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

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

Rod Miller's web site:


Lariat Laureate

recognized for his poem

Luck (But Not Exactly the Beginner's Kind)


Self Portrait by Rod Miller Award-winning author and poet Rod Miller has contributed a number of essays on the art and craft of poetry to He has given poetry workshops and lectures at numerous places and judged many poetry competitions. He is a widely published poet whose work has appeared in several anthologies and numerous periodicals. He is author of a collection of poetry, Things a Cowboy Sees and Other Poems, and a chapbook of poems, Newe Dreams.  

Miller also writes book reviews and magazines articles for a variety of periodicals, has published short fiction in several anthologies, and is author of three novels and three books of nonfiction.  

Born and raised in Utah, Miller is the son of a working cowboy and spent his youth working with cattle and horses. He competed as a bareback rider in high school, college, and professional rodeos throughout the Intermountain West. 

Miller is membership chair for Western Writers of America and a former board member. Learn more about his writing at

Self portrait above by Rod Miller.]  

Poems and Essays


Luck (But Not Exactly the Beginner's Kind)
A Guide to Ranching for the Politically Correct
E.S.L. Ranch
Bad Road
Cowboy, Defined
Learning the Ropes
Wasted Time
The Cowboy Trail

Gone to Town
Landing Gear

Red Meat
The Bottom Line

The July 20, 1999 Tranquility Base Stampede and Rodeo 

Womb to Tomb
Cowboy Coffee

What Goes Cowboy Up

Morning Glory
An Apology to Readers, Sort of, But More Like an Explanation or Maybe an Excuse

Tabula Rasa
Peace and Quiet
A Good Hand with a Rope
Haiku for a Former Rounder

Heads or Tails
Devil of Devil Creek
Long May it Wave

Number 16
A Bolt of Broomtails
Goodnight Goes Riding
A Little Madness in the Spring
The Beauty of Mountains

Spring Works Sonnet
Song of the Stampede

Mule Whisperer separate page
Stopping By Woods  separate page
Year 2002 Diet Resolution separate page

Haiku for Old Cowboys


Rod Miller has contributed the following essays to the BAR-D, posted on separate pages:

"Free Range and Barbwire,"
Have You Heard the One About ..."
"Fine Lines and Wrinkles
"You Call THAT a Poem?"
"Are You All Talk and No Trochaic Tetrameter?"
"Does Slant Rhyme with Can't?"
"Five Ways Cowboy Poetry Fades in the Footlights
"The Rhythm Method"
Whipping Up a Poem"
A Brief Introduction to Cowboy Poetry, or, Who's the Guy in the Big Hat and What is He Talking About?"
"Don't Say It"
Get Up On Your Hind Legs and Howl"
"Opening the Gates"
"A Brave New Future for Poetry"
"How to Pick a Performance Poem"
"Where Have I Heard That Before?"


More about Rod Miller




There are few Western writers as versatile as Rod Miller, who excels as an essayist, journalist, novelist, short-story writer, poet, and more. His articles about writing and reciting cowboy poetry are valuable for their acuity, practicality, and depth of knowledge of classic and contemporary writers and techniques.

Readers once again can see that he "walks the walk" in his new, second, poetry collection, Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems. The book is described, "From thoughtful to frivolous, the poetry in Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems covers the range like a herd of hungry horses. In verse inspired by the ranch and rodeo arena, trail drive and dance hall and more, Miller provides variety in both subject and style." Ranch & Reata editor A.J. Mangum offers an engaging foreword.

The award-winning poet, never predictable, is also known for his humility. The introductory poem, "An Apology to Readers, Sort Of, But More Like and Explanation or Maybe an Excuse," reinforces that. The "Author's Note" will send readers to dip in immediately for humor, history, musings, and thought-provoking pieces. Fearless in facing traditionalists, he writes haiku and free verse as well as impeccably rhymed and metered poetry. His own cowboying and rodeoing experiences and a solid grounding in the art and methods of poetry give him the freedom to do it all and do it well.

Order Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems from PEN-L Publishing,

For more information about Rod Miller’s books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction visit



Cold as the Clay is a re-telling of the biblical story of King David set on an Old West ranch. The main character, Wilson Hayes, gifted and capable and rises to a position of responsibility on the Fishhook Ranch, including marriage to the boss’s daughter. But the owner’s envy and paranoia drive him away, and Hayes follows the outlaw trail then goes to work for a rival rancher. With the death of the Fishhook’s owner and son, Hayes returns to take over the family empire. He is successful, but greed and lust overwhelm his many accomplishments and cause problems at home and abroad.

Cold as the Clay is available in paperback from Amazon and Barnes & Noble at $13.89 plus shipping. The novel is also available in a Kindle edition at $4.99.

For more information about Rod Miller’s books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction visit


Rod Miller's book Things a Cowboy Sees, received the Westerners International Fred Olds Award for Poetry on October 7, 2012 at the annual meeting of the Western History Association in Denver, Colorado.


Named “Writer of the Year” by the League of Utah Writers (LUW) on September 15, 2012 in Park City, Utah, at the annual LUW convention. From a news release:

According to Tim Keller, LUW President, “The award celebrates the success of the member who has had the best year as a writer.”

Among Miller’s recent accomplishments that led to the award are publication of two books of poetry, a Western historical novel, and several magazine articles and book reviews. Also considered was the receipt of two prestigious Spur Awards, one for poetry and another for short fiction, from Western Writers of America, Finalist Awards for Best Western Novel and Best Western Short Story from Western Fictioneers, and the Fred Olds Award for Poetry from Westerners International. Miller also served as a judge for a number of writing contests and was a presenter at several literary events and LUW chapter meetings.

The League of Utah Writers is dedicated to the encouragement and improvement of all writers in their writing skills. Members are writers and poets with various interests at all levels of skill and professionalism. There are 15 LUW chapters throughout the state.

Recipient of  2012 Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America:
Best Western Poem:
"Tabula Rasa," from Things a Cowboy Sees, and Best Western Short Story for "The Death of Delgado," from The Traditional West; a Western Fictioneers Anthology.

photo by Johnny D. Boggs, 2012
Rod Miller gives his acceptance speech for the Spur Award for Best Western Poem for “Tabula Rasa”

photo by Johnny D. Boggs, 2012
Actor Wes Studi presents Rod Miller with the Best Western Short Story Spur Award



Rod Miller's first collection of his cowboy poetry, Things a Cowboy Sees and other poems, was released in 2011. It includes:


An Introduction to Cowboy Poetry in General and This Collection in Particular

Horses and Hosses

A Bolt of Broomtails
Haiku for a Horseback Morning
Beauty is Only Skin Deep (But Ugly Goes All the Way Through)
Last Full Measure of Devotion
Eternal Flame
My Memories are Looking Up

Life Out West

Morning Glory
A Guide to Ranching for the Politically Correct
A Little Madness in the Spring
Irons in the Fire
Hot Time
Road Warriors
Meadow Hay
Work Ethic
Things a Cowboy Sees
The E.S.L. Ranch
No Enjoyment in Unemployment
Gates Left Open
Haiku for a Former Rounder
Gone to Town
Go Home Again

The Rodeo Road

Bad Road
Rodeo Regina
Landing Gear
Why I'm Not a Roper
Rodeo Rhythm
Looper Blues
Womb to Tomb
Long May it Wave
Luck (But Not Exactly the Beginner's Kind)
Ranked Among the Top 15 Automobiles of All Time
Number 16

Roundups and Trail Drives

Rhyme of the Ancient Tale Driver
Brother's Keeper
Cowboy Coffee
Tabula Rasa
Trail Driving Days
The Cowboy Trail

Making a Hand

Cowboy, Defined
The Staff of Life

Things a Cowboy Sees and other poems is available from Rod Miller for $11.95 first-class postpaid,1665 East Julho Street, Sandy UT 84093,; from Amazon; and other booksellers.

From our review:

A writer as humble as he is accomplished—a rare combinationRod Miller offers much of value in his first collection of poetry, Things a Cowboy Sees.

His poems have been published in respected anthologies and often in periodicals including
American Cowboy, Western Horseman, and Range; he dedicates his book to Jesse Mullins, Jr., the founding editor of American Cowboy and the person Miller names as, "the editor who first saw fit to apply ink to my poetry."

There's more than poetry in
Things a Cowboy Sees. An insightful, wide-ranging essay opens the book, "An Introduction to Cowboy Poetry in General and This Collection in Particular," and it delivers what it promises. Beginning, "Long, long ago in a time before iPods, before cell phones, before Blackberries..." he takes the reader through the history of cowboy poetry; defines "classic" cowboy poetry and introduces its masters; describes its renaissance, starting with the 1985 gathering organized by the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada (now the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering); and comments on the current state of cowboy poetry, both written and performed.

