"Bindlestiff" in Blish

Mark Mandel thnidu at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 13 02:02:58 UTC 2010

Correction: the Wobblies, not the Anarchists (they're in the next block, no
s---; the DuBois Club is across the street).

m a m

On Tue, Jan 12, 2010 at 3:59 PM, Mark Mandel <thnidu at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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.
> http://www.bartleby.com/273/78.html
> (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.
> Bindlestiff
> 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

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