"Bindlestiff" in Blish

Mark Mandel thnidu at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 12 20:59:39 UTC 2010

I've known of this poem for many years. When the Anarchists opened a
bookstore called Bindlestiff in my neighborhood, I brought them the poem and
citation. They were pleased. Evidently they don't think of a bindlestiff as
a thief, nor did the poet.

(The rhyming quatrains -- Bindlestiff's voice -- are indented and italicized
on the website.)

William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. (1878–1962).  Anthology of Magazine Verse
for 1920.  1920.

Edwin Ford Piper

Oh, the lives of men, lives of men,
  In pattern-molds be run;
But there’s you, and me, and Bindlestiff—
  And remember Mary’s Son.

At dawn the hedges and the wheel-ruts ran            5
Into a brightening sky. The grass bent low
With shimmering dew, and many a late wild rose
Unrolled the petals from its odorous heart
While birds held tuneful gossip. Suddenly,
Each bubbling trill and whistle hid away            10
As from a hawk; the fragrant silence heard
Only the loving stir of little leaves;
Then a man’s baritone broke roughly in:

I’ve gnawed my crust of mouldy bread,
  Skimmed my mulligan stew;            15
Laid beneath the barren hedge—
  Sleety night-winds blew.

Slanting rain chills my bones,
  Sun bakes my skin;
Rocky road for my limping feet,            20
  Door where I can’t go in.

Above the hedgerow floated filmy smoke
>From the hidden singer’s fire. Once more the voice:

I used to burn the mules with the whip
  When I worked on the grading gang;            25
But the boss was a crook, and he docked my pay—
  Some day that boss will hang.

I used to live in a six by nine,
  Try to save my dough—
It’s a bellful of the chaff of life,            30
  Feet that up and go.

The mesh of leafy branches rustled loud,
Into the road slid Bindlestiff. You’ve seen
The like of the traveller: gaunt humanity
In stained and broken coat, with untrimmed hedge            35
Of rusty beard and curling sunburnt hair;
His hat, once white, a dull uncertain cone;
His leathery hands and cheeks, his bright blue eyes
That always see new faces and strange dogs;
His mouth that laughs at life and at himself.            40

Sometimes they shut you up in jail—
  Dark, and a filthy cell;
I hope the fellows built them jails
  Find ’em down in hell.

But up above, you can sleep outdoors—            45
  Feed you like a king;
You never have to saw no wood,
  Only job is sing.

The tones came mellower, as unevenly
The tramp limped off trailing the hobo song:            50

Good-bye, farewell to Omaha,
  K. C., and Denver, too;
Put my foot on the flying freight,
  Going to ride her through.

Bindlestiff topped a hillock, against the sky            55
Showed stick and bundle with his extra shoes
Jauntily dangling. Bird to bird once more
Made low sweet answer; in the wild rose cups
The bee found yellow meal; all softly moved
The white and purple morning-glory bells            60
As on the gently rustling hedgetop leaves
The sun’s face rested. Bindlestiff was gone.

Oh, the lives of men, lives of men,
  In pattern-molds be run;
But there’s you, and me, and Bindlestiff—            65
  And remember Mary’s Son.

  Poetry, A Magazine of Verse

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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