The publisher notes that Rod Miller is a "student of the ingredients of poetry." Indeed, he has written many essays about writing cowboy poetry (find a of some of those here) and has taught many seminars. He's a reader, a listener, and a scholar of the technical aspects of poetry. All of that leads him to the argument that so much of today's cowboy poetry is created for "performance" sake, with little attention to the craft of writing.

If being humble and wise weren't enough, Rod Miller also writes excellent poetry, filled with grace and grit. In his poems you might find "hearts made of rawhide," fetlocks that "sponge up dew," and mustangs "who run as colored threads through warp and weft." And that would be just in the first few pages of this collection.

Humor, often dosed with irony, is found in poems such as "Beauty is Only Skin Deep (But Ugly Goes All the Way Through), "A Guide to Ranching for the Politically Incorrect," and "Why I'm Not a Roper." The cowboy in "Hot Time" gets bucked off, kicked, cut, run over, and, "Still, I wouldn't miss branding for anything
it's the must fun I have all year."

A rodeo section could leave you dusty; he's been there, and it shows in his sharp observations that come only from experience. There's plenty of cowboy humor in that section, but also piercing pathos, as in "Luck (But Not Exactly the Beginner's Kind)," about a broken down cowboy who is riding for his life.

Rod Miller is a reluctant performer of his poetry. His introduction mentions that he'd rather spend time writing than memorizing. But, there is a stage for outstanding writers who read their work (particularly at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering). Linda Hussa, Linda Hasselstrom, Vess Quinlan, Janice Gilbertson, Henry Real Bird, and many other fine poets most often choose to read. In his acknowledgments, he thanks a number of those poets for their inspiration. With luck, we'll hear more of his poetry in his own voice (he has been featured twice, recently on
The BAR-D Roundup CDs).

Rod Miller writes with no quit. He invests his all into each carefully crafted poem, and they shine for it, like those stars that "punch holes in the dark" in his poem, "Morning Glory." Readers will be richly rewarded.

Things a Cowboy Sees is the recipient of the 2012 Westerners International Fred Olds Award for Poetry



The Assassination of Governor Boggs, from Cedar Fort/Bonneville Books, was released in May, 2011. It is described:

It’s a cold-case investigation into the 1842 attempted murder of Lilburn Boggs, the Missouri Governor who drove the Mormons out of the State under threat of extermination. Twenty-five years after the unsolved crime, a Pinkerton agent follows the evidence from one end of the Old West to the other. The trail ends in Utah Territory with prime suspect Porter Rockwell, notorious Mormon gunfighter.

The Assassination of Governor Boggs is available for $14.99 at, Amazon, and other booksellers.


Newe Dreams was released in April, 2011. From the publisher's description:

Newe Dreams is a 10-poem cycle by Utah cowboy poet Rod Miller. The poems imagine events surrounding, leading up to, and in the aftermath of the 1863 Bear River Massacre from the perspective of the Shoshoni people.

From the afterword:

“Newe” (New-wah) is one English-language rendering of a name the Shoshoni use for themselves. It means, as do the self-styled names of many groups, “The People.”

Newe Dreams represents an outsider’s imagined ideas of how various individuals from among The People—specifically from the band known as the Northwestern Shoshoni who lived, and still live, in the valleys of the Bear River—might have viewed a changing world through the clouded lens of dreams, nightmares, chimera, visions, reverie. Each dream is triggered by an historic event yet to come.

The limited edition chapbook is hand-sewn, and  features a beautiful cover designed by Michele Crail, and hand silk-screened by the Denver Craft Ninjas at Ink Lounge in Denver.

Newe Dreams is available for $18 postpaid from the publisher, Laughing Mouse Press.



Rod Miller's non-fiction book, Massacre at Bear River: First, Worst, Forgotten, was released in May, 2008, by Caxton Press. The publisher describes the book:

The Bear River Massacre, on January 29, 1863, claimed at least 250 Shoshoni lives. And it changed the culture of the natives who lived in the area along what later became the Utah-Idaho border.

Rod Miller provides a compelling narrative account of the Bear River Massacre and the events leading up to the bloody clash on a frozen riverbank in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. He gives historical context to three major players in the massacre—the Shoshoni, the military, the Mormon settlers and their leaders—and the interplay among those groups. Miller also explains why the massacre has remained in the historical shadows for 145 years and details the fight by Shoshonis and a few dedicated researchers to move the event to its rightful place in Western history.

From an official media release:

For most of the past 145 years, the Bear River Massacre has sat upon history’s shelf, gathering dust. Once in a while, a journalist or historian takes it down, sweeps off the dust, and writes something about it. But, for the most part, the deadliest Indian massacre in all the history of the West lies forgotten, with no place in the popular imagination and of little note among historians.

According to Rod Miller, author of a new book on the subject, Massacre at Bear River: First, Worst, Forgotten, such obscurity is not deserved. “This atrocity was unprecedented at the time, and unequaled since,” the writer says. “It established a pattern that was repeated in other Indian massacres, most notably at Sand Creek and Wounded Knee. Those encounters are well known and widely studied, but Bear River stays in the shadows....”

Miller hopes his book will increase public awareness of the massacre and generate interest among scholars and historians to further study the incident.

“The only book of note about the massacre was published more than twenty years ago,” Miller says. “Brigham Madsen, a well-known and respected Western scholar and one of the first to give Indian history serious consideration, is the only historian to write much about the Bear River Massacre. He encouraged me in the writing of this book, and was the source of much valuable information and research.”

Other important sources for the book include the work of the late Newell Hart of Preston, Idaho, who collected a lifetime’s worth of documents and information about the massacre and wrote and privately published a now-rare book about it. Miller also spent days in archives and library collections poring over journals, biographical sketches, periodicals, history books, and other accounts. He visited the massacre site on several occasions, talked with descendants of Shoshoni survivors, and interviewed others with knowledge of the event.

“The causes of the massacre were complex,” Miller says. “The main groups involved—the Shoshoni, the military, and the Mormons—were tangled in a web of tense relationships and conflicting purposes. Simply put, the massacre resulted from several years of white encroachment on Indian land, Shoshoni violence against emigrants and settlers, and an army unhappy being in Utah Territory and itching for a fight...”

See a June 15, 2008 article by Brad Gillman of the Ogden, Utah Standard-Examiner, which includes a video history of the massacre accompanies the article; you can find the article and video here.

See a July 7, 2008 article in the Salt Lake Tribune by Kristen Moulton, "Army, Mormon settlers tried to hide Bear River Massacre."

Massacre at Bear River: First, Worst, Forgotten, which includes maps, illustrations, and a bibliography is available from the publisher, Caxton Press, and from Amazon and other booksellers.


The August/September, 2008 issue of American Cowboy magazine has an extensive cover story by Rod Miller, "The Cowboy Way; a Tribute to Cowboy Legends," in celebration of the National Day of the American Cowboy (July 26, 2008). The article asks, "What is it that makes the American cowboy a world-wide icon?" Rod Miller writes that he spoke with people "representative of the cowboy life and spirit as it carries on today" and "...asked them to talk about someone from the cowboy tradition who inspired, influenced, or otherwise made a difference in their lives."

The feature includes tributes to: Red Steagall, with comments by top cowboy poet and humorist Baxter Black; Will James, with comments by Texas author Elmer Kelton; Sammy Thurman, with comments by horsewoman and rodeo champion Pam Minick; George Paul, with comments by Utah cowboy, sculptor and artist Jeff Wolf; Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, with comments by rodeo legend Larry Mahan; and "the cow dog," with comments by Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer.




Rod Miller was selected as the 2008 Poetry Guest Editor for American Cowboy magazine.

American Cowboy magazine Editor Jesse Mullins first published Rod's poetry in the mid-1990s, and more than a dozen of his poems have been published in the magazine to date. Rod Miller is one of American Cowboy magazine's most-published poets.

Rod comments, "The publishers and editors at American Cowboy, especially Jesse Mullins, have long been active and enthusiastic supporters of cowboy poetry. I saw my first poetry in print in American Cowboy, so the magazine holds a special place in my heart. Lending a hand as guest editor for the year will be a pleasure and an honor, both working with the editorial staff and the poets.”

Rod comments, "The publishers and editors at American Cowboy, especially Jesse Mullins, have long been active and enthusiastic supporters of cowboy poetry. I saw my first poetry in print in American Cowboy, so the magazine holds a special place in my heart. Lending a hand as guest editor for the year will be a pleasure and an honor, both working with the editorial staff and the poets.”

Associate editor Cathy Orr's profile of Rod Miller, "Poetically Inclined," appears in the February/March, 2008 issue. The two-page profile tells of Rod Miller's background and accomplishments, and includes photos and some comments from him about writing and reading poetry, including, "I think it'd be nice if more readers would read more cowboy poetry, It's become so much of a performance art...just sitting down and reading a poem has become less typical than it used to be. The performance part of poetry is great...just sitting down quietly with a poem and reading it and living with it a little bit doesn't happen so much, and I wish it would happen more."

