Cowboy Poetry and Music and More at the BAR-D Ranch


Lariat Laureate

of Sandy, Utah

recognized for his poem

It's a Mostly Quiet Time of Day


About Paul Kern:

I grew up on the western edge of Idaho Falls, Idaho where among other things I worked on local farms and ranches for many of my formative years.  I went on to receive two masters degrees--one in languages and the other in business.

I inherited a love of the west and all that includes from my parents.  Some of my earliest memories are of pack trips into the Tetons with our horses and other good friends--many of the human variety. Much of the material for my poems comes from the impressions of those early experiences, which I now have the luxury of reliving, retelling and repainting with a more romantic hue than what I know was actually the case. 

The influence of my family is a significant factor in my poetry. Even now in their eighties, my father still enjoys back country horse trips and working cattle and on the ranches in Island Park, Idaho. My mother will still go out on a horse-drawn sleigh ride in the winter with us.

Some of my poetry is based on experiences I have had with my three sons and daughter as we have worked together on our horse farm in Utah and our small ranch in Island Park, Idaho.  I learned the importance of good livestock from my mother, how to shoe horses from my father and how to live and love from my wife Kathie and our four children.

The livestock trade is only a small part of what I currently do.  I have been in business of one kind or another all of my working life.

We asked Paul why he writes Cowboy Poetry and why he thinks it is important and he told us

Cowboy poetry is a literary sagebrush rebellion.  Perhaps you'll recall that a few years back some of the western states arched their backs and bogged their heads at the fact that the Federal Government is the largest landowner in the west and is subject to interests foreign to local interests.  The so called sagebrush rebellion was an attempt at getting more local input into decisions affecting farming and ranching.

Cowboy poetry is a movement to reclaim good usin' poetry from the minds and the pens of the unintelligible literary elite.  While we don't doubt that many of the stream-of conscience-free-versers actually feel the pain they describe, cowboy poets have one up on them - two licks of common sense grounded in good western dirt.  And to boot - cowboy poetry crosses more cultural boundaries than most people realize.  Just mention the word and up pop the smiles and the grins.

Cowboy poetry is one of the most significant literary and oral traditions in the English language today.  It captures time and space in a vernacular that is uniquely fitted to the task.  When our dialect is allowed to describe traditional western life in unbridled and unhobbled language, the result can be either humorous or sentimental but will always have a twist that is unique to the culture of the raw-boned west.   My poetry is an attempt to reflect this rich Western heritage and to pass it on to my children and someday to my children's children.

You can email Paul Kern.

Visit Paul Kern's web site.

Saddle Songs of Idaho

My third CD Saddle Songs of Idaho is deeply rooted in my Gem State heritage. Though each of the fourteen tracks is based on something that took place somewhere up north, they all contribute to describe the colorful mosaic that is the American West. It was during the 2011 awards ceremony of the Academy of Western Artists in Ft. Worth that I heard western and Texas swing performed live for the very first time. I came away thinking that somehow I needed to marry up “that music” with my recited poetry—seemingly an odd mix at the outset. Over the course of the following months I came in contact with musicians who were recording tracks of swing and other western musical styles that just might fit with what I had in mind. The resulting mix was somewhat magical. The product of this synthesis is Saddles Songs of Idahoa lively blend of swing and western music together with cadenced poetry.  From the opening number all wrapped up in steel guitar “Tell Me It Ain’t So” to the questioning “Why’d He Have to Steal My Boots?” to the mocking electrified style of “Children of the Mustang Range” to the penetrating bass line in “A Little South of Dixie” this passel of musical poetry is bound to be slightly addictive. You’ll want to listen again and again.

Saddle Songs of Idaho is available for $10 from


Morning After Rain
A Touch of Merle

From the producer:

Paul Kern’s brand new compact disc has already been touted as somewhat of an acoustic jewel. It had been a few years since Paul’s last CD, Rimrock: Where Memories Rhyme, was published and he was getting the itch to get back into the studio. After carefully selecting a collection of original horse- themed poems ranging from humorous to more serious lyrical mindscapes, he called up an old friend Clive Romney—studio producer and professional musician (Sunshade and Rain, Enoch Train)—and asked for recommendations for a backup guitarist. The name Tom Hewitson came up as top of the list.

Tom was Merle Haggard's lead guitar player and had teamed up with the Bellamy Brothers as well as the Mamas and the Papas in his younger years. Tom provides a masterful acoustic underlay to Paul’s recitations on the guitar, mandolin, banjo and harmonica. So here you have Paul's poetry with a touch of Merle. During the recording session, things just seemed to click to create a few hours of magic which in turn resulted in this memorable CD.

Renditions of “Morning After Rain,” “The Last Horse Trade,” “The Trap Corral of Stone” and the dialogue poem “So Long Lee” will make you ask yourself, “Did I just hear that?” You’ll want to play it again. “Morning After Rain” contains 14 previously unrecorded poems.

