Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

McDonald is well known as a western regionalist. Many of his poems are set in the hardscrabble country of the American West, and his lines are often rich with the details of ranch life. Thus the rodeo and cattle range setting here is a familiar one. Yet McDonald is also a poet of everyday life, and works focusing on family relationships form another significant portion of his canon. In this poem, the two mental regions come together as the cowboy ages, allowing the development of two themes: loving relationships and the apparently rapid passing of time.

The love that the speaker feels for his grandchildren is central to the poem. They are the prizes that have replaced the rewards of the rodeo ring. He and his wife hold them to their chests and only reluctantly let them go. The smallest actions of the children become heroic in their telling: “the toddler” took a fall but climbed back to the porch “giggling.” They learned to rope surprisingly quickly. The teenagers made “long-distance callsto boys.”

However, the love for the grandchildren is not the only love shown. In stanza 3 the point of view suddenly shifts to the first person plural—the voice becomes the original speaker along with his wife. The implication is that the love that is felt for the grandchildren is a love the couple share together, that it becomes a strand of their love for each other. In essence, they become one, in stark contrast to the speaker’s earlier...

(The entire section is 426 words.)