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Home Red River Refrain

This is a poem I wrote in answer to the old ballad, River River Valley.

When you told her you were leaving the valley
She said she would miss your sweet smile
But when you left, you took her heart with you.
Do you think of her, once in awhile?

Now you’re riding the herd before sunrise
Cold biscuits and reheated dregs
Working the flank and swallowing dust
and prayin’ your bets have been hedged.

And by the time the day ends in shadow
You’re sweating and stiff and near gone,
So tired there’s no taste in the beans Cookie’s made
and you sleep in the clothes you have on.

When the herd’s settled down to a millin',
And the early crew’s longin’ for sleep,
Then a heavy hand falls on your shoulder.
Nighthawk, it’s your watch to keep.

All alone with the starlight and music
of the guitar that old Charlie plays,
Do your thoughts wander back to Red River
and the maiden who begged you to stay?

When you sat by her side, ere you left her
you weren't eager to bid her adieu.
Do you remember that Red River Valley
or that girl who waits there for you?>br>
When the silence of night wraps around you
in those witching hours three until dawn,
does the empty and lonely surround you
cold and chill, like a lost lover’s arms?

Do you think of her then and remember
gentle hands, loving eyes, shinning hair?
And do you open the clasp of your watch case
to touch the soft chestnut curl nestled there?

You have chosen the path you now follow,
your way made bright by the bridges you’ve burned.
But a part of your heart’s stayed behind you,
in the arms of a love that you’ve spurned.

Did you ever return to Red River
To that girl who was sure you'd come home?
Or did you live out your life in a saddle,
on a trail headed west, all alone.

©Jo Lynne Kirkwood (and traditional verses...)

He Could Have Done More

He could have done more with himself, they all said
Stead of just livin’ his life on a horse
If he’d opted for something ‘sides the old family place
Things could have been different, of course.

Ed, Garn’s old banker, remembered him well
From back when they’d both been in school.
And he’d based some decisions he’d made on the fact
That he knew Garn weren’t nobody’s fool.

But he could have done more with himself, Ed would add,
Maybe politics, moved up some in church.
And others who knew Garn would nod and agree
Above the tied and starched tops of their shirts.

But Garn never paid much attention
To those fellers from over in town.
They were mostly just jealous, the way that he figured,
So he didn’t let their words get him down.

‘Sides, he had one good suit. He wore it to funerals
when one of his pards passed away.
That were happening more often this past year or two,
Been old Sandy just the other day.
Him and Sandy, they’d had ‘em some good times,
Garn smiled, and paused to reflect
On the Autumns they’d spent up around Kildee Fork
Doin’ work some folks don’t respect.

And Red had gone on last year just ‘fore Christmas,
Shorty not long before him.
And Duffy’d be next to sign on from that crew
From what they said ‘bout the shape he was in.

There’d been many a laugh, at the expense of each other,
Tall tales that were some based in truth
Yarns about derringdo, devil-wild horses
And women they’d known in their youth.

Course there’d been years when the winters were bitter
And they’d lost more calves than they’d gained
Summers so hot that the grass turned to dust,
And times had been desperate and strained.

But that Spring when they’d moved ‘em up early,
The grass had grown tall like soft baby hair
So green it looked painted, like waves on an ocean
Lush as a carpet, and plenty to spare.

Sometimes that got to him, thinkin’ about
All the times, good and bad, that had been
Soon there wouldn’t be no one to talk with about
The ways they had known way back when.

Sure, he could have done more with his life
No telling what, were he give enough time
There were plenty of canyons he’d left unexplored
And mountains he’d not seen behind.

But the sound of rivers running matched the rhythm of his blood
And the currents of the wind across the land
And the sway of branches creaking was the sound of his heart beating
When he listened through the heat of desert sand.

When he walked out in the darkness and a million stars were falling
Like a slow revolving wheel of spinning light
Then the soft sounds fell around him like the sound of voices calling
Him to join the celebration of the night.

But mostly it would be from the back of a horse
With fellers who felt as he did.
And no one would say much as they moved through the chores
And the days of the life that they lived.

©Jo Lynne Kirkwood – February, 2002