,
Backing up a fifth wheel trailer.
Never learned to do that right,
Wonder it don't cause a fight.
Hand lines are a tribulation,
But I'm pretty good at flood irrigation.
I can dig ditches, and shovel sods,
Set canvas dams with rocks and clods.
I've got such lovely calloused hands
From chasing water cross alfalfa lands.
But the one of which I'm proud,
And I'll say this right out loud--
"Bovine Obstetrics and Nutritional Knowledge."
Now, don't that sound like I been to college?
But all them fancy words fall flat
When you stop and realize that
All it means is I pitch hay
To them big ol' cows all day,
Then leave my nice warm bed at night
To look at their bums with my flashlight.
After looking at my resume,
It looks funny, I should say.
Hope I don't have to go and look
For another job...sure glad I can cook!

© Denise McRea
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Empty Houses

A family once lived there,
Now all that remains
Is an empty little building
Standing lonesome on the plains.

And I'm thinking, as I drive by
That the place looks kinda sad,
And I think about who built it,
And the kinds of dreams they had.

The house itself is still standing,
Though the back porch has fallen down,
Sagebrush took over the doorstep
That the children gathered 'round.

The garden has gone back to grass,
And gooseberries grow in clumps
Around what's left of the Beaverslide
Where the old workhorses scratch their rumps.

Somebody new had bought the place,
And they built them a house of their own,
Nobody else came to live here
After the first ones had gone.

Now, only the breeze wanders through the rooms
Where the children used to play,
But that old house was full of love
Before its family went away.

© Denise McRea
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Irrigating... Why I do it

It's spring, I'm irrigating,
Out shoveling up the sod,
The pay is pretty skimpy,
But I really love this job.

I get to hang out with the curlews,
And laugh at the killdeer,
Today my little boy's with me,
And I'm awful glad he's here.

'Cause for him it's just like having
A three hundred acre yard,
The day is warm and sunny,
The wind ain't blowing very hard.

He's making little stick boats,
And floating them down the ditch.
He could not be having more fun,
If we were filthy rich.

He gets to playing in the shallows,
Where the water's not too cold.
The way he laughs, it makes me wish
That I was six years old.

So I'll keep on irrigating,
'Though the pay is kind of low,
'Cause grass hay ain't the only thing
I'm getting to watch grow.

© April 22, 2002, Denise McRea
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


We asked Denise what inspired this poem and she told us "I have always liked to flood irrigate. It is another one of those obsolete hobbies I enjoy, (like pole peeling and feeding 80 lb. bales with a team of horses), and I was fortunate to have been asked to irrigate a little old place up the road aways.  It is quiet and peaceful up there, no one else around, and I have time to listen to the birds and coyotes, and watch the antelope as I am walking back to my outfit from setting my dams. Early in the morning is the best time. I wrote this poem on my 40th birthday, sitting in my truck at the gate, after I had finished up." 


Plain Old Red

People praise a palomino
for its coat of shining gold
Splashy patterns are a bonus
where Paints are bought and sold
Pretty colors sure do catch the eye,
but something must be said
For the foals who come into this world
just wearing plain old red
Plain old red wins at the races,
plain old red's rode by the boss
Nothing in this world is worth more
than that plain old red kid's hoss
Plain old reds have lots of heart,
plain old reds have lots of speed
Those sorrels have the savvy
that good cow horses need
And a lot of old time cowboys
chose plain old red for mounts
'Cause they were looking at the inside--
and that's the part that counts.

© 2005, Denise McRea
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Denise told us what inspired this poem: My good friend Joe Garrett raises horses. I was over to his place admiring them one day when he pointed out a good looking, well built sorrel filly. He said she'd probably be the last one to sell. I asked why, since it was obvious she had good conformation and all his horses are well mannered. She's just plain old red, he  replied. Folks like pretty colors. All the way home I thought on that, and it bothered me. How many of us people are like that horse....folks just looking at us on the outside and never seeing all the good on the inside?  

Spring Days

The first good days of spring
Kind of catch you by surprise.
It’s not as if a curtain lifts
And spring appears before your eyes.

It’s just the calves are feeling good,
Good enough to run and play,
And the old dogs stretch themselves way out
To soak up every ray

Of the sun, that gets up just after you,
Instead of an hour late,
And you fancy you can hear Mother Nature,
“Almost time—just wait—just wait…”

You notice that the breeze outside
Doesn’t have such a sharp, cold bite;
It isn’t the end of the world
If the fire goes out at night.

You can open up the kitchen window,
Not all the way yet, just a crack,
Sit outside in your Levi jacket
And feel the sun as it warms your back,

Watch the edges of the snow banks
Retreat to show bare ground
And listen to the first meadowlark;
Good Lord, I’ve missed that sound.

There’s truly lots of pleasures
That this ol’ world does bring,
But there are few that can compare
To the first good days of spring.

© 2010, Denise McRea
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Denise's son, Billy McRea, has been writing and reciting poems for over 10 years, since he was 3 years old.  A book of his poems, collected and published by his aunt, tells "...his poetry was first influenced by his mother...He started writing his own poetry one summer when he was irrigating with his mom.  He caught frogs one day and composed his first poem.  His love of his dog and for horses in general is apparent in his selection of topics to write about.  Billy is a member of the Cowboy Poets of Idaho, and he loves to go to gatherings and rub shoulders with other cowboy poets." 

This stanza from his first poem, "Froggy Friends," written when he was 4, echoes his mother's poem above:

I like to go irrigating
With my mom and dad.
It was the very best summer
I ever had....

Another of our favorites is a poem he wrote when he was 5 1/2:


I like grass
it changes as the seasons pass.

There's the tiny, tender, grass of spring.
The rich green grass that summer brings.

The cows can eat it, it helps them grow.
Till it's covered up with winter's snow.

Winter lasts so very long.
It seems the grass is forever gone.
Then one fine day in early spring
you start to see a touch of green.

And after a while it grows and grows.
To tickle me on my bare toes.

It grows, and lives, and dies.
Then pretty soon it's spring again.

And everything starts looking new...
And that's why I like spring, don't you?

© Billy McRea



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