Two of Rod Miller's poems, selected by the magazine's editors, "Lending a Hand," and "Irons in the Fire," also appear in the February/March, 2008 issue.




Rod Miller's inventive short story, "After the Burnt Biscuits," was featured in's Amazon Shorts feature. Amazon Shorts have been discontinued. described Amazon Shorts as "never-before-seen short works from a wide variety of well-known authors, available only on"

Rod Miller commented on the story: "The popular classic cowboy poem, Boomer Johnson, by Henry Herbert Knibbs always left me wondering what happened next. 'After the Burnt Biscuits' answers that question. Losing a cook under the sudden and unexpected circumstances described in the poem leaves a lot of gates open, and, as everyone knows, open gates mean trouble..."

Rod also had another Amazon Short, "Just Like Tully Said."


An October, 2007, in-depth interview by Marsha Ward explores Rod's roots and his writing, and includes a detailed bibliography of his work. Read the interview here.



Rod Miller's short story, "Just Like Tully Said", is featured as an's  Amazon Shorts feature. describes Amazon Shorts as "never-before-seen short works from a wide variety of well-known authors, available only on"

Rod Miller comments on the story, "Tall tales are a lost tradition in Western storytelling. In 'Just Like Tully Said,' I attempt to recapture the spirit of old-time campfire stories with wit, humor, and suspense. In the story, a likeable, aw-shucks cowboy named Tully fends off skepticism and downright disbelief as he recounts his Wild West adventures to entertain and enthrall his trail drive saddle pals."

Find "Just Like Tully Said" at here, where there's additional information about Rod Miller and his writing.




Rod Miller's novel, Galllows for a Gunman, was released in October, 2005 by Kensington Books under the Pinnacle imprint.  

The publisher introduces the book:

Harlow Had Been Sentenced To Die At Dawn. For The Town Of Los Santos, Dawn Couldn’t Come Soon Enough...

Everyone in Los Santos had crossed paths with Harlow at one time or another, from the days when he was a snot-nosed boy stealing from kitchen gardens and tormenting dogs to the moment he acquired his first taste for murder. Along the way, Harlow left town and started to burn, pillage, kill, rape, and steal his way west, until he came back home to rob a bank, slaughter an innocent man, and finally trip over the marshal’s outstretched foot. Now, the folks of Los Santos have one last chance to bid Harlow farewell, from the innocents to whose lives he’s shattered to the preacher who can’t find it in his heart to pray for him; from the local soiled dove to an old man with a dark secret of his own. And as these citizens tell their stories, they can’t help but wonder: why did Harlow Mackleprang go so very wrong—and are some people too evil to really die?

Early praise includes these comments:

"Rod Miller is a rising star in Westerns." —Dale L. Walker, past president, Western Writers of America

“A powerful tale of hatred, vengeance and retribution. An imaginative yarn, well and uniquely done.” —Jimmy Lee Butts, author of A Bad Day to Die

“Gallows For a Gunman is a fine read.” —Frank Roderus, Spur-winning author of Judgment Day

“A new voice in the west that rings authentic.” —Dusty Richards, author of From Hell to Breakfast

  Gallows for the Gunman is featured by USA Today in their 2005 Holiday Gift Guide, in a November 30, 2005 article by Deirdre Donahue, "How to Keep Sane on the Plane"



Rod Miller's John Muir : Magnificent Tramp, is a part of the American Heroes series, published by Forge Books in June, 2005. From the book's description at Amazon: "In 1849, 11-year-old John Muir immigrated from Scotland to America. Here, he rose from farmer and sawmill worker to become a noted authority on the botany, glaciers, and forestry of the nation's wilderness. Best known for his long association with the Yosemite Valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, Muir also explored, mostly afoot, the southern States, Alaska, the Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert. His studies of nature took him around the world and generated volumes of poetic, evocative writings..."



waywest05.jpg (46084 bytes)

Rod Miller's "Bill Cody Gets Buffaloed," is included in the 2005 nonfiction anthology from the Western Writers of America, The Way West, True Stories of the American Frontier, edited by James A. Crutchfield, published by Tom Doherty Associates/Forge Books (ISBN: 0765304503). Rod Miller's piece is "about that famous frontiersman's little-known involvement in the Utah War of 1857, when the United States Army sent thousands of troops across the plains to punish the Mormons in Utah Territory."



Rod Miller's short story, "No Luck at All," is included in Texas Rangers, an anthology from the Berkley Publishing Group, edited  by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg.  The book is "a collection of short stories featuring these legends of the Old West by today's best sagebrush storytellers."  Rod's story joins those by Louis L'Amour, Brendan DuBois, Robert J. Randisi, and others.  




Rod Miller's story "The People Versus Porter Rockwell" is featured in Black Hats, an anthology of Western stories edited by Robert J. Randisi.  The  book is a companion to White Hats, which includes Rod's story "Separating the Wheat from the Tares, Being a True Account of the Death and Life of Orrin Porter Rockwell." Rod is one of only two authors to have stories in both books, and only one subject, his Porter Rockwell, appears in both anthologies.



Rod's story "The Darkness of the Deep," based on Utah outlaw Rafael Lopez, is included in Westward: A Fictional History of the American West, edited by Dale Walker, a hardcover anthology of Western stories published in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Western Writers of America in June, 2003. 



An excerpt of Rod's poem, Cowboy Coffee, is included in Cowboys and Cookouts: Recipes from the Range, by Lewis Esson, produced in England. Rod says the cookbook includes bits of cowboy lore and history.



Rod's story, "A Border Dispute," is featured in Lone Star Law, which includes "twelve thrilling Western tales that celebrate the proud heritage of the Texas Rangers."  Edited by Robert J. Randisi, Rod joins Elmer Kelton, Louis L'Amour, Ed Gorman, Dusty Richards and others in this 2005 collection.

This story was named as a 2006 Spur Award Finalist by the Western Writers of America


Rod Miller is one of Western Horseman's most frequently-published poets, and editor A. J. Mangum wrote a full-page profile of Rod Miller in the March, 2004 issue, saying in part, "Miller is a cowboy poet with a real handle on his craft...His sense of humor, knack for crafting great sentences and flair for description have made his work some of the best cowboy poetry we've published."

Rod Miller is also one of American Cowboy magazine's most-published poets. Editor Jesse Mullins first published Rod's poetry in the mid-90s, and more than a dozen of his poems have been published in the magazine to date.


(But Not Exactly the Beginner's Kind) 

Jammed together in the truck seat
A cowboy, his wife, and three kids
Wearing raggedy pants and patched-up boots
And passed-down, worn-out lids.

The pickup truck shuddered to a stop.
It had a stock rack in the back.
And, there among the feed bags and salt,
Was a sorry collection of tack.

He rooted through the refuse
Of days spent tending cattle
And pulled out from under a pile of twine
An ancient association saddle.

An old canvas bag came out next,
It, too, had seen better days;
So had the bareback rigging inside
And the bull rope, old, and frayed.

He dumped his gear behind the chutes
And hustled to the other end
To arrange to borrow a bulldogging horse
From a long-time, long-lost friend.

The other contestants snickered
At this hand who rode in from the range.
They'd never seen such equipment:
Old, outdated, and strange.

Then he kicked the hair off his bareback
And ended up in second place,
Beat 'em in the bronc and bull riding,
Came in fourth in the steer wrestling race.

They didn't know that years ago
He'd been a star on the college circuit,
But married and went back home to the ranch
To help his family work it.

Just now, there was a note coming due
And hospital bills left by his dad,
So this cowboy showed up at the rodeo
Because he needed a payday real bad.

He gathered his family and collected his checks
And limped off in that rusty old truck,
While the cocky young cowboys he'd bettered that day
Laughed it off as nothing but luck.

© 1999, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

We asked Rod about his inspiration for
Luck (But Not Exactly the Beginner's Kind) and he replied:

Back in my rodeo days, I was always impressed by those few people you would see who were real "hands"—natural-born cowboys. While most of us were getting psyched up and endlessly tinkering with equipment and fretting over every detail, some "hand" would just show up and outdo everyone at everything without even thinking about it or working at it.

These natural-born cowboys were the ones I was thinking about when I set out to write this poem. The story just came out of nowhere and I lay no claim to it.

("Luck" was originally published in Western Horseman magazine)


Rod Miller was previously 

One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for his poem, A Guide to Ranching for the Politically Correct


A Guide to Ranching for the Politically Correct

When we first got into ranching
we really didn't expect
to see the business change so much
to become politically correct.

Cowboy lingo was simple then.
It was easy to communicate.
But now you can't say what you mean,
you're forced to obfuscate

so you don't do irreparable damage
to some critter's self esteem,
and to protect their tender feelings
you must be gentle in the extreme.