The price of the CD is $10.00 not including shipping and is available from:



RimrockWhere Memories Rhyme
(Hopelessly Romantic Cowboy Poetry)

Named Best Cowboy Poetry Album, 2011
by the Academy of Western Artists


At Codding's Place
A Horse Camp Has a Rhythm of Chores
It's a Mostly Quiet Time of Day
When the Coyote Calls Down Moonlit Dreams
Sunday Drivers
The Parting of the Waters
As I Bridle in the Morning
A Cowboy's Pay
At the Corral of the Rafter J
Only a Cattleman Knows
As Evening Sets on the Yellowstone
On Smokey Before I Go
The Sign of the Grass
When the Work's all Done
Rimrock Revisited

Paul Kern describes his CD:

Rimrock—Where Memories Rhyme (Hopelessly Romantic Cowboy Poetry) is an autobiographical ride through mists of time.  It begins with my earliest memories on horseback "At Codding's Place" continues on through my teenage years "When the Coyote Calls Down Moonlit Dreams," and then proceeds on to marriage "As I Bridle in the Morning," work "Only a Cattleman Knows" and children "A Cowboy's Pay." It deals with aging parents "On Smokey Before I Go" and throws in a little mirth "Sunday Drivers" as well as life lessons learned along the way in "A Horse Camp has a Rhythm of Chores" and "Sign of the Grass"  The poetry is set to music performed by Shaun Harris Studios and includes the original Crawford Gates arrangement of "As Evening Sets on the Yellowstone" sung by Cliff Cole. Cover photos by Cindy Furse were taken during our annual buffalo roundup. This is not exactly your typical cowboy poetry CD. It was produced for family and close friends with whom I have shared these experiences, but others have enjoyed it as well. Rimrock—Where Memories can be ordered at here.


Paul Kern has contributed photos to Picture the West, including:

  Photos from a fall roundup on his Idaho ranch

  Photos from a 150th anniversary Pony Express Re-Ride

  A story from his family's history...

Photos from an Idaho ride

A tribute to Utah rancher Joe Mascaro

Contemporary photos in November, 2007

Contemporary photos for Father's Day, 2007

Vintage photos of his grandfather, in March, 2007


It's A Mostly Quiet Time of Day

It's a mostly quiet time of day,
No one has too much to say.
Muscles ache from what's been done,
We sit and watch the setting sun.

Purple mist settles over the valley,
Okra and sienna come forth to sally.
The old west's brushes swing center stage,
Indian paint, sego lily, lupine and sage.

Blossoms blazed red in the light of day,
Fade slowly into shades of gray.
Small white petals fold down their husk,
As sunlight drifts softly into dusk.

The cool of the evening wafts on by,
As painted clouds cover up the sky,
Red yellow blazes carry the light,
Of celestial embers into the night.

Dusters and slickers untied and unrolled,
Come off the saddles to ward off the cold,
As the evening dew begins to rise,
Remaining colors fade from our eyes.

Voices are soft away from the crowd,
Muffled and muzzled by a low hanging cloud.
What was yellow and what was white,
Now's just a shadow in the pale lunar light.

It's a mostly quiet time of day,
We rise from our rest not much to say,
It's gray in the east - a new day has begun,
We saddle and ride to the rising sun.

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


Paul told us about his inspiration for this poem:

The inspiration for this poem was a wilderness horse camp near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River in the Bridger Teton Wilderness Area at the foot of the Absarokas.  We had ridden hard that day and settled in for the night with a view of the valley where three grizzly bears pawed at rotten logs in the streambed near Two-Ocean Pass.  They finally decided to keep their distance from us when we made a lot of racket to warn them of our presence, doing our best to keep the horses calm all the while.  In the back country, things are never completely quiet and you can never completely relax.  The best you can get is a "mostly" quiet time regardless if you're
in the back country or on the range.  The imagery in this poem seemed to fit the "Ridin' Out" Art Spur project, so I sent it on in.

This poem is also posted in our Art Spur project.



Paul Kern was previously recognized as one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up
Recognized for his poem, At Codding's Place


At Codding's Place

For just a moment I thought I saw,
Our brood mare lying in the straw,
Foaling a colt in the early morn.
Now the weeds grow tall where he was born.

The tack shed with the sagging gate,
Is where I learned to sit and wait,
As my father caught his horses at dawn.
It's quiet now - the horses are gone.

For just a moment I could smell it again,
That good horse smell in the old catch pen,
Same warm smell on both young and old.
You can't go back - the horses are sold.

It was the scene of a trailer fight,
Between Dad and Slippers - oh what a sight,
The rope took off part of his thumb.
Just maybe now, I should not have come.

At Codding's place was my first ride,
My father walking close beside,
He carved out memories for me his son.
Where he kept horses now there are none.

Those boyhood horses each had a hole,
That left a mark upon my soul.
At Codding's Place was my first ride,
My father walking close beside.

In another place and another time,
On a different farm that I call mine,
We keep our horses on that place,
A paint, a pinto and a bally face.

© 2003, Paul R. Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

We asked Paul how he came to write this poem and he told us: "At Codding's Place" is an intensely personal piece about how my father handed down his knowledge of horses to me.  Although Codding's farm no longer has horses on it, my father now 82 years old, still keeps two head alternating between Colorado and Idaho.

