Complete Poetical Works


(Alkali Station)

Bret Harte

CICELY says you’re a poet; maybe,—I ain’t much on rhyme:
I reckon you’d give me a hundred, and beat me every time.
Poetry!—that’s the way some chaps puts up an idee,
But I takes mine “straight without sugar,” and that’s what’s the matter with me.

Poetry!—just look round you,—alkali, rock, and sage;
Sage-brush, rock, and alkali; ain’t it a pretty page!
Sun in the east at mornin’, sun in the west at night,
And the shadow of this ’yer station the on’y thing moves in sight.

Poetry!—Well now—Polly! Polly, run to your mam;
Run right away, my pooty! By-by! Ain’t she a lamb?
Poetry!—that reminds me o’ suthin’ right in that suit:
Jest shet that door thar, will yer?—for Cicely’s ears is cute.

Ye noticed Polly,—the baby? A month afore she was born,
Cicely—my old woman—was moody-like and forlorn;
Out of her head and crazy, and talked of flowers and trees;
Family man yourself, sir? Well, you know what a woman be’s.

Narvous she was, and restless,—said that she “couldn’t stay.”
Stay!—and the nearest woman seventeen miles away.
But I fixed it up with the doctor, and he said he would be on hand,
And I kinder stuck by the shanty, and fenced in that bit o’ land.

One night,—the tenth of October,—I woke with a chill and a fright,
For the door it was standing open, and Cicely warn’t in sight,
But a note was pinned on the blanket, which it said that she “couldn’t stay,”
But had gone to visit her neighbor,—seventeen miles away!

When and how she stampeded, I didn’t wait for to see,
For out in the road, next minit, I started as wild as she;
Running first this way and that way, like a hound that is off the scent,
For there warn’t no track in the darkness to tell me the way she went.

I’ve had some mighty mean moments afore I kem to this spot,—
Lost on the Plains in ’50, drownded almost and shot;
But out on this alkali desert, a-hunting a crazy wife,
Was ra’ly as on-satis-factory as anything in my life.

“Cicely! Cicely! Cicely!” I called, and I held my breath,
And “Cicely!” came from the canyon,—and all was as still as death.
And “Cicely! Cicely! Cicely!” came from the rocks below,
And jest but a whisper of “Cicely!” down from them peaks of snow.

I ain’t what you call religious,—but I jest looked up to the sky,
And—this ’yer’s to what I’m coming, and maybe ye think I lie:
But up away to the east’ard, yaller and big and far,
I saw of a suddent rising the singlerist kind of star.

Big and yaller and dancing, it seemed to beckon to me:
Yaller and big and dancing, such as you never see:
Big and yaller and dancing,—I never saw such a star,
And I thought of them sharps in the Bible, and I went for it then and thar.

Over the brush and bowlders I stumbled and pushed ahead,
Keeping the star afore me, I went wherever it led.
It might hev been for an hour, when suddent and peart and nigh,
Out of the yearth afore me thar riz up a baby’s cry.

Listen! thar’s the same music; but her lungs they are stronger now
Than the day I packed her and her mother,—I’m derned if I jest know how.
But the doctor kem the next minit, and the joke o’ the whole thing is
That Cis never knew what happened from that very night to this!

But Cicely says you’re a poet, and maybe you might, some day,
Jest sling her a rhyme ’bout a baby that was born in a curious way,
And see what she says; and, old fellow, when you speak of the star, don’t tell
As how ’twas the doctor’s lantern,—for maybe ’twon’t sound so well.

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