"Cowboy" is the first of many words
that we've been forced to shun.
It's sexist as well as sexually confused
and has been replaced by Cattleperson.

We no longer call them "Dogies,"
those calves without a mother.
We merely say they're Victims of
a Parental Deficit Disorder.

And "Cull" is an insensitive way
to describe a worn-out cow;
Candidates for Outplacement
is what we call them now.

If you say you're raising "Fat Steers"
their feelings you might addle,
so we don't talk about their weight—
they're Fitness Challenged Cattle.

And Sexually Neutral Bovine is
the term we've adopted here
to avoid damaging the confidence
of what once was called a "Steer."

"Heifer" is another of those sexist terms
that crosses the P.C. line,
so we've dropped that one in favor of
Pre-Pubescent Female Bovine.

Then there's that label "Herd Bull"
that doesn't pass the test.
That job is now described as
Serially Monogamous Fertilization Specialist.

Being accused of racism is
another thing we dread,
so Multicultural Cattle is how we refer
to those who were once "Crossbred."

They may question their femininity
if you label cows as "Drys."
Calling them Inactive Lactators
is a change we feel is wise.

Sending an animal to the "Sick Pen"
is sure to affect its composure;
a gentler way of describing it is as
the Healing Enclosure.

We say the cattle on our ranch are
Preparing for a Career in Food Service
because we fear a word like "Beef"
will frighten, and make them nervous.

Gentle. Sensitive. Caring. Concerned.
Those words define our place.
And the terms we use to describe our work
are chosen for charm and grace.

But I'd as soon go back to Ranching
the way it used to be,
instead of Hosting this Politically Correct
Ruminant Residential Facility.

© 1999, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

"A Guide to Ranching for the Politically Correct" first appeared in Western
magazine, May 2001.

Rod Miller was also one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for his poem, E.S.L. Ranch


The E.S.L. Ranch

Stranded, I was, in some cow town,
Out of work and down on my luck;
No way to pay for my next meal
With my finances at less than a buck

When a man drove up in a pickup truck,
Said he was looking for a worker to hire.
Hauled me off to the middle of nowhere;
Dumped me out next to a campfire.

I’d just settled in for a good night’s sleep
To rest up for the coming day’s work
When hell broke loose with a vengeance
And awakened me with a jerk.

Get up you waddy! some guy hollered,
Can’t ya hear coosie a-callin’?
Haul yerself out of them sougans!
Roll up that hen-skin and paulin!

Put on a load of Mexican strawberries
An’ some sinkers to line yer flue,
Then grab a kack and come on back
And I’ll tell ya what you’re to do.

Rattle yer hocks down to the cavvy
An’ with a reata snag a cayuse,
Then light out into the brasada
And chouse any critters that’s loose.

I stammered at the man, dumbfounded.
He said, There ain’t no time fer palaver!
If ya wanna be a ranahan
Get forked and get out on the gather!

Well, I resigned my position on the spot,
Mind reeling and spirit broken—
Starving’s easier than working a job
Where English isn’t spoken.

Rod sent this glossary to go along with his poem:

waddy (or waddie): a working cowboy
coosie: the cook, from the Spanish "cocinero"
sougans (or soogans): bedroll
hen-skin: blanket or quilt (often stuffed with feathers)
paulin: bedroll cover, a tarpaulin
put on a load: eat
Mexican strawberries: beans
sinkers: biscuits
line yer flue: fill your stomach
kack: saddle
rattle yer hocks: hurry, move quickly
cavvy: horse herd
reata: rawhide catch rope, for the Spanish "la riata' which also became lariat
snag: catch
cayuse: horse
light out: go, ride away
brasada: brush
chouse: chase, drive quickly
critters: cattle, in this case
palaver: talk, discussion
ranahan: good cowboy, top hand
get forked: get mounted, get horseback
the gather: a roundup
E.S.L.: highfalutin education jargon, English as a Second Language

© 1998, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

This poem was awarded a Superior ranking in the Charley Russell Western Heritage Association (CRWHA) Poetry award competition.


In the first Lariat Laureate contest, Rod Miller was one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for his poem, Bad Road


Bad Road

It isn’t the miles, at least not only.
And it isn’t just the roads that are lonely.
It’s yet another wrinkled shirt.
The stink of the cream that soothes the hurt.
Grease on your pants from the gate on the chute
And another hole in the sole of your boot.

It isn’t the miles, at least not only.
And it isn’t just the roads that are lonely.
It’s a horse, stiff-legged from moving on wheels.
Sick anticipation of paper-wrapped meals.
86 feet of broken ropes.
12-second runs, 9-second hopes.

It isn’t the miles, at least not only.
And it isn’t just the roads that are lonely.
It’s two quarts low, a threadbare tire,
A missing gas cap, a door latched with wire.
The ire of foreign-born motel clerks
Over a credit card that no longer works.

It isn’t the miles, at least not only.
And it isn’t just the roads that are lonely.
It’s roll after roll of adhesive tape
Hoping your riding arm maintains its shape.
Sore muscles, skinned knuckles, aching bones.
Tense conversations on coin-operated phones.

It isn’t the miles, at least not only.
And it isn’t just the roads that are lonely.
It’s radio stations fading away in the night.
18-wheelers roaring by on the right.
Too many hours alone with your thoughts,
Replaying your fears until your love rots.

It isn’t the miles, at least not only.
And it isn’t just the roads that are lonely.
It’s willing arms, a drunken embrace.
Bloodshot eyes in an unfamiliar face.
It isn’t the miles, at least not only.
And it isn’t just the roads that are lonely.

© 1998, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Cowboy, Defined

What qualities make a man a Cowboy?
Which factor leads the way?
Is it a hell-for-leather attitude,

Whether on the job or at play?
Maybe it’s having cow sense,
Or knowing the mind of a horse.

Or intuitively seeing the lay of the land
And charting the natural course.
The ability to smell a storm on the wind

When there’s nary a cloud in the sky;
Riding back through the herd knowing
Something’s amiss, but not knowing what or why.

Or living outdoors in all kinds of weather
Eating bad food but staying fit, and strong.
Getting up early and staying up late,

Sharing campfire stories and song.
Perhaps it’s treating the ladies as such
And always trying to do what’s right,

Being willing to stand up for what he believes
Even when it comes down to a fight.
It could be any or all of these things

By which the true Cowboy is defined.
But to my way of thinking, the thing
That counts most is having a cast iron behind.

© 2002, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

This poem appeared originally in the January/February 2000 issue of  American Cowboy Magazine.



Learning the Ropes 

There are stories—must be thousands—
About cowboy roping tricks;
About what they’ll dab a loop on
When they’re looking for some kicks.

Grizzly bears and mule deer,
Antelope, elk, and moose—
There’s probably a cowboy somewhere
Who’ll claim to have roped a goose.

Well, I wouldn’t be much of a roper
If I didn’t have a story, too.
This one’s about old Roy and me,
His horse, Jughead, and my Old Blue.

We were up in the high Uintahs
Packing salt to the Muleshoe herd
When an old bobcat let loose with a scream—
The scariest sound I’ve heard.

The packtrain bolted in every direction—
Which is a lot worse than it sounds—
They were tied together head to tail,
So they jerked one another to the ground.

Jughead lunged then bogged his head,
Roy lit on his nose in a heap.
All that commotion almost woke up Old Blue;
He snorted, then went back to sleep.

We danced around with the packhorses
Trying to set their loads to right,
While Roy steamed and stewed and screamed
And swore. He was really on the fight.

Where the hell’s that bobcat?
Where’d he go? Roy hollered at me.
Why, Roy, he didn’t go anywhere.
He’s sitting right there in that tree.

Boy, tighten up them cinches,
Roy says, and build yourself a loop,
We’ll rope that cat, head and heels,
He said as he rode off with a whoop.

That bobcat, he just watched old Roy
From his leafy tree-top bed.
Then dropped straight down as Roy
Circled around, and lit right on his head.

Jughead didn’t like that one bit
So he showed his belly to the sun.
Roy and the cat hit the ground together,
Him in a heap, the cat on the run.

Get after him! Roy hollered,
Get a loop around his neck!
I’ll be right behind you, he said,
As soon as I sort out this wreck.

Being young and dumb, I screwed down
My hat and laid the spurs to Old Blue—
Having been raised to pay attention
To what my elders tell me to do.

Through the trees we flew on the run,
Moving aside limbs with my nose,
Jumping deadfall and dodging rocks
As the distance we attempted to close.

When the woods gave way to a meadow
I knew that cat was caught,
He might could elude us in the trees,
But in open country, he could not.

My loop was singing as it was swinging,
Oh, what a pretty sound;
Through the air it flew, straight and true,
And its target it soon found.

I jerked my slack and angled off;
Set that cat for Roy’s ankle cast—
By the way, I didn’t have to dally,
I prefer to rope hard and fast.