Reese Kern on the trail,  October 2004

Paul Kern at Pacific Springs, Oregon Trail   October 2004

Reese Kern (82) at Pacific Springs, Oregon Trail  (Four horses, two riders)

This poem is included in our collection of 
poems about Cowboy Dads and Granddads


Resurrection on the Quarter Circle K

The cattle fed on grass and corn,
Angus, Herefords, and a skinny Shorthorn,
The blacks and reds fattened up right,
But the Shorthorn's ribs poked out tight.

Summer wore on and turned into fall,
The Herefords and Angus were ready to haul,
The grass was gone and turned into meat,
But the Shorthorn was too little to eat.

We trust the neighbors but to save a battle,
We mend our fences and brand our cattle.
But this runty Shorthorn was still too little,
To string up for the hot iron sizzle.

Besides, she warn't much 'a temptation,
To a fellow of the rustler vocation,
This heifer was skinny, long and lank,
Red eyed, ornery, bad tempered and rank.

She stayed behind this little white cow,
We worked to fatten her up somehow,
On hay and bread from the kitchen,
As she grew for branding we'as fixin'.

Still skinny, ornery and rank as she was,
It was time to apply the brand to her fuzz.
Hold it, right shoulder, burn it to stay.
The registered brand of the Quarter Circle K.

We roped this Shorthorn by the neck,
One rope on top and a second below deck,
She pulled and pushed and got real wild,
Not too much of humble, meek and mild.

When she crashed it made a terrible thud,
Holding her down there in the mud,
We got her strung up and all throwed down,
But to finish the job there'd be one more round.

As the branding smoke rose in the air,
The less the heifer the roping could bear.
She broke right down and fell on her rump,
No breathing at all, just a big bovine lump.

To the best we could reckon, we did surmise,
She must be dead from the glaze in her eyes.
Was she really dead?  We hastened to ask,
But dared not answer 'fore we finished our task.

The brand in the coals was evenly roasting,
To just the right red her skin for a toasting,
To singe the hair and cook the hide,
Mid right shoulder on the starboard side.

On came the gloves to pull out the brand,
Out of the flames, red hot it did land,
Onto the hide of the carcass that lay,
The registered brand of the Quarter Circle K.

The burning stench of hide and hair,
Wafted through the springtime air,
Penetrating nostrils of quick and dead.
In every human and bovine head.

It happened then with a powerful jerk,
The cow lurched to life and woke with a spurt,
She jumped in the air to escape her demise,
That wild-eyed spark was reborn in her eyes.

Before she landed the lassos let fly,
Dropping to earth as they fell from the sky,
Off flew the latigos and she dashed on her way.
Such was resurrection on the Quarter Circle K.

© 2003, Paul Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Paul tells about this poem:  Nearly every word of this poem is true.  Our registered brand in Utah and Idaho is the Quarter Circle K (The letter K with a quarter circle above it). References to the brand are meant to mean "our outfit, operation etc."

This particular shorthorn heifer was such a runt that we almost couldn't figure out what to do with her.  For feeder beef, she wasn't even as promising as a Holstein steer.  We kept her around with the hope that even if she wasn't too beefy, maybe we could turn her into an ox or a milker or something else.  No luck though - she was just too rank.  What was clear was that she needed a brand.  It was quite something to see her jolt back to consciousness with so much energy after putting up such a huge fight.

This little story has entered into our family folklore and has been retold by our teenage sons whenever they feel the need to impress, shock or awe. It's mainly just for fun.

The heifer did grow up - only to fall under the spell of the hamburger fairy.


Back to the River of No Return

Some thirty years past or maybe more,
I spent a summer on the banks by the roar,
Of white water rapids where they make a turn,
On the legendary River of No Return.

Together with a group of friends,
We paddled the river through rapids and bends,
Spending our days each guiding a guest,
Following the current towards the west.

It was this river that I came to love,
As she cut through the mountains rising above.
The sun on the waves reflected the glare,
As the rapids at roads end rose up to the air.

From there to the end there is no road at all,
Mad crashing whitewater encased by the wall,
Of untouched mountains guarding the gate,
To the foam crested river that crosses the state.

A river this wild accepts only her own,
They're unkempt and unruly and often alone.
But there's something real that'll quietly turn,
Them back to the River of No Return.

The river's a magnet for a colorful bunch,
Of misfits and rogues who'd followed a hunch,
When first they heard that siren's song,
Winging them off to where they might belong.

Hermits and squatters sometimes found a home,
In old shafts and caverns they often would roam,
And others up yonder in old Grantsville,
Or Leesburg where the Confederacy still,

Lives on in spirit up there in the pines,
Among the men who still eek gold from the mines,
First dug out and mined out just leaving a hole,
By veterans of the war that tested the soul,

Of a nation just coming of age,
Finding part of itself out west in the sage.
Where gold dust littered the beds of the streams,
Tumbling down to this river of dreams.

Dreams of dreams present and past,
Of boom towns that didn't long last,
Where colors fade and wooden beams gray.
Amid the rubble of a livelier day.

Just over the bridge near the end of the road,
Where Panther Creek dumps its violent load,
Of frothy white liquid into the swirl,
Of the river herself at full howl and full hurl.

