My Cousin, the Cowboy Poet
Without a P.A. system, it was difficult to hear anything while sitting behind the podium, and so, as the cowboy poet R. P. Smith waited for his turn at the mike, arms akimbo and boots on the ground, he thought about the keynote address he’d endured the previous morning. The environmental historian Dan Flores had spoken about the market forces that drove white settlers to obliterate the bison and other big grazers in the Great Plains, the opulent safaris that reduced thundering herds to sun-bleached bones, and about the importance of rekindling that “American Serengeti” of old. Smith would have liked to argue a few points with the man, but he knew that the lexicon of the ranch didn’t always fare well against footnotes and Ph.D.s. He couldn’t quite articulate it, even to himself, but he believed there was something to be said for the industry that supplanted the herds of buffalo and pronghorn, something to be said for the here and now.
He was thinking of the bones he knew best when the host called his name and waved him forward. Smith is short and thin and moves quickly, directly, as if hitting invisible stage marks. His jeans were tight and stiff as cardboard; his boots were scuffed and his belt buckle shone, with the floodlight throwing a crisp shadow on the Western mural behind him. The room was at capacity, roughly two hundred people, with every seat filled and overflow skirting the walls for the 11:30 a.m. show at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, in Elko, Nevada.