But Roy, he wasn’t there for the throw,
He and Jughead were nowhere in sight.
Meanwhile, the bobcat was coming my way,
Climbing that rope, and on the fight.

Once again, I fed Old Blue the spurs
And it became a race.
Somehow, it seemed, that cat got faster
Now that he controlled the chase.

On the third lap around the meadow
We finally passed old Roy.
Jerk him down! He hollered,
Climb off and hog-tie him, boy!

His laughter rolled across the grass
And echoed off the trees
As he sat in the saddle and wiped his eyes,
Held his stomach, and slapped his knees.

Well, since I’m here to tell you the story,
it ended; it don’t matter much how.
Suffice it to say, my roping these days
Is limited to the species Cow.

That event was part of my education,
Its lesson you can easily deduce:
Catching a bobcat is easy to do—
The hard part is turning it loose.

© 1998, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Wasted Time

Tick-tock body clock
We all have our own;
Each set individually,
Our very own time zone.

So minutes, hours, and days
Flow by at a personal rate;
For each and every one of us
Time travels a different gait.

Which explains my sorry
Performance riding rodeo—
After six seconds my body clock
Said it was time to go.

It always seemed like eight
To me, and so I would dismount
And wonder why the timer
Was so far behind in the count.

With half a brain I’d have seen
That roughstock held no hope—
With a body clock set at six seconds,
I should have learned to rope.

© 1999, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


The Cowboy Trail 

From below the Mexican border
To the medicine line and beyond,
Cattle country spreads far and wide
And the cowboy trail is long.

And the cowboy trail is long.
  The cowboy trail is long.

The trail’s awash, a river of mud.
A splash the hoofbeat’s sound.
The blue of the sky bleaches away
As clouds cascade to the ground.

And the cowboy trail is long.
  The cowboy trail is long.

Fetlock-deep dust sifted fine as flour
Paints every horse on the trail the same.
Sweat disappears, its work undone,
The sky hot and bright as a flame.

And the cowboy trail is long.
  The cowboy trail is long.

Icy lace trims mountain streams.
You drop the cinch and strip your kack
At the end of a day riding leafy trails.
Steam rises from your horse’s back.

And the cowboy trail is long.
  The cowboy trail is long.

The trail fades, the horizon is lost
Out there where white meets white.
Snow squeaks underfoot as you ride,
Chilled bones creak when you alight.

And the cowboy trail is long.
  The cowboy trail is long.

From prairie swells to ocean waves,
Alpine forests to brushy plains;
Wherever the trail leads to cattle,
A cowboy will take up the reins.

And a cowboy will take up the reins.
  A cowboy will take up the reins.

© 2000, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Gone to Town 

The night sky isn’t black,
it’s a milky gray.
And it seems half the stars
have faded away.
Soles don’t walk on the land.
Hands touch nothing real.
Asphalt. Iron. Concrete.
Plastic. Cold hard steel.
Horses live in boxes
locked away and bound,
turning nervous circles.
Cattle won’t be found.
No smell of mother earth
when a wind blows by;
just stink and smoke and fumes
that water the eye.
Half my life, this city.
Home’s not far from here—
two hours on the highway.
Takes you twenty years.

© 1998, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

This poem was originally published in Range Magazine


Landing Gear

I can (and do) go on at some length
About my rodeo days
And the sad fact is, both they and I
Look better through the passing years’ haze
But the truth of it all can be summed up
In a lot fewer words than that:
My bronc riding career, when all’s said and done,
Sure was hard on hats

© 1997, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

This poem was originally published in American Cowboy magazine



Red Meat

The sign says:
“Now Serving Genuine Angus Beef.
One Hundred Percent Certified.”
What I want to know is how they know
After they’ve peeled the hide.
No matter if it’s Angus or Hereford
Or black bally, it’s the same inside.
Even Charolais, Simmental, and Limousin
Look alike when butchered and fried.
So the only thing you can say for sure—
Despite the guarantee, expressed or implied—
About that steak sitting there on your plate
Is that the bovine that built it died.

© 2000, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

The Bottom Line 

The skin 'round his eyes
is furrowed and spongy
like an arena that's just been worked.
The hide on his neck
is sun dried and wrinkled
like buffalo meat that's been jerked.

His knees are knobby.
Ankles, lumpy and sharp.
His shin bones, corrugated and knurled.
Veins bubble the skin
up and down bowed legs,
and his toes are all mashed and curled.

The bones in his wrists
damn near poke through.
His elbows, well, they're sharper still.
His knuckles are bumpy
and coarse like that
thing that dangles from a gobbler's bill.

His ribs are as rough
as a back-country road.
His spine jagged as a mountain range.
The scars and welts
are so thick on his belly
it looks like a freeway interchange.

He's so bent and kinked
he's got all the angles
covered, from the obtuse to the acute;
he's as knotty and twisted
as a warped pine plank
from banging around a bucking chute.

You'd think his edges
would be milled off
from all the times he's hit the ground,
and he ought to be as smooth
as a sandpapered board
from getting hung up and drug around.

But the effects of rodeo
are seldom refining
for the goin'-down-the-road cowpoke.
More likely, he'll end up
twisted and torn. And,
besides busted, it'll leave him broke.

This cowboy, though,
he ain't got it so bad.
There are others who suffer more.
It's no easy life,
but how bad can it be—
hell, the kid just turned twenty-four.

© 2001, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

The July 20, 1999
Tranquility Base 
Stampede and Rodeo 

I guess I must have drifted off
As I sat there in my chair
Suffering in the summer's heat
And the television's glare.

On every single channel
Was the very same kind of show—
Documentaries about landing
On the moon, 30 years ago.

I suppose I wore myself plumb
Out punching that remote control,
Searching for some video relief
From that lunar rigmarole

'Cause the next thing I remember
I woke up and looked around
At strange, unfamiliar surroundings.
Then I heard a familiar sound:

Clem McSpadden's Cowboy Prayer!
A thousand times I've heard it prayed—
The one about grass that's stirrup-high
And entry fees that are paid—

So I knew I was at a rodeo
Though I'd never seen one to compare;
The cowboys were shinier than rodeo
Queens, with tubes running everywhere,

They wore wide-brimmed helmets,
Had spurs strapped to moon boots.
But before I could make any sense of it all,
There was action down at the chutes:

A gate flew open, a bronc jumped out
And the contest was underway—
It was rodeo time at zero G
Where different rules hold sway.

There were loop the loops
And back flips, spins and barrel rolls.
The pickup men rescued those who
Bucked off with giant fishing poles;

For they never came back down
You see, just floated around up there.
It sounds strange to us, but when someone
Got dumped, they said he "hit the air"!

The bulldoggers jumped off a running
Horse just like they do around here,
But without gravity they just sailed away;
Not a one could get down on his steer.

The ropers had nothing but problems—
Those events proved a big flop—
Their loops would start out straight and
True, slow down, and then, just stop.

I didn't get to see the toro twisting—
My wife woke me up too soon—
So to this very day I've wondered
If a bull could jump over the moon.

How high could he leap? How fast
could he spin? Silly questions, it seems.
But I'll bet I'd be Bull Riding Champ
of the Moon—if only in my dreams.

© 1999, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Womb to Tomb 
(for Marlowe)

Two hearts. One beats steady
And strong. The other races by.
Confinement presses knee
Against rib, back to thigh.

Sounds, muffled and distant,
Penetrate. Irresistible, the urge.
Pull. Squeeze. Slide. Every muscle
Tense, you nod and emerge;

Delivered into chaotic glare
Assaulted by motion and sound.
Bull bellows. Brain blows.
Body, unbound, seeks ground.

Face down in arena dirt
Consciousness goes astray
As flooding blood erodes neurons
And synapses wash away.

Tucked, now, into the coffin of
A body cold and unresponsive;
Rolling through years gathering
Dust as memories weave

Tapestries of rounders and rodeo,
Broncs and bulls—of life before
A hemorrhagic stroke of bad luck
Drew you out to ride no more.

© 1999, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Cowboy Coffee 

You can converse over cappuccino
Or sip espresso and latté
But when it comes to drinking coffee,
That just ain't the cowboy way.

Cowboys like it so black and strong
Just drinking it tests your might.
And thick enough that your spoon will float
Or after stirring, stand upright.

Brewing it ain't no big thing,
You don't need a percolator
Or one of them fancy drip machines
Or a grinder, mill, or grater.

Just boil some river water
And a big handful of grounds,
Both of which you add to
As the level in the pot goes down.

If you want some extra body
Throw in some used horseshoes,
And now and then to rich it up
Add a pinch of snoose.

That's how real cowboys like their coffee,
And they can't seem to get enough.
Maybe that's why I ain't much of a hand—
I never touch the stuff.