A road there rises up through the pines,
A dusty dirt road that heads for the mines,
Of Leesburg and the crumbling town,
Where old rickety buildings were falling down.

Once we got there and parked the truck,
We jumped out to maybe try our luck,
In looking around for a thing or two,
For a souvenir of sorts or who knows who.

Then came a voice from out of a shack,
Or maybe that dugout hidden out back,
Of an old saloon with a westward lean,
A raspy old crackle with a tinge of mean.

A man stooped and crumpled with age,
Came out of his hovel in a fit of rage,
Shaking his fist and giving a show,
That he wanted us to turn back and go.

We approached the old guy shaking his arm,
And seeing that we meant him no harm,
We sat a spell just to bone our jaw,
And for a fleeting moment in his eyes we saw,

Something strange as we sat in the grass,
When he first came to this mountain pass,
A flickering light from out of the past,
Of a girl once loved with a love - his last.

It was a lonely life down in his mine,
Abandoned and left alone to dine,
On berries and game with shirt in a tatter,
It seemed to him now it didn't much matter.

Unlucky in love and unlucky in life,
His mind was no longer as sharp as a knife,
From all the long years working his mine,
He now would sit, wonder, ponder and pine.

One thing though was quite certain,
Something that somehow healed the hurtin',
The mountains and the river down below,
Welcomed him back whenever he'd go.

In winter he said, he just watched the snow fall.
In springtime it melts and flows down the wall,
Through puddles and streams and creeks till it's done,
Flowing to where all the snow pack has run.

At about the same time and with the same speed
To join in the ruckus of a watery steed,
Soaking in spray and covered in white,
Rushing west to the coast by day and by night.

The river returns when mountain lakes freeze,
On the wings of storms brought in by the breeze,
Of westerly winds billowed full of white snow,
That melts and runs back to the river below.

So the river each season always returns,
To the mountains, hills, the trees and then turns,
To rush out and to rush back and then,
It returns and comes back again and again.

A river this wild knows only her own,
They're unkempt and unruly and often alone,
But it's that feeling of home that'll quietly turn,
Them back to the River of No Return.

© 2003, Paul R. Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Paul told us:  "Back to the River of No Return" reflects the wilderness of central Idaho and the peculiar people it attracted who lived off the land as hermits, squatters and miners.  These "old-timers" form an important and unforgettable link to our western heritage.  I will never forget the times I sat and listened to them as a kid - once they would start talking.


When the Coyote Calls Down Moonlit Dreams

Sleep comes fast along the trail,
Twilight, moonlight and a coyotes wail,
Echoes along the canyon wall,
It's a haunting cry and a lonesome call.

Calling tonight through the cold and clear,
To the distant past or some future year.
My eyes grow heavy; I nod off to sleep,
On a saddle blanket in the canyon deep.

When the coyote calls down moonlit dreams,
To a boy still bursting at the seams,
Asleep in the canyon 'till the morning dew,
Dreams like this always come true.

Evening cool raised a gentle breeze,
As the horses pawed the roots of the trees,
Of the picket line standing tall and true,
The years to come came into view.

You came to me though you never knew,
We walked a while as warm breezes blew,
A seaside, a riverside, a far off place,
I saw your smile, long hair and face.

As sunrise kissed the morning dew,
I knew that some day I would find you,
And each to the other would belong.
It was all right there in the coyote's song.

We found each other and have lived the dream,
That came beside a mountain stream.
Asleep in the canyon 'till the morning dew,
Dreams like this always come true.

© 2003, Paul R. Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Paul told us: "This took place in the summer of 1970 during a pack trip with my father through the Tetons.  We made a loop around the range starting from the Idaho side - up Devil's Staircase down through Death Canyon, north along the Wyoming side to Cascade Canyon, then up and around to Alaska Basin and back to Idaho." 


This poem is included with our collection of Cowboy Love Poems


Lambing Time in the Rockies

On the way to the ranch we had to stop,
At a country store to pick up some pop,
Some pliers and pairs of gloves for our hands,
As well as a bunch of small rubber bands.

The pickup took off with a spurt and a wheeze,
For a few days of lambing up in the trees.
It rolled out of the lot and onto the road,
Heading on up once we'd picked up our load.

We stayed in the cabin just built and brand new,
With a Franklin stove and round eight inch flue.
It kept the place warm in the cool spring air,
In the Rockies again, we were glad to be there.

Grandpa Jess cared for the rams and the studs,
The rest of the clan grew the beef and the spuds,
It had been a good season with lots of new lambs,
About sixty were born to the yews and the rams.

The work of the day went forth as planned,
Long dirty tails each got a new rubber band,
Some of the lambs got a freshly docked tail,
They scurried about with a bleat and a wail.

The lambs went in a pen to grunt and to moan,
Young bucks winced whenever they'd groan,
As each was castrated and sent over beside,
A vat holding gallons of sheep dip inside.

Some ewes were covered up to their throats,
With smelly stuff that soaked their coats,
Those that went in couldn't wait to get out,
To shake themselves off, to bleat and to pout.

Counting the ewes Old Jess kept a tally,
The rams had been sent down to the valley,
As lopped off tails piled up in the grass,
He counted and recounted one more pass.

