To polish his or her skills, a novice poet can put an original twist on the rhyme, rhythm, and story line of a great poet’s famous work.  For this narrative poem, the inspiration is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Skeleton in Armour” .    





Neil Harding McAlister



( With a tip of the Stetson to Mr. Henry Wadsworth Longfeller )



Speak! speak, you ghostly guest,

Who, like a cowpoke dressed,

In chaps and leather vest

Comes here to bug me!

In this nice restaurant

Six-guns and spurs you flaunt!

Why pick on me to haunt?

They must have drugged me!


My head was feeling queer

After too many beer.

I would have run in fear –

But was unable.

Slouching to where I sat,

He hung up his lariat,

Pushed back his Stetson hat,

And slumped at my table.


Then from those limpid eyes

Red streaks there seemed to rise

Like when the stormy skies

Flash in Montana.

But, when the phantom spoke,

All he could do was croak.

He cleared his dusty throat

And loosed his bandana.


“I wuz an old cowhand.

I had adventures grand!

But no Zane Grey in this land

E’er told my story.

Though I wuz schooled a mite,

Maybe I ain’t too bright:

I never larned to write.

You do it for me.


“Call yonder waitress near!

Order us two more beer!

You’re gonna set and hear

‘Bout my days of glory.

You do just like I said,

Or like me, you’ll be dead

‘Cuz I’ll fill ya full of lead.

Then you’ll be sorry!


“When I wuz young and wild

I loved a rancher’s child.

Purdy wuz she, and mild –

A jewel among wimmin.

Gettin’ hitched wuz my goal:

I’d loved Sal, heart and soul,

Since down by the fishin’ hole

I spied her swimmin’.


“We loved each other true.

Her Pa, Jake Pedigrue,

Said, ‘No, this just won’t do.

Hit the trail now, boy!

I own a big, ol’ spread

With a few thousand head.

No gal of mine will wed

A no-account cowboy!’


“Though her Pa had been cruel

My sweetheart weren’t no fool.

She couldn’t larn in school

What I could teach her!

When Jake was not around,

With her Ma’s weddin’ gown

We high-tailed into town

To visit the preacher.


“We spent our honeymoon

In the most fancy room

Up above Nell’s Saloon.

Sal wuz a honey!

Went to it with a will,

Then ate and drank our fill,

Fixin’ to pay the bill

With her Pa’s money.


“Early the followin’ day

Knockin’ disturbed our stay,

Promptin’ my bride to say,

‘What’s the commotion?’

We could have slept a spell,

But it wuz the owner, Nell,

With some bad news to tell,

I had a notion.


“ ‘Hate to disturb you dears,

But Sally’s Daddy’s here.

He’s mighty riled, I fear.

Better skedaddle!’

Jake caught us unprepared.

Grabbin’ our underwear

We run down the back stair

And hit the saddle.


“Over the hills did ride

Me and my blushin’ bride.

We traveled far and wide

Tryin’ to outrun him.

Down by a shallow draw

Then Sally’s ornery Pa

With twenty men we saw.

I couldn’t outgun ‘em.


“There stood that varmint Jake,

Mean as a rattlesnake.

My knees begun to shake –

I wuz a goner.

Pity to die that way,

But I turned to Sal to say

I still would bless the day

I clapped eyes on her.


“Sal cried, ‘I chose this man!

See this here weddin’ band?

Love placed it on my hand;

Death won't remove it.

Pa, spare my husband’s life!

Save me a widder’s strife.

I am his lovin’ wife,

And this ring proves it!’


“Jake stood and scowled a while,

Then gave a little smile.

‘Boy, I don’t like yer style –

I oughta plug ya!

But, from what I just saw,

You’re my true son-in-law;

And that makes me yer Pa.

Guess I should hug ya.


“ ‘Fact is, I’ve got a mind

Havin’ a son is fine.

I’ve worked hard in my time,

But I ain’t crazy.

Don’t aim to labor ‘til

I'm up on ol’ Boot Hill,

Listenin’ to whippoorwills

And pushin’ up daisies.


“ ‘If’n a son I’d sired

I would have long retired.

I'm old and uninspired

Ranchin’ alone now.

I love my daughter dear --

But she can’t rope a steer.

Now you’re my son, ya hear?

You kids, come home now!’


“Picked up my droppin’  jaw,

Shook hands with my new Pa,

Grateful that on the draw

I wuz not quicker.

Some sez that in the West

Blood kin is always best.

It seemed that in this test

Water wuz thicker.


“We rode back into town.

Smiles had replaced our frowns.

This cowboy settled down,

And we wuz happy.

Soon, if you follow me,

As it wuz meant to be,

Twigs on our family tree

Called Jake ‘Grand Pappy.’


“Reckon my yarn is done.

Can’t spin another one:

Yon comes the risin’ sun.

I got to mosey.

You’ve been a nervy host,

Seein’ as I'm a ghost!

Let me propose a toast

To finish yer poesy.


“Pardner, as you can see,

With love and charity

Even an enemy

Might be befriended.

‘We’ll choke on spite,’ said Pa,

‘If it sticks in our craw.’

Here’s to the West!  Yee-haw!”

-- Thus the tale ended.   




©  2003, Neil Harding McAlister  

Sedona, Arizona