© 1997, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

"Cowboy Coffee" appears in the anthology Cowboys are Part Human



What Goes Cowboy Up 

"Cowboy up," says Marlowe,
"Don't give this horse an inch.
He'll swap ends and then suck back,"
he advises as he hooks my cinch.

"Cowboy up," says Shadow
as he pulls my latigo.
"Kick the hair off this old bronc
and you can win the go."

"Cowboy up," says Blizzard,
"You can ride Brownie to the bank
-if you can ride him at all," he grins
as he waits to yank the flank.

"Cowboy up," I tell myself
as I nod for Buster Brown.
He launches me in three and it's
cowboy up—and then it's cowboy down.

© 1999, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Wrung out grass sags
under the weight of a sun
that burns every blade.
Leaves hang limp and
wilted on the trees,
curling, seeking shade.

The skin of the earth
a sea of begging bowls,
cracked and curved toward
rain that doesn't fall;
vainly petitioning a
sky dry, and hard.

Trails buried in powder
thick and fine, the verge
between solid ground
and dust indistinct,
softening rattling hoofs,
dampening sound.

He lifts his lid to mop
a pale brow, a gesture made
futile by lack of sweat;
tears, too, gone dry
in fear that this is not
as bad as it's going to get.

© 2001, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Heart made of rawhide
Hardened in the fires of hell,
He sights down the barrel cold-eyed
And chambers another shell.

Desert breath dries mud
Puddled downhill from wounds
Weeping mustang blood
That darkens the dunes.

Lead lashes out, a mare bawls.
Her foal trembles, dying inside
As, gutshot, she staggers and falls,
Piling dust in muzzle slide.

Life leaks out. Death creeps in.
A soul grown cold and stiff.
When you earn the wages of sin
Payment is a matter of when, not if.

© 2000, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written 

This poem appeared previously in Roundup Magazine



I've wanted to be
a saddle serenader
ever since I was a boy;
to impress the heifers
from horseback, like
my heroes, Gene and Roy.

A saddlebag banjo
for my instrument. Or
maybe a gutstring guitar.
A fiddle tucked beneath
my chin. Or a mouthharp
under my handlebar.

I'd take any instrument
that was offered; any music
was, to me, joyful noise.
The important thing, to
me, was learning to play and
playing along with the boys.

Singalongs 'round  the
campfire; swapping songs
in the bunkhouse at night;
a cowboy band for
schoolhouse dances in
the glow of lantern light.

But it hasn't turned out
the way I hoped, this
musical dream of mine—
the notes went awry and
the tunes ran amok
somewhere along the line.

My music, alas, is
a solo pursuit. I play
unaccompanied and alone;
other players go away and
the audience disappears when
I arrive with my trombone.

I guess they think it
ain't Western enough, or
maybe a trombone lacks class.
But one thing's for sure:
No one wants to listen to
my loopy tube of brass.

It clears out coyotes
for miles around and
silences crickets and birds.
When I strike up a tune at
a singalong, singers claim
to forget the words.

The remuda gets flighty
and nervous every
time they hear me playing;
they pin back their ears
and act as if there's a
jackass somewhere braying.

When I serenade the cow
herd, they turn tail and
stampede 'cross the plain;
the trail boss says it's
because my trombone
sounds like a bovine in pain.

But once we hit town
at the end of the trail they'll
all sing a different tune—
because I aim to trade in
this old trombone for
a shiny new bassoon.

© 2002, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Morning Glory 

Stars punch holes in the dark and
the moon curls on the sky like
a hoof paring from a soft-footed horse
while razor-edged peaks stand
against the ribbon of dawn, a dike
holding the morning from its course.

Atop Long Ridge we squat
and sit and roll and spit. Lies hang
in the air, drifting like powder smoke
from round after round of bull shot.
Sparks glint when steel shoes clang
impatient against stone. Scrub oak

materializes deliberately out of the dim
and quakies on the ridges appear.
Stirrup fenders slap saddle seats,
latigos slide cinches taut. A final brim
tug and chap buckle snug and my rear
meets leather. A hesitant sun greets

the crew. Light crawls slow where
today's gather will take us, away
from Long Ridge and our dark climb.
I glory in our forty minutes there;
glad we arrived too early in the day
(or late at night) to get to work on time.

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

This poem appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of Range magazine. 



An Apology to Readers, Sort of, But More Like an Explanation or Maybe an Excuse

I don't like poems about writing poems
And the way a verse comes to be;
How I write and erase, rewrite and rephrase
Doesn't matter to anyone but me.

But lately I've gotten more sensitive
To stings from readers' complaints
About imperfect rhymes some of the time
And syntax that should be better, but ain't.

Or about metaphors whittled square
That don't fit into analogies round;
Or feet that bumble and meters that stumble
And stagger with an offbeat sound.

Writing poems, though, ain't as easy
As it looks from up there on the fence.
When you assemble words from an unruly herd
The results don't always make sense.

The alphabet, you see, is a rough string
That don't take kindly to being broke.
You corral 'em and then they run around your pen
Stirring up dust that'll blind and choke.

Wrangling words ain't no Sunday picnic
And I don't know what reader's expect --
With twenty-six letters all fighting their fetters
It stands to reason there'll be a few wrecks.

© 2004, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Rod Miller introduced this poem: 

...I suppose this one could be described as a Western historical. It was inspired by a line from Longfellow's "Evangeline." In that epic tale of the expulsion of the Acadians from Canada, he opined that the story of their southward emigration is told on the gravestones of those who died along the way. That idea stayed with me, and I used it to make this poem about the pioneers...who lost their lives on the westbound trails—but lie in unmarked graves, their history unwritten on "tablets of stone." 

"Written their history stands on tablets of stone in the churchyards."
    —from "Evangeline" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tabula Rasa 

Lost somewhere on the empty plains
Is a low spot that puddles when it rains,
Hinting at the location of my bones.
The only mark, the only impression,
I left on earth is this small depression
Out where the prairie wind moans.
    Out where the prairie wind moans.

Into my grave corruption followed,
Leaving a corpse empty and hollowed;
A cage of vacant bones wormed clean.
Dirt trickled down to fill the space,
Terra Firma subsided o'er my resting place
Out where the prairie winds keen.
    Out where the prairie winds keen.

All the way west in a broken line
Forgotten, sunken graves like mine
Are the only witness of our demise.
No rubbings, then, to reveal the tale
Of we who died on the pioneer trail
Out where the prairie wind cries.
    Out where the prairie wind cries.

Of granite tablets there are no traces;
No marble crosses mark the places
Of our rest by the westering trail.
No dates carved for death and birth,
Only a shallow in the silent earth
Out where the prairie winds wail.
    Out where the prairie winds wail.

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


Peace and Quiet

Insect chatter rides the gusts, birdsong floats the wane
Of wave on wave of sighing wind whispering o'er the plain;
Rustling brush and shivering grass caress and kiss the ear-
The peacefulness of cattle country is in the noise you hear.

Tight-bagged cows low gently, calling calves to sup.
Mourning doves sing concert with a whining coyote pup.
Then a buckaroo comes riding through, posing like a king,
But of the stillness 'round about hears not a bless-ed thing.

Silver rowels the size of pesos rattle in hoofbeat time;
Ringing jinglebobs sing along in harmony and rhyme.
Tiny bells on cinch hobble jangle in the dangle,
A chorus line of curb chains tinkles in the tangle.

The cricket in the high-port bit chirps rhythm with its roll;
Dinging watch fob swings along below vest buttonhole.
The royal jewels of the calling make music to his ear
And the buckaroo thinks as he clatters along,
                                             It sure is quiet out here!

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



A Good Hand With a Rope

I seen him do it a hundred times:
give lie to the idea that a cowboy
won't do no job
that can't be done horseback.

Many's the day he'd ride in
from his cow work, strip his saddle,
shoo his horse into the corral,
and untie his forty-foot hemp.

For a score and fourteen years
he'd cowboyed that country,
making a hand for any brand he wanted
then for good reason or none at all

draw his time and try other pastures
when it suited him.
He seemed content, then, alone in the
bunkhouse of our one-hired-hand outfit.

Those late days I'd finish up
the barnyard chores-splashing a pail
of water into the henhouse trough,
milking half the cow and giving the

hind tits to her penned-up calf and an
adopted dogie. He paid me attention
even though I's just a kid. Worse,
the boss's kid. Worse still, a girl.

He'd shake out a loop and snake a catch
on the gatepost and wrap the rope
around his hind end and sit on it till
it took a good bite. Then turn, turn, turn;

counting cadence with skiprope rhymes
dredged up from a childhood no one knew
while I jump jump jumped in whipped-up
dust as amber air faded gray.

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



Haiku for a Former Rounder

I was born to buck
But I have been broke to ride.
Done sold my saddle.

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


Rod comments:

“Haiku for a Former Rounder” initially came from reading a line in a novel by Montana writer James Welch, The Death of Jim Loney.