One more time he scratched his head,
One ewe was missing, he hoped not dead.
Old Jess jumped up and into his jeep,
All through the trees he looked for his sheep.

About the time when the sun sunk low,
We finally found her and hurried to go.
The pregnant ewe lay all distressed,
Unable to birth the lamb that pressed,

Against the birth canal too small,
To let a lamb struggle and crawl,
Out to the air, to light and to life,
Grandpa Jess slowly took out his knife.

He opened the opening a wee little bit
Then onto the ground he took a sit,
To pull the dead lamb from out of the ewe,
Relieved from all that she'd been through.

He picked her up slowly, got a good hold.
She was sweating chills and getting cold.
He then placed her gently back in the bed,
Of the jeep pickup where she quietly bled.

Back to the ranch house on a dirt road,
He anxiously carried his precious load,
Then the truck hit a rut that had a big rock,
The ewe flew out and lay there in shock.

In the dirt she split and came unwound,
Her innards fell out and were lying around.
Carefully lifting her up once more,
Jess put her back in and closed the door.

Back at the cabin we hung our hope,
On boiling water as we took out the soap,
A needle, some thread, iodine and bands,
Grandpa Jess carefully washed his hands.

He went outside and washed out the ewe,
As best he could, as best he knew,
Then placed her insides back inside,
And closed her up by sewing her hide.

Old Grandpa Jess had done his best,
We went to the cabin to get some rest.
Jess prayed mightily for that old sheep,
Hard as he could, then dozed off to sleep.

Sleep can come in many a way,
That sheep died before the new dawning day,
My throat got lumpy as I watched Jess weep,
Love for his herd went bone marrow deep.
Staying in the cabin just built and brand new,
With a Franklin stove and round eight inch flue,
Part of me grew up in that cool spring air.
That wrinkled old man had taught me to care.
© 2003, Paul R. Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Tell Me It Ain't So

Tell me it ain't so,
Or at least that you don't know,
That the sky's not all that blue up there,
And cascades don't fall through mountain air.

Tell me it just don't figure,
When you start to count each river,
There are more here that begin and end,
Through canyons deep that twist and bend.

It can't really be,
But at times it seems to me,
That the wild wind still blows free,
Over the plains and in from the sea.

So tell me that on that plain,
After a storm of desert rain,
There is no scent as the sage awakes,
No rabbits, rock chucks or rattlesnakes.

It wouldn't make a lick of sense,
To think that this side of the fence,
More mountains grace this state,
Than any other of the forty-eight.

Make it sound like it's the truth,
There are no mountains called Sawtooth,
No granite spires, no Redfish Lake,
No pines, no firs, no trees that quake.

Just tell me it ain't so,
That the mountains high and valleys low,
Have more miles of rocky trails,
Than most places have of roads and rails.

Just tell me, tell me just once more,
There is no thunder in the Snake River's roar,
Please tell me; just tell me it ain't so,
Until I get back to Idaho.

© 2003, Paul R. Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Paul told us, "The best time of the year around our place is in the late spring when we brand our cattle and put 'em out on the high mountain pastures in Island Park, Idaho.  This poem was written in the winter in anticipation of that event."

Sunday Drivers

At the bottom of Lost Trail Pass,
Near to where you can buy some gas,
Some good ol' folks live there still,
In a little place called Gibbonsville.

Now one Sunday we were out for a ride,
Taking a gander around the countryside,
When what to our wonderment did appear?
That old jalopy we gave away last year.

It was free you know, it cost not a dime
To Ma n' Pa Riggin who'd had a hard time.
They could have it as long as they'd please.
Beware the motor had a snort and a wheeze.

As that bucket o' rust rounded the bend,
Hangin' out of the hood was someone's back end.
And to boot and by golly it was still movin' along,
With a pitch and a roll like an out of tune song.

A stranger contraption you'd never seen,
With Ma at the wheel behind the windscreen,
Those two legs dangling out of the hood,
Came dangerously close to the spokes of wood.

That old sedan would slow near to a stop,
Then with a burst take another hop,
And now with a jerk it started to slow,
Then a burst of speed, and off it would go.

But not too far before Ma n' Pa saw,
They's watched a little further down the draw,
From the looks of things as we came to pass,
The root of the problem was a leak of gas.

The gas line had busted completely in two,
But that ol' Pa Riggin knew just what to do,
Suck up the gas and a split second later,
Turn and then spit it into the carburetor.

It was by this method under the hood,
They managed to move along pretty good,
By a suckin' and a spittin' with Ma at the wheel,
And Pa workin' the gas and a draggin' a heel.

We stopped and offered to help if we could,
Pa was still poking out underneath of the hood,
Ma just said "no thanks" as her eyes came alive,
"We're just out for a Sunday drive."

© 2003, Paul R. Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Paul told us: This tale is based on a true story that happened to some good friends from Salmon, Idaho... it actually took place in Carmen, not Gibbonsville...and it was the gas pump, not the line itself that went out. it.


Worth Pure Gold

It's been a good year for the cattle situation,
Beef's high thanks to Atkin's innovation,
That helps people of every persuasion,
Shed that pesky patina of civilization.

