Elegant handwriting on paper.

The Last Request

"The Last Request"


the saddle was well worn,

a deep translucent brown on

a navy-blue blanket, with red trim,

it had been made for Billy Joe’s Palomino,

whose colouration was especially beautiful

on that sunny day with the back drop of heavy clouds

hanging over the Grand Tetons


Billy mounted in one single harmonious movement


Bella Coola was especially excited

because she sensed today, as they did once a year,

they’d be going into the back country,

they had been together for 10 ½ years


Bella’s name came from her father’s favourite fishing spot


She had been Billy’s 16th birthday present

now – they were best friends,

a match made in heaven, that day


tomorrow was his birthday and as a special treat

Billy and Bella were making a long weekend journey

to her father’s most special place in the world


their cabin was on a sharp bend on the Snake River,

a secret place far enough away from the hordes

where her father would always say,

           “a man could hear himself think,”

after a few years, he changed it to:

           “where a father and a daughter…”


the two of them had been going there for 15 years


everyone was worried for her - but she was confident;

she had had the best teacher

and at her side the Marlin 1894 lever-action

dad gave her when she started taking long rides alone,

it was light enough for her to handle,

with enough power to take down a grizz,

if the need arose


the words of her father always in her mind:

“put the stock firm against your cheek

and make sure the butt is firm against your shoulder,”

it had a good firm kick – it packed a punch,

the first time she shot it she landed on her butt

this had made her father laugh,

his wonderful gruff, affable laugh


Billy loved that laugh - she heard it so many times,

loved the laugh lines around his deep blue eyes,

loved his deep baritone voice


this journey was both special and somber

she had been given the responsibility of

taking him back to their special place

that place in the sun, in the wind, in the peace

that place where dreams came to life,

a place for dreams


she placed his ashes, with a daughter’s tenderness,

into her saddle bag, the one with the tie-down still in-tack


it would be their last ride together,

but she knew it would not be the last time

they would be together


she looked down at her mother’s

green eyes, puffy and red

a trail of tears carved into her weathered face


“I’ll be back in a few days, don’t worry,

dad wanted me to do this – it was his last request”


with that she tightened the straps on her father’s old

cowboy hat, like the one James Stewart wore in Winchester ‘73,

stains and scrapes all in the right places


turning Bella towards the river valley

was her signal - they flew with the wind

like an arrow flying true

until they were out of sight


then easing into a nice steady pace

they followed the trail her father had shown her

all those years ago


Billy’s tears had turned to determination a few days back,

in that sterile hospital room,

her father said to her privately, because he knew she would understand:

“all is good in the world, I had a good life

and, it’s okay I leave; it’s my time,”

the spirit of those few words helped to ease her sorrow


the sun was beginning to set when she crested a high rocky rise

from there she could see their special place, and


in a way that only she knew -

tomorrow was going to be a happy birth day

Personal note on the poem: this poem came out of a request by a dear friend to do her a poem for her birthday. She just wanted me to write something in a western genre and for some unknown reason this whole story came to me. I have been to this place described in the poem and it is an absolutely stunning part of the world. If this poem doesn't tear at your heart - well it did mine as I wrote it. Hope you enjoyed it....

A headshot photo of Frederick R McDonald; older indigenous man smiling and wearing a camera around his neck.

About Fred

Frederick R McDonald is an international, award-winning artist - a painter, poet and photographer - and a member of the Fort McKay First Nation. Fred was born in Fort McMurray and raised in the bush along the Athabasca River, brought up in the traditional hunting and trapping lifestyle of his parents.

Although he has travelled far and wide, Fred’s heart is still with his community and he continues to be an active member of the Fort McKay band. He keeps himself grounded through his family; his children and his grandchildren are his inspiration for everything he does and they are ultimately his greatest creation.

In addition to his mastery of painting, Fred is an accomplished intellectual, with multiple degrees and awards to his name.

  • Bachelor's of Fine Art, University of Calgary
  • The Alberta Heritage Scholarship Fund, 2001 Edmonton, Alberta
  • Regional Aboriginal Recognition Award, Wood Buffalo
  • Global Public Voices Fellow, Cornell University
  • Masters of Fine Art, University of Calgary