The character’s complaint about being tamed is an old saying that rings true with the experience of a lot of Western men—at least it’s what we like to believe. Few of us were as wild and wooly as we want to remember, and the truth is most of us were probably happy to be reined in by a woman, maturity, a latent sense of responsibility, whatever.

Adding the third cowboy cliché to the poem countered the boast and bluster of the first line and seemed to make the idea of being “broke” conclusive, while adding a sense of wistfulness, even a touch of sadness, to the acceptance.

Doing the poem as a haiku grew out of the natural rhythms of the first sentence, which was easily molded to fit the form. Phrasing the final thought was more of a challenge, both in terms of looking for the right word—and the form allowed only a single word; a single syllable, even—to set up (or finish) the line. I settled on “Done” as an introduction because it’s commonly used this way in rural Western and Southern vernacular, and seems to lend a conversational feel to the poem as well as giving subtle emphasis to the finality of it all.

The bizarre mixing of metaphors (switching from Rounder as horse to Rounder as has-been rider) struck me as adding contrast to the whimsical fantasy of the first sentence and the cold reality of the second. I also like that it adds a touch of disorder within the tight discipline of the form.

Haiku originated in Japan. The form consists of three lines of poetry, the first containing five syllables, the second seven syllables, the third five syllables. The trick is to manage to say anything at all over the course of seventeen syllables—let alone something meaningful or beautiful or thoughtful. I tried.


Heads or Tails
   For Marc Otte

  “It seems to me,” the old man says
  Whilst carving away on a stick,
  “That with all your years of schoolin’
  You’ve yet to learn a lick.”

I’m clinching nails on his old blue mare
In the heat of a midsummer’s day;
Three more mounts in line for footwear
—Shoein’s how I earn my pay.

The old feller spits and whittles
And passes judgment now and then
From his seat on an upturned bucket
In the skimpy shade of the hog pen.

“You’re a mite unsteady with that rasp,”
He says, “that shoe ain’t sittin’ quite flat.”
He did it better in his day, he says,
And without no diploma, at that.

“I never had much eddication,” he says,
“Shod horses ’cause it’s all I knew.”
Spits and whittles, says, “Watch that quick!”
And, “Don’t be shapin’ the hoof to the shoe!”

Then, “Looks to me like a feller like you,
What with college and the books he’s read,
Oughta be smart enough for a better job—
One where his butt ain’t higher’n his head.”

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




Devil of Devil Creek

Starshine leaks light on the dark of the night
      at the ranch on Devil Creek.
In the moon’s pale glow as it rises slow,
      shadows play hide and seek.
A sound out of sight gives me a fright—
         a scream, or maybe a shriek
on the wind’s cold blow o’er blanket of snow—
         as from under the covers I peek;
eyes open a mite, cracked ever-so-slight
         and blurred by tears that streak,
fearin’ ghouls from below, not wantin’ to know
         the cause of the floorboard creak.
Findin’ courage to fight (or resigned to my plight)
         determined to abandon meek, 
I sit up real slow, give the henskin a throw
         and roar—or, more likely, squeak.
That haint took flight, tryin’ to abandon the site,
         stealin’ away like a dirty sneak;
scramblin’ to and fro, wantin’ to get on the go
         before my pistol could speak.
I set powder alight and a bullet takes a bite
         of the wall near the target I seek,
and the more lead I throw at my spectral foe
         the more havoc on the cabin I wreak—
now the walls leak light in the dark of the night
         at the ranch on Devil Creek.
To this day I don’t know the source of my woe—
         the author of that opéra comique
it was black and white, and smelled downright
         bad—left behind a horrible reek
that hung heavy and low, set the air aglow,
         gave my nose a fit of pique;
that stench stayed a fortnight and lingered despite
         my scrubbin’ until I was weak.
Some say skunk. I say no! That varmint won’t show.
         There’s a devil here on Devil Creek!

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



Long May it Wave

The Star Spangled Banner inspires all manner
          Of feelings in folks when it plays—
Every bareback bronc veteran feels a rush of adrenaline
          Long after his rodeo days.

The Anthem’s first sound brings the Chute Boss around
          Yellin’ “Pull ’em down boys! Let’s rodeo!”
And you straddle the chute, ease down onto the brute,
          Grab your riggin’ and stretch latigo.

 Then the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air
          Grow distant; seem to fade into dim.
Rosin squeaks in your handhold. The horse shivers as if cold.
          And, for eight seconds, there’s just you and him.

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



I hear them in the evening winging northward—
          Their eager, maybe longing, kind of sound.
It reminds me that we’ll soon be done with calving;
          That branding time ain’t far from coming ’round.

And I think how fall works really ain’t that distant;
          Shipping calves under sundown pewter skies
Wherein arrowpointed flocks are winging southward,
          Trailing echoes of urgent, mournful cries.

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


Number 16

Shortly after the death of Elmer Kelton, Rod Miller mentioned how his poem, "Number 16," was inspired by one of Elmer Kelton's books. We asked him to share the poem.

Rod comments:

In Elmer Kelton’s classic novel The Day the Cowboys Quit is a passage in which character Hugh Hitchcock remembers when “Rascal McGinty and the Figure 4 rep [Dayton Brumley] went to their guns over ownership of a roan cow.” Kelton describes how Hitchcock remembered the way the sky looked, the grass, the flowers, Rascal McGinty, his horse, and the horse Dayton Brumley rode—right down to its lightning-shaped blaze and smooth gait. But he forgot what Dayton Brumley looked like. “After all that time,” Kelton wrote, “a man couldn’t be expected to remember details.”

I grinned at the irony in that passage, gave it a rodeo setting narrated by a fan, and wrote “Number 16.” When I asked permission to seek publication of my poem based on his idea, Elmer Kelton granted it, saying he was pleased I understood the passage for what it was—that not many people “got it.” He also said he liked the poem.  Here it is. (It appeared in the March 2004 issue of
Western Horseman.)

Number 16

It happened in nineteen and seventy-three,
the twenty-third day of June.
It was a Saturday night, under the lights
and a quarter of the waning moon.

Nary a cloud was in the sky,
the stars burned clear and bright,
sixty-nine degrees, a hint of a breeze;
for rodeo, a near-perfect night.

Pawing the bottom of chute number three
stood a horse, fifteen hands two,
the number 16 read on his hip clean,
burned in hair a rich, roan blue.

A white star winked on his forehead
through a forelock tangled and long;
a mane of black, a stripe down his back,
dark bottoms on legs thick and strong.

He rattled the slide gate with a solid kick
when the flank man hooked the strap
and kept up the fight as the rigging pulled tight,
relieving chute boards of pineknots and sap.

Finally the cowboy nodded his face
and the gate cracked open, then wide.
Off flew his hat as 16 whipped out flat
and took a run with a choppy stride.

He planted his forefeet and sucked it back
after covering fifty-three feet.
The cowboy’s nose advanced past his toes,
but he managed to keep his seat.

Then that big blue roan jumped straight up,
must have been nine feet in the air,
he bellered and roared, lifted off twice more;
liked to bucked off all his white hair.

Next he spun to the left four turns and a half,
got that cowboy away from his hand,
down in the well where he hung for a spell
while looking for a place to land.

16 trotted off with his head in the air,
nostrils flared and tail flying straight;
followed the course of a bay pickup horse
out back through the catch pen gate.

It was as fine a display of the bucking art
as this fan ever has seen;
I’ve watched hundreds pitch, the best of which
was that blue roan, number 16.

The cowboy’s name? I can’t recall.
Wish I could, but memory fails.
That rodeo, you know, was a long time ago.
You can’t expect me to remember details.

© 2004, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


A Bolt of Broomtails

Across alkali flat and sandhill,

Over the sage-covered plain

The mesteñada flows like fabric,

Dancing ahead of its dusty train.

              chestnut, claybank,
                  coyote dun,
               buckskin, black,
               blue roan, bay,
              piebald, palomino,
                  pinto, paint,
              grulla, ghost white,
                  dapple gray

Rippling in the morning light

The hues shimmer and shift;

Mustangs run as colored threads

Through the warp and weft. 


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

We asked Rod to comment on the poem, and he replied:

“A Bolt of Broomtails” grew out of an imagined way of seeing a herd of wild horses running through a misty morning. Against the muted colors of the desert, the multi-hued horses weave an ever-shifting design and the whole picture ripples like a colorful flag in a breeze. The poem uses fabric as a metaphor for the scene. The “bolt” in the title can be interpreted as both a bolt of the fabric and the fast-running mustangs, the horses flow like fabric, the dust they raise follows like a train on a wedding dress, and so on, concluding with the horses as metaphoric threads weaving fabric on a loom. The colors of the horses in the middle stanza are chosen more for the beauty of their sounds than their reality. Some are redundant, some not realistic for mustangs, but they sound good. The poem may not do justice to what I think is a pretty picture.