The doctor's formula is tried and true,
But it's really nothing very new,
Throw a lot more beef into your stew,
Some peas and potatoes - but only a few.

Every ounce on those cloven feet,
Is worth pure gold on the market o' meat,
Keep 'em out of the cold and out of the sleet,
Contented, well fenced and out of the heat.

If you do all this, that you've been told,
You'll get a big check once they're sold,
Their weight gain per day steady will hold,
At least two pounds for a three year old.

Early in the mornin' of the first snow,
We corralled and penned 'em ready to go,
Into the truck and the trailer - all in a row,
We got each one in and had 'em in tow.

When we got 'em down to the feedlot scales,
There'd been leakage underneath their tails,
We waited our turn amid the stockyard smells,
Pushed open the door and the steers down the rails.

Now all that liquidity there on the floor,
Hadn't been there an hour before,
Musta' been a hundred pounds or more,
Or  - a hundred bucks less - that they'd go for.

Then I looked on the scales and began believin',
There in front stood a herd with sides a heavin',
I figured out fast that I would at least break even,
Or come out ahead due to the liquidity they were leavin'.

© 2004, Paul R. Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


When the Work's All Done

There's a time in the mountains beyond the hill,
You can't drink it all in and may never will.

The cattle are shipped and drop fences are down,
And we've made that one last trip into town.
The gates are propped up to last through the snow,
And the cabin is closed and we're ready to go.

There's a time in the valley at the foot of that hill,
Time slows to a stop and then seems to stand still.

The aspens glow warm in the late autumn sun,
And the high mountain snow has melted and run.
The hay's all stacked and the crick's run dry,
And frosty fall air warns that winter is nigh.

This is a time of satisfaction second to none,
It's a time of fulfillment when the work's all done.

© 2004, Paul R. Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Paul shared this photo of " bovine splendor."  He told us, "I managed to get this photo one morning when checking my fences.  It's not often that steers pose for a portrait, let alone look at themselves in a mirror before they do -- especially this bunch of wild fence busters.  I suppose the title of this photo could be 'The Wild Bunch at Looking Glass Pond.' The bally face on the right is nearly a ladino and is as wild as they come.  If he can't break a fence down, he'll jump six feet in the air to get over it.  Always nice to get cattle like that shipped and on their way."



A Trajectory Off Course

A hollow wrenchin' in the gut comes on a little cold,
As you climb aboard that unbroke colt and go to take a hold,
You know well what to expect and can feel it in each bone,
So many have been broken, this feelin' is well known.

Though you hate for young horses to ply the buckin' trade,
And do your best to hide from them this talent God has made,
By sackin' out and round pen work and easy as she goes,
But some just have a knack to launch a rider 'fore he knows.

They call 'em athletic, they're just heedin' natures call,
They've a well-formed hip and overstep and seem a little tall,
Not mean by disposition just sensitive about the girth,
Gotta get 'em past this so they can claim their right of birth.

Someone has to climb aboard and be willin' to pull leather,
Could be you or maybe me, odd ducks of different feather,
So you ask me what it's like atop a buckin' horse,
And how it feels to lose your seat in a trajectory off course.

Well first of all I have to say that it'll nearly always hurt,
To hit the ground at runnin' speed face down in rocks and dirt,
In my time I've tried out gravel, pavement, dirt and sand,
Regardless though the bruises come no matter where you land.

When you see him bog his head and hump his saddleback,
And he's pullin' at the reins and hogs up all the slack,
And fakes a lope to fool you just to catch you off your guard,
It's too late to recuperate 'cause you're airborne now old pard'.

The highest that I've ever flown is five feet over saddle,
For ten feet up and ten feet fore - and thus begun the battle.
There are some things you have to know before you pick a fight,
Some horses buck up leftwards and some buck to the right.

Somehow you need to figure out how landin' hurts the least,
I light upon my left where I don't seem to get so creased,
I've learned to tuck 'em in - my wrists into each arm,
But never seem to walk away from havin' done a little harm.

At first when you take flight you think your life is at its end,
Below you see your saddle movin' out upon your friend.
It always seems the ground comes up faster than it should,
Your hip and leg hit first, then the other strikes like wood.

Your teeth all grind together as your head flops to the ground,
Your eyes and ears fill up with dirt, you can't hardly hear a sound,
You catch your wind and check your bones and try to find your feet,
Your elbow rips through your sleeve and your face flushes with heat.

Your colt is still a buckin' like some demon straight from hell,
But you know that in a minute he'll calm down for a spell,
So you get back up and get back on and find he's good to go,
You work him hard and work him fast  - he's run out of fits to throw.

© 2005, Paul R. Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Paul told us: Truthfully, whenever I reread it I get to thinking - maybe I'm getting a little old for this.  But then, I don't know how to get a horse more to my liking than to gentle him and train him myself.


The Sign of the Grass
   (for Joelle Smith)

Springtime grass grows thick and green,
To bring new life to the yet unseen,
A round of living has again begun,
Under a full moon and a brand new sun.

That endless rotation of the sky,
Leaves track and sign for both you and I,
That a cowboy's heart beats just so far,
Before it's hitched to that one last star.

