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National Cowboy Poetry Week inspires this post’s theme: manure

April 22, 2011

April is National Poetry Month—lots of people know this. What fewer folks realize, though, is that the third week of April is also time to celebrate National Cowboy Poetry Week.

I’m a fan, and one of my favorite poems to recite at readings is Wallace McRae’s “Reincarnation” — a funny, one-sided conversation between cowpokes about what happens to cowboys when they die. You can find it, and hundreds of other poems, both entertaining and moving, at the comprehensive web site

I shoveled my share of horse shit in my day, and horse manure poems continue to fascinate me; one of the first poems I wrote, and my first web publication, was about this topic: “Ode to a Road Apple.” The web site?, of course.

Even some respected names in the poetry biz have written compellingly about crap—here’s a good one from Pulitzer Prize winner Maxine Kumin (a horse owner with plenty of experience cleaning stalls):

The Excrement Poem

by Maxine Kumin

It is done by us all, as God disposes, from
the least cast of worm to what must have been
in the case of the brontosaur, say, spoor
of considerable heft, something awesome.

We eat, we evacuate, survivors that we are.
I think these things each morning with shovel
and rake, drawing the risen brown buns
toward me, fresh from the horse oven, as it were,

or culling the alfalfa-green ones, expelled
in a state of ooze, through the sawdust bed
to take a serviceable form, as putty does,
so as to lift out entire from the stall.

And wheeling to it, storming up the slope,
I think of the angle of repose the manure
pile assumes, how sparrows come to pick
the redelivered grain, how inky-cap

coprinus mushrooms spring up in a downpour.
I think of what drops from us and must then
be moved to make way for the next and next.
However much we stain the world, spatter

it with our leavings, make stenches, defile
the great formal oceans with what leaks down,
trundling off today’s last barrowful,
I honor shit for saying: We go on.

Bringing this back around to the blog theme: wild Orange County.

Out on the trails, of course, is plenty of horse residue.But there’s also scat deposits from all kinds of wild critters, and animal trackers use scat as well as footprints to analyze animal passages.

In our local hills, one of the most common creators of these trail monuments is Coyote; one of the most common sources of trail fun is to try to figure out what he’s been eating by poking apart his scat and looking for fur and bones or seeds and berries.

On a creative writing hike last year, Dawn did just that, and wrote a bouncy prose poem as we paused to write along the trail near beautiful Red Rocks (the photo that’s behind the blog title was taken this day) along Santiago Creek.


by Dawn Bonker

Nature walk, heads down toward the trail, we see we are not the first here this morning. Fur in the scat – how primal is that? What would fourth graders say? Would their minds rewind to the moment the bunny bounced out for a bit of green snack, with little nibbler twitching its nose, thinking all was safe until – wham, whack, wallop – game over. The next thing you know you’re fur in the scat, just a brief stop on a nature walk.

Below is a photo that shows scat with seeds–probably from Coyote, an omnivore whose diet varies widely. And wildly.

Four poems about what passes . . . all with the subtext of our own mortality. . . on Easter weekend . . .

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