Learning the Ropes

My Papaw Shaw’s dairy barn, Liberty, Mississippi,
1947. Determined to rope calves like Gene Autry,
I had no Champion under me to run them down
and to splatter cow piles with his hooves.

With no instructor in the art of roping, I tried to
remember the ease and grace of the celluloid
cowboys as the rope floated from their gloved
hands like a dove in flight, soaring through the
bright air, caressing the animal to a sudden stop.

“Why don’t you quit this?” Everyday from my mother.
“All you’re doing is collecting cow manure and
skinned places on your arms.” I shrugged. “I like it.”
She washed the jeans; I cleaned the boots,

I learned: forefinger controls the flight of the rope;
no more that three twirls before letting loose;
flick of the wrist and elbow, straight arm is strictly
for football. Nearly every time the loop found its mark.
Boot heels dug into the dark ground, knees bent, arms
and shoulders flexed; I taught them the sudden stop.

Grownups came to the old barn lot to watch me
Without being asked; stayed awhile. I never missed,
And then I missed. The loop hit the shoulders, sliding
down over the hindquarters, back legs kicking out.
No thought; before the rope hit the ground, I jerked
hard, pinning the legs together. Stunned calf, down
for the first time. After that I seldom threw for the neck.

That night in the feather bed, warm breeze
and powdery moonlight through the open
window, I thought long about my unexpected
gift in cowboy arts. Then closed my eyes
and drifted into the Old West.

Robert Funderburk was born by coal oil lamplight in a tin-roofed farmhouse near Liberty, MS. He is an LSU graduate, SSgt USAFR (1965-1971) and a retired parole officer, living in Olive Branch, LA with his wife, Barbara, on 50 acres of wilderness bordered by a non-polluted river. Robert has had 17 novels published; one national best seller. Penwood Review has published two of his poems.