When summer ranges are all grazed down,
And winds have scorched them all to brown,
Old partners with furrowed lines,
Know to read the tracks and signs.

When winter winds howl mean and cold,
And a cowboy's heart grows tired and old,
The sign of the grass he knows so well,
With the rangeland tracks has a tale to tell.

That a good man who knows his station,
Looking after part of God's creation,
Raising cattle and horses on that place,
Has come to know the Master's grace.

It's in this knowing that he lets it go,
To unfenced ranges he'll come to know.
A round of living will begin again soon,
Under a full sun and a brand new moon

© 2006, Paul Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

This poem is included in our Art Spur project.


A Cowboy Mother's Pay

Perhaps you will remember the time when they were weaned,
It takes some time for the human kind to go and break away,
But feelin's of some twenty years come on all picked and cleaned,
And rise up high into my throat and stick - what else can I say?

Pretty soon the day-to-day becomes thoughts just memorized,
It was this way once or that way twice or was it meant to stay?
But what of the boy who took the jumps on a pony that I prized,
And left me breathless as he lifted off astride the dapple gray?

Perhaps it's just a dusty blur those hopes of years now passed,
It's somethin' that I treasure and would never trade away,
But what of the boy who used to ride like it would be his last,
And worked along with no complaint in fields of fresh mown hay?

Poetic movement from his horse pure black and highly withered,
Is what I recall from the high-speed chase of cattle on that day,
But his saddle's empty now and dry and cracked and weathered,
And he's off a chasin' his own dreams and headin' on his way.

Perhaps it's just a passing feelin' or somethin' that I dreamed,
It comes at times when I'm alone and don't have much to say,
But what of the girl who upon that paint sparkled as she beamed,
And broke him of his buckin' vice like it was so much play?

Pretty soon they'll all be gone these children we have had,
It seems they're ridin' flat out fast to go and make their way,
But the years we rode together have made me mighty glad,
And so we grin, laugh and look on back -- a cowboy mother's pay.

© 2006, Paul Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Paul told us,
"Shortly before Mothers Day 2006, our four kids gathered to take their mother to dinner at a nice restaurant.  The animated conversation was peppered with fond memories of growing up and being involved with each other. After all the work involved in raising these kids, Kathie was able to sit back for an hour or so and bask in her glory.  The look on her face was inspiration enough for this poem.  It was payday for Mom."



As I Bridle in the Morning

As I bridle in the morning in the dawn of early spring,
And slip the bit between his teeth and catch the throat latch string,
I think of how we both first met each young and fancy free,
Somehow I thought you'd never have a backward kid like me.

As I bridle in the morning of the summer mountain heat,
And the pollen rises on the grass with the fall of each hoof beat,
I look there over yonder at our base camp in the trees,
You followed me a horseback just as pretty as you please.

As I bridle in the morning on the first day of the fall,
And the drifting leaves all hide the track there is no trace at all,
The horse we call the Triple Broke drives on he's in no hurry,
Fringe sways out and all around the flat top of our surrey.

As I bridle in the morning at the sign of early snow,
I'll ride out brisk to meet the day
—it's time for me to go,
But first I'll hitch the cutter sleigh for one more winter glide,
Then ride my trail but circle back to where two hearts abide.

As I bridle in the morning through the seasons of my life,
And consider on the difference you've made for me my wife,
My mind is prone to wander through memories well worn,
To where you once became my bride—that early summer morn'.

As I bridle in the morning

© 2006, Paul Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Paul told us: Last summer Kathie had me look at some photos she had taken during a recent pack trip, pointing out one in particular  "Look at this one of you bridling in the morning . . ." Her words had a nice ring to them and a poem was conceived. We have been together for nearly 30 years (Can we really be that old?) Two very different people who made a marriage work. We do enjoy the activities mentioned in the poemfrom packhorse trips to horse drawn sleighs, our surrey, and the association we have with our horses.

This poem is included with our 2007
Valentine's Day poems and in our 
Cowboy Love Poems collection.



At the Corral of the Rafter J 

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,

Wreckedbut you got us back home.


You never gave inthat is until now,

Stoved up for years you never let on,

Now listenstand up ol' boystand up!

Remember those trails in the dawn?


That's it ol' pal, easy now, take it slow,

A few last stepsthereyou 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 edgejust one last time,

Straighten 'er outto the off-side Ladd,

A little to the off-side boyyou're fine.


The hardest aim a man can take,

Is that cross 'tween eyes and ears,

Trembling hand and hammer cocked,

I shotWhat'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 goodhe's free,

At the corral of the Rafter J.

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


Paul comments: Saying good-bye to a horse is seldom easy. The choices are all hard:  1) Have a vet euthanize him and then turn the carcass over to an animal by-products processor; 2) Sell the horse on the killer market and have meat show up in restaurants on the boulevards of Europe or in dog food; 3) Let him suffer inhumanely to the bitter end and then worry about carcass disposal; 4) Just do it yourself when the time comes. Many horse people play a game of "button button, who's got the button?" and cycle through horses just enough so they are never faced with a final good-bye. When a horse has been a keeper, as Ladd was in this poem, you try to do the very best by him. Never easy. Putting Ladd down was as dignified as possible.


