Ambrose Bierce (24 June 1842 - 26 December 1913 / Horse Cave Creek, Ohio)
A Bad Night
VILLIAM _a Sen_
NEEDLESON _a Sidniduc_
SMILER _a Scheister_
KI-YI _a Trader_
GRIMGHAST _a Spader_
SARALTHIA _a Love-lorn Nymph_
NELLIBRAC _a Sweetun_
A BODY; A GHOST; AN UNMENTIONABLE THING; SKULLS;
_Scene_-a Cemetery in San Francisco.
_Saralthia, Nellibrac, Grimghast._
The red half-moon is dipping to the west,
And the cold fog invades the sleeping land.
Lo! how the grinning skulls in the level light
Litter the place! Methinks that every skull
Is a most lifelike portrait of my Sen,
Drawn by the hand of Death; each fleshless pate,
Cursed with a ghastly grin to eyes unrubbed
With love's magnetic ointment, seems to mine
To smile an amiable smile like his
Whose amiable smile I-I alone
Am able to distinguish from his leer!
See how the gathering coyotes flit
Through the lit spaces, or with burning eyes
Star the black shadows with a steadfast gaze!
About my feet the poddy toads at play,
Bulbously comfortable, try to hop,
And tumble clumsily with all their warts;
While pranking lizards, sliding up and down
My limbs, as they were public roads, impart
A singularly interesting chill.
The circumstance and passion of the time,
The cast and manner of the place-the spirit
Of this confederate environment,
Command the rights we come to celebrate
Obedient to the Inspired Hag-
The seventh daughter of the seventh daughter,
Who rules all destinies from Minna street,
A dollar a destiny. Here at this grave,
Which for my purposes thou, Jack of Spades-
Corrupter than the thing that reeks below-
Hast opened secretly, we'll work the charm.
Now what's the hour?
_(Distant clock strikes thirteen_.)
Enough-hale forth the stiff!
_(Grimghast by means of a boat-hook stands the coffin on end
in the excavation; the lid crumbles, exposing the remains of a
Ha! Master Mouldybones, how fare you, sir?
Poorly, I thank your ladyship; I miss
Some certain fingers and an ear or two.
There's something, too, gone wrong with my inside,
And my periphery's not what it was.
How can we serve each other, you and I?
O what a personable man!
_(Blushes bashfully, drops her eyes and twists the corner of
A very proper and alluring male,
And quite superior to Lubin Rroyd,
Who has, however, this distinct advantage-
He is alive.
Missus, these yer remains
Was the boss singer back in '72,
And used to allers git invites to go
Down to Swellmont and sing at every feed.
In t'other Villiam's time, that was, afore
The gent that you've hooked onto