Weatherford ranch manager Larry McWhorter sees his poem “Gate Session” as an ode to the cowboy code—a set of rules that he believes is dying out. “You didn’t ride in front of a man. It was just considered impolite,” McWhorter says. “It used to be that people respected that, but it’s getting to be less and less respect for those little personal regards that we had for each other.” “Gate Session” gets to the heart of the cowboy way of life and how the poets try to pass those values down to future generations.
The sun had given up the quest
Of meltin’ off the snow
And crawled off in defeat behind a hill.
He took his shadows with him
When he finally had to go
And left the world locked in a grayish chill.
The frosty air grew bolder
Knowing it had won the day.
Its foe outlasted, it was free to roam
The twilight unimpeded
As two riders made their way
At a steady walk a half mile from home.
A cold and hungry angry boy
Had had enough of this.
He knew they’d get there quicker if they’d trot,
Or better yet, a lope, but, Dad,
Whose vote outnumbered his,
Suggested it was better that they not.
The lights of hearth and home shone bright
Yet never seemed to never near.
I never knew a horse could move so slow.
Each steaming breath bore curses,
But not loud where Dad could hear.
It wouldn’t hurt me what he didn’t know.
Consumed with cold and anger
And with fingers going numb,
I barely noticed we had reached the gate
Which led into the old Home trap,
Then Dad’s colt acted dumb
And added fifteen minutes to the wait.
I logged my millionth hour
Watching circle, spin and turn.
This ten year old was bored and getting vexed.
With Dad there’s one more lesson
One is always doomed to learn
And little did I know that I was next.
For when at last he opened up
The gate to let us through
I’d drifted off in a sort of trance.
Intent on getting in to Mom’s
Hot cornbread and beef stew
I headed home without a backward glance.
An icy voice cracked icy air
Which stopped both horse and heart.
The tone he used was the one I’d come to dread.
The dialogue which ensued
Was quiet on my part,
The mighty revolution now was dead.
I only thought that I’d been cold
Until his angry stare
Went through me like ice water through a sieve.
But flush of shame soon warmed me
As then made me aware
Of a law I’d broken by which cowboys live.
“Now, Boy, I know it’s cold out here,
But that’s the way things are
And we can’t always pick our circumstance.
I told you when you chose to come
That we’d be ridin’ far
And it’s too late to bow out of the dance.
“Discomfort doesn’t give a man
The right to leave a friend.
It’s when it’s tough is when you need to stick.
He needs to know that when you start
You’ll be there in the end.
That trust should be like mortar to a brick.
“You could have caused a wreck back there
By leaving me behind.
That’s durned poor manners in the cowboy clan.
This colt was trying to go with you
Which put me in a bind
Cause it’s hard to mount a pony that won’t stand.”
He stared and let his point sink home
Then turned and mounted up.
And then he said, “Let’s don’t do that again.
I hope your ma’s got coffee on
I sure could use a cup.”
The stars were shining bright when we got in.
Copyright © 2000. Reprinted from Cowboy Poetry with permission from the author.