When Emerald Strikes the Clover

The haystack now is melting down,

I see the hoar frost flee,

The wind cuts short her howling moan,

Dark days are blowing over.

A snowbird sings and so will I—

When emerald strikes the clover.


It's calving time and lambing too,

They struggle to breathe free,

Most will live but some just won't,

Cold days are nearly over.

Just hang on for a few more weeks—

Till emerald strikes the clover.


The horses stand in mud unshod,

Their coats hang long and shaggy,

Winter moustache on my bronco's lip,

The shoer is driving over.

They'll be ready again for work—

When emerald strikes the clover.


Springtime fills most every step,

These muddy boots will take,

Don't mind too much the windy cold,

But am glad when it's all over.

I live for days when life ebbs back—

And emerald strikes the clover.


The haystack now has melted down,

And frost takes to the wing,

Breezes wafting light and slow,

Blue skies have taken over.

A songbird sings and so do I—

When emerald strikes the clover.

© 2008, Paul Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Paul comments about the poem's inspiration, "This past winter we have had heavy and regular snowfall, high winds, low temperatures and short days. Several family members have struggled with cancer, MS, and other seemingly insurmountable challenges. On at least a couple of fronts, there are signs of improvement and recovery that seem to be coming with the spring. This poem reflects my quiet optimism for the future—in a cowboy sorta way."



Paul's father Reese Kern died in 2008, and soon after, he lost his favorite saddle horse, Target. Paul wrote about his loss, and added, "I have finally been able to express a little of it thanks to the urging of Linda Kirkpatrick."

The Last Horse Trade

I was blessed to have had a Dad who taught me to ride,
And across the Utah desert and through the Colorado snow,
He taught me to love the mounts we rode.
Together we left tracks across the mountain west,
From the Windriver Range to the Tetons,
Through Montana and deep in the mountains of Idaho.

And those horses we’d ride—why there was Slippers and Prince,
And—quick before they slip away—
There's Tarsh and Ladd, Latigo, Indy, Spotted Eagle, Smokey and Buck,
And storming through the sage come Jenny and Missy,
Toby and Duke, Dan and Aspen the palomino, Rory the paint,
And Target—my blue-eyed bay.

A lifetime worth living is metered out slowly,
By the wear on your saddle, good horses and a few head of cattle.
It was just last November I drove Dad’s rig home,
A day or two after the service,
When we gathered to recount, retell and relive a life well lived,
I had his truck and trailer—his horse and his well worn saddle.

Since I’ve had his horse Indy in my own herd,
He’s fattened up some and filled out his hide.
He’s got a barn, good feed and I do care for that horse,
Since Dad’s gone now and he just can’t.
But maybe there’s something he can do and I hope he does,
There where he rides beyond the great divide.

You see—I lost my Target three weeks ago today,
In a sudden wreck of crimson snow,
Left rear hock, compound break and rip,
So fast, so horrid, so hopeless,
Such wreckage,
Such sorrow,
I had to let him go.

So by some twist of fate I have Dad’s horse,
And I like to believe that he has mine.
Target always did have that fire in his belly,
I can almost see them both right now,
Charging through the canyons and hills of that celestial range,
And though worlds apart—horses are still the tie that binds.

So now, time moves on and scars the wounds,
Of such great loss and the price we’ve paid,
For wandering through this muddy vale of tears,
On horses—such good horses—all throughout the years . . .
So—when it comes my turn to reach up through that misty veil,
I’ll grasp Dad’s hand, we’ll hug and square the deal—on this,

The last horse trade.

© 2009, Paul Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Indy, Paul, and Target



Where Sagebrush Still Ain't Plowed

Miles from lonesome, where sagebrush’s all been plowed,

It’s been for me and perhaps for you right lonely in a crowd,
Where some crawl on top and set themselves up proud.
It’s they who’ve not known lonesome
the lonely crowd and all,
Where folks are freely merchandized, based on the market's call.

It’s more’n just solitary alone
bein’ part of the lonely crowd,
Where they take and don’t put back and egos go unbowed.
It’s the lonely crowd that’ll never know the softly rushin’ willows,
Where griz’ leave track and coyotes call, and a distant bull elk bellows.

Where the wind blows hard and the sun burns long and fierce and hot,
It’s there I prefer to spend my time, where most would rather not.
Where it’s just your horse and you and maybe a few trees,
It’s lonesome where sagebrush grows, in places wild like these.

Where nights are starry cold and daylight meanders slowly by,
It’s way too far for a man to walk, and the trails are dusty dry.
Where places off the beaten track still raise that lonesome feel,
It’s lonesome
but hardly lonelyit’s where you find what’s real.

Miles from the lonely crowd, where sagebrush still ain’t plowed.

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

In late 2011, Paul commented on his poem:
I wrote it back in 2007 when I began to notice some of the shenanigans that were taking place in our banking system and stock market. I think I was “Occupy Wall Street” (or somewhat inclined) before Occupy Wall Street was cool. My perspective is a little different from what has become the protest movement thoughmore of a cowboy point of view. In the poem I distinguish between lonely and lonesome. The former being a negative and the latter being more positive.



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