Lubbock writer and poet Andy Wilkinson doesn’t sound like a cowboy poet on the phone, but once he gets on the subject, his knowledge is extensive. The balladry is as much in his heart as in his head. His style is more modern than fellow wranglers, but the message is still the same. “Proverb” is a forthright, daring characterization of his father, and illustrates Wilkinson’s attitude toward poetry. According to Wilkinson: “If it doesn’t scare you to put it on paper, it’s not worth the ink.”

My father drank as if it were a job
to shoulder-up, as any other work he did:
start early, stay late, see it through.

And always, always, he was hard at work
from can to can’t: his garden plotted plant
by plant to scale on velum slick and smooth
with drafting tools; his hat-crown sweated out,
blue denim jacket work-worn to the white;
crisp penciled numbers on green ledger sheets
in books that balanced each and every cent;
the mail addressed by hand in ball-point strokes
as straight and neat as every furrow plowed
in every muddy bottom of his dreams
of three-bale-to-the-acre dryland farms.

Andy Wilkinson
Andy Wilkinson

His work was his religion. So he prayed
his vespers every evening over branch and bourbon—
not much branch, no, not much branch—
until the evening slurred into the night
and all the pencil lines and furrows blurred
his callouses into the angry words:
a job worth doing is worth doing right.

Copyright © December 7, 1998. Reprinted with permission from the author.