5/8/11

the Baptism of Sam McGee

(apologies to Robert Service)


There are strange things tellt in the Bible Belt
By the men who're spoilt by God; 

There are Mission tales that will make you pale
with events so rare and odd. 

The Southern Pines have seen queer signs,
But the queerest they ever did see 

Was that night on the marge of Lake LeBarge
when they baptized Sam McGee.

Now Sam was paid by Legal Aid, in pursuit of a cause so fine;
to separate the church from the state below the Mason-Dixon line.
The thing he sought was rational thought, and it drove him like a spell
Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he felt like he lived in hell.”

On a Christmas Day we were working away over a state funded creche;
evangelical laws, the establishment clause, we couldn't get them to mesh.
Should we close our eyes, the creationist lies were the only thing we would see.
It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

Way late in the night as the florescent light gave him a pall like a stranger,
protesters outside, from which we couldn't hide, were singing Away in a Manger,
He turned to me, and “Boss,” says he, “This will kill me, I'd guess;
if that comes true, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.”

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he said and he looked so relieved:
“It's not for me, but the progeny of a sinner who never believed.
“They'll cast out and shun both my daughter and son, whom I wish not to suffer such pains.
So I want you to swear, foul or fair, to have them baptize my mortal remains.”

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
And we carried on till the break of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.
We borrowed a sleigh from the Santa display, and asked for a doctor to see;
But they prayed instead, and soon he was dead; just a corpse was Sam McGee.

They were all tribal, that land of the Bible, and I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it’s up to you to baptize these last remains.”

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
So I loaded his stiff on a flat bottomed skiff, and set off on a watery road.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, I watched the gators round in a ring,
covet my prize with their reptile eyes—O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I sailed, though the rudder failed and the grub was getting low;
The swamps were bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.



Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a chapel there did see;
There was no one about, but I gave a shout and was met by the clan McGee.
I told them my tale, and they went a bit pale, but they took my rotting chum;
they washed him down, and gave him a gown to prepare him for bap-tis-m.

An old hulk they'd found that was lying aground, they used as a dunking pier,
but the river surged and the hulk submerged till it filled us all with fear.
The water roared and the rapids soared—such a current you seldom see;
but they opened the prow of the sinking scow, and they stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then they left him there, for they didn't care for dying to save his soul,
And the heavens scowled, and the coon dogs howled, and the wind began to blow.
It was sticky hot, but the cold sweat shot down my cheeks, and it chilled my blood;
As the muddy tide in its wild ride went streaking down the flood.

All through that day the torrent held sway while I wrestled with grisly fear;
And the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: “I’ll just take a peep inside.
He must be gone, I'll just look in on him”, the hatch I opened wide.


And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of a school of shad,
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “This isn't bad;
they're nibbling away but I have to say I'm feeling pretty swell;
the first peace I've felt in this Bible Belt; no one's threatening me with Hell.”


There are strange things tellt in the Bible Belt
By the men who're spoilt by God; 

There are Mission tales that will make you pale
with events so rare and odd. 

The Southern Pines have seen queer signs,
But the queerest they ever did see 

Was that night on the marge of Lake LeBarge
when they baptized Sam McGee.

3 comments:

margaritadelnorte said...

Robert Service would be proud of you.

uzza said...

I guess you know who I was thinking of in those first few verses.

Doug B said...

I love the original, but this rewrite is great!