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Helmville, Montana
About Janalee Martin


Recognized as one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up
for her poem,  "Close to Timber"



Close to Timber

I've never been this close to timber,
Watched the woods fill up with snowdrifts,
Seen the jaws of old man winter,
Locking tight on sturdy trees,
Until they call for mercy,
Moaning to the heavens,
Echoing the heartache,
I pour out here on my knees.

"Cattle Foreman Needed"
Read the want ad in the journal,
But I knew just what it meant,
For me anyway.
It meant, I'm packing boxes,
Full of junk that we would trailer,
To the new place, close to timber,
And this time, he said, we'd stay.

Six months it will take me,
To find out why they needed,
Another cattle foreman,
To take the former's place.
Six months, time to figure
That I've come this close to timber,
Just to find the same old problems,
And to look them in the face.

And every time I tell the kids,
"Your Dad is working honey,
But he wishes he could be here,
He can't because he can't."
I stand there in between,
The hurt and disappointment,
That cuts into the base,
Of who and what I really am.

You would think my bark was thicker,
After all it's been a sore spot
For years.  It shouldn't matter,
And I should just move on.
But it deepens like small woodchips,
Form a tree about to topple,
Every blow might be the last
And each one closer to I'm gone.

It's me here in the middle,
I can't seem to keep from hurting,
Because of me he'd leave here,
Because of me he stays.
He sells himself for pennies,
Making richer people richer,
His life's blood is this lifestyle,
No matter what it pays.

The kids know that he loves them,
More than cows and grass-tall pastures,
They're just sick of moving,
They need to settle down.
To graduate from High School,
Maybe elected prom queen,
And when they go to college,
This could be their own home town.

It's me here, between leaving
And the long days I am lonely,
Between the broken dryer
And the sawing of the hours.
Each time I hang the clothes out,
or try to fix the plumbing,
I feel the cut get deeper,
And the splinters of my power.

I don't want to hate it,
I wish to God I didn't,
So much weighs in the center,
Getting smaller every day,
But it's me here in the middle
Trying to hold it all together,
And the chips just keep on flying,
And I might fall either way.

I've never felt this close to timber,
Maybe age has left me weaker
Unbending with the winter,
Creaking more and more.
I work at feeling hope and
Something more beyond the hurting.
I am closer now to timber,
Than I've ever been before.

© 2006, Janalee Martin
This song may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Janalee Martin was recognized previously as one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up
for her poem, "The Long Rope"


The Long Rope
A Gathering

I heard the cowboy tell a tale,
Of broken hearts and dusty trail,
Everything he'd loved so well,
In a simple poem.
Old woman who had gotten by,
A man who never learned to cry,
Four legs folding up to fly,
When God called 'em home.

He drove the storm where thunders roll,
Drank the driest deserts whole,
Been to hell to save his soul,
Maybe did that twice.
He'd touched the earth and touched the sun,
And kissed creation's very tongue,
Then he told what love had done,
When he'd paid the price.

I could feel the  sunshine when he spoke about the hills.
I could smell the water and the night air gave me chills.
And when the story ended and the people left the show,
It still held me, with a long rope and it wasn't letting go.

His rhyme became a living thing,
This life of every human being.
For the first time I was seeing,
A pattern to it all.
And in the pattern was a plan,
That started before time began,
When everyone could understand,
The writing on the wall.


Strand of love and strip of pain,
Twisting round our hearts remain,
The common threads that bind and strain,
The bonds we cannot break.
The earth will roll until complete,
Another year and then we meet,
To sit and listen at his feet,
And somehow ease the ache.


© 2005, Janalee Martin
This song may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


This poem is also posted with our poems about the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.


We asked Janalee what inspired her to write this song and she told us:

I wrote "The Long Rope" after a wonderful experience at the Elko Gathering this past year [2005].  I co-taught a saddle-blanket making class for the Western Folklife Center and it turned out to be so worthwhile.  Everyone who participated in our class was amazing.  Friendships were formed, lives were touched and it was the real thing.  Those things that tie us together as human beings. "The Long Rope."

We asked Janalee why she writes Cowboy Poetry and she told us:

The question about why I write cowboy poetry is multi-faceted.  When anyone questions their own motives for anything, the answers are not simple. Also, the answers evolve along with the writer.  As with most poetry, it was cathartic in the beginning. Then, it became creative expression. Now, I write cowboy poetry ... as a way to see my life more clearly.  It is a way to accept and internalize many aspects of this lifestyle and culture that I am part of. It helps me to see poetry in the mundane and  the godliness in humankind. When I have crisis or pain, it lifts me to a new perspective outside the moment.  In sharing it with others, it becomes part of a larger thing. And suddenly I don't take myself so seriously.

About Janalee Martin:

I am a ranch wife of 19 years with four daughters and a barnyard full of four-legged friends.  My husband Tom and I have lived on ranches mostly in Northeastern Nevada.  We have a long-standing commitment to cowboy poetry, being friends and family with many of the founders of the Elko Gathering.  I have been an invited poet/performer there a number of times, and both Tom and I have worked with the education program at the Western Folklife Center. I write, recite and love cowboy poetry.  I also sing and play a little guitar.  Mostly sing.

We recently moved to Montana where Tom works as the "cow-boss" on a large outfit. Some people ask me what it's like here and I tell them it's like waking up in a movie every day.  A rich and amazing change from the Nevada desert. And at our age, starting over gets a little more complicated, but such is the life of a cowboy's wife.

You can email Janalee Martin.



It used to be counting from lightning to thunder,

And pulling the covers up under my chin.

It used to be birthdays and driving to Grandmaís,

And waiting for my two front teeth to grow in.


It used to be anything waiting to happen,

Like Christmas, or babies, vacations or Spring,

It was waiting to ride out when winter had melted,

To see the wild sunsets that Summer might bring.


Forever became getting licenses, braces,

It was growing my hair out, my very first date,

It was Friday nights, hurting when no one was looking,

It was wanting forever, and having to wait.


Forever was brambles that caught at my pony,

And had to be clipped from his main and his tail.

It was watching him slowly get old and skinny,

And knowing heíd soon know forever as well.


Forever got wrapped up in veils and white laces,

In promises, having and holding as one.

Itís the whispering places we lovingly linger,

And things that we do that cannot be undone.


Forever was dishes, and diapers and laundry,

It was cradling sleep that a lullaby brings.

It is spoiling and sparing, forever just daring,

To look past the moment to much bigger things.


Forever became all that stuff that needs doing,

Keep the dog from the chickens, the cats at the barn.

The cow milked and bedded, the rooster beheaded,

Keep the calves, men and children all well-fed and warm.


Like sand art, Forever is in every sunrise,

Moment by moment, each grain of time,

Is painting forever on pinpoints of always,

Infinity fits on the edge of a dime.


And I know that Iíve seen it, in places Iíve been to,

Up at the white mountains, in valleys Iíve trod.

And I know that itís something  we all try to reach for

Out where the winds bends the grass to the sod.


I have seen it, that straight line from earth up to heaven,

Fragile as steel, hard as butterfly wings,

Itís the hope that weíre living instead of just dying,

Forever is seeing that much bigger thing.

© 2007, Janalee Martin
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 


Janalee comments, I keep rewriting this poem. It is one of those things that changes with the seasons. "Forever" is just a perspective and not an unreachable ideal. Whatever we are doing at that moment that seems to take "forever" to get through, that is what eternity is made up of. It's just a whole bunch of those "forever's" all strung together.



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