"A Bolt of Broomtails" is included in the 2010 anthology, New Poets of the American West, published by Many Voices Press at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, Montana.


Goodnight Goes Riding

He rides and he rides
Across so plain an expanse
That an anthill is an eminence
And a buffalo wallow a landmark.
And he rides.

Shortgrass stems nod in
Insistent wind, waving
Through more miles than he sees
As he nods in the saddle
As he rides.

As he rides,
The saddle stops rocking
And his eyes open to see
A maw in the Llano
Fall away from the forefeet
Of the horse he rides.

Raven wings silently
Slice the sky below.
Juniper green gashes
Its way down the canyons to
Sip at Prairie Dog Town Fork.
And he rides.

He rides a game trail
Off the caprock,
Wends past hoodoos of
Eroded Permian
Imagining longhorns
Grazing under shaded
Mesas and mesquite.

Plants a ridgepole over a
Badger hole, nails up a door
And calls Palo Duro home
For himself and
A hundred thousand cattle.

And he rides.
He rides.

© 2011, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Rod comments, "Since visiting the Llano Estacado and Palo Duro Canyon a few years ago, and being a fan of Charlie Goodnight (thanks, in part, to Andy Wilkinson’s work) I have wanted to make a poem that entwined them all."

[Charlie Goodnight (1836 – 1929) was a legendary Texas cattle rancher. Poet and musician Andy Wilkinson, a distant Goodnight nephew, wrote the acclaimed Western opera, Charlie Goodnight: His Life in Poetry and Song, the one-act monologue, Charlie Goodnight's Last Night, and other works about Charlie Goodnight. Find more about Charlie Goodnight here.]

A Little Madness in the Spring

The sun, ready and rested after
a lazy winter down south,
clawing higher up the side of the sky,
working longer days. Eager mouths

sucking growth into the upper
pasture. Sated with life: playing,
bucking, chasing over grass
pouring out of the ground. Saying

nothing, we admire clean, soft
hides shimmering in fresh light.
They hold no memories of gore,
of a slimy passage in the night;

ours, alone, the remembering of
lantern glow, watching cows bring
forth yearly wages. Only knowing
smiles pass our lips after 23 Springs.

© 2011, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

od comments, "The title is from a short poem by Emily Dickinson, who writes, 'A little Madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for the King...' It reminded me of calving season, when all those new babies give cowpersons hope, despite everything. And a little hope now and then is good for you. But that hope, given the nature of "everything" that ranchers face, could be described as 'madness,' I suppose."


The Beauty of Mountains
 For DW Groethe

Out there, a man’s mile-long morning
shadow runs from the sunrise, rolling over
crease and crest and coulee, elongating
a semblance of the horseback drover

erect atop the prairie. Even at noonday,
when he couldn’t shade a single blade
of bluestem, the shadow rider blazons his way—
the only vertical entity round about to invade

the plain. Nothing, nothing else within eyeshot
to distract from, to detract from, to interfere with
the high pride of a mounted man on the long trot,
realizing his own reality of the cowboy myth.

But out here, canyons, cliffs, pinnacles, peaks
swallow man and mount whole. Out here, the sun-
rise is high up the sky so his shy shadow sneaks
out, slinks back, on a rough and rugged run

over slow terrain, never falling far from its source.
Landscape overshadows; reminds a rider of his place.
Out here, mountains render horseman and horse
an insignificant presence; accepted, solely, by grace.

© 2011, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Rod dedicates the poem to his friend, Montana ranch hand, poet and songwriter DW Groethe. It was inspired by a conversation on a visit to Montana. Rod comments, "...the subject of scenery came up and he said he didn't know why so many people like mountains. He didn't think they were a big deal, and preferred the plains. Badlands were his favorite. This poem doesn't deal with scenery as such, it's more about how landscape affects people."


Spring Works Sonnet

Scrub oak tangles on the slopes; only
spots and specks of sunshine sneak in
where the calf lies silent and lonely.
Breaking branches become a buckskin 

horse with limb-fending cowboy aboard.
Whistles and shouts, instinct and insecurity
bring the calf to its feet, drive it toward
the branding fire, burning hair and blistery

hide. Bawling calves mother up, sucking
away the taste of smoke. Sated, they drift
from dusty chaos with the drive, bucking
and running upslope to oak leaves that sift

golden shadows from low sun at end of day
as the dun horse carries the cowboy away.

© 2013, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Rod comments: One morning I read a poem, “Resignation” by J.D. McClatchy, that opens with an epigraph by the great writer Willa Cather: “I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.” For some reason that set me to thinking about the oak brush, or scrub oak, that’s common in my part of the country, and my thoughts wandered to a calf hidden away in that tangled mess in late spring by its mama. And about what a pain it is to gather cattle out of there. And about the “resignation” the oak, the calf, and the cowboy might feel about the whole situation. To borrow the cliché, “it is what it is.”

Somehow, the poem all started there with no further idea or plan for form or conclusion or anything else, and just kind of grew on its own. A few times along the way I thought it was about to end as a brief little image or series of images, but it kept going until it resolved itself with a calf’s way of seeming to forget, almost immediately, the trauma of the branding pen then getting on with life. More “resignation,” I suppose.

Toward the end, I realized the poem was taking on, more or less, the form of a Shakespearean sonnet. While it has the requisite rhyme scheme and number of lines, “Spring Works Sonnet” is not written in iambic pentameter so is not a true sonnet. But, bearing some resemblance, I finished it up according to that pattern and called it a sonnet anyway.



Song of the Stampede

On the far horizon, clouds pulse with lightning glow;
     Rolling thunder knots the night guard all up tight.
The cattle on their bellies chew cud and moan and low,
     But, in a flash, could rise in fear and flight.

Song seems insufficient, but he croons his repertoire
     Hoping against hope the melodies calm the storm.
The sky grows thick and heavy, twinkling nary a star,
     And grass leans into wind, gusty and warm.

Cocinero has a feeling, so the pots and pans get stowed
     And he rousts out the flunky, rolled in bed.
They wrestle with the wagon sheets to cover up the load
     As the wind tears clouds to tatters overhead.

The remuda paws and snorts; the nighthawk herds ’em close
     While night horse saddle cinches pull up snug.
The air is fairly crackling and the rain scent fills your nose
     Then boots fill empty stirrups like a plug.

With one eye on the cattle and the other to’ard the camp
     The night guard hopes that help is coming soon.
Lightning flashes close, steams and sizzles through the damp.
     Thunder swallows all that’s left of his last tune.

Before the rumble fades away thunder of another kind
     Trembles the earth as cattle break and run.
Saddle horses race the torrent for any hoofhold they can find
     For if you stumble in the dark you are done.

Sun rises, come the morning, in a sky empty and blue.
     Scattered cattle graze as if there’s nothing wrong.
Horses, heads hung low, carry the weary cowboy crew
     Nodding off to the meadowlark’s daybreak song.

© 2013, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Haiku for Autumn

Autumn is a season of astounding beauty—sights like frost-covered fencelines sparkling in the sun and colorful leaves glowing. But, it's also a temporary time of year, when the earth goes to the grave for winter, awaiting rebirth in the spring. So, separation and loss share the season with splendor. These poems try to address that-the fleeting beauty of frost-covered barbwire and fall colors, the ritual of the deer hunt to harvest meat for winter, the losses of weaning time, and putting horses out to pasture for the winter.

Haiku for Autumn

Frosted barbwire shines
in celestial light, but
the Lord giveth and...

Maple leaves flame out
in cold sun; drift down, down, down
in despair and death.

Blood drips below bowed
branch, antlers scratch epitaph
into deer camp duff.

Fat calves bawl, milk gone
in dustcloud of cows shipped to
where memory dies.

Sleek hides turn shaggy,
worn shoes clank onto rust pile.
Tails hoard cockleburs.

© 2013, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.




Haiku for Old Cowboys

Hathead. Wrinklyeyed.
Bootsoles coated with cowsh-t.
A cowboy, by god.

Long as I can lift
a leg over the cantle
I’ll sit a saddle.

Of late I’d as soon
stretch my latigos around
one long in the tooth.

From these bleacher seats
I can damn near taste bucking
chutes I once straddled.

Worn trophy buckle
bought with six-second dally
and half a finger.

Ratchety knees on
Knurled shinbones. Knobby knuckles.
Soft shoes. Saddle sold.

It don’t pain me much.
And that sonofabitch colt
turned out pretty good.

Staring at the sh-t
smeared south end of a cow sure
beats this easy chair.

© 2015, Rod Miller
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Read Rod Miller's essays listed above


Mule Whisperer in our Art Spur project


Stopping By Woods, in the 2006 Christmas Art Spur


Year 2002 Diet Resolution, posted with other Countdown to 2002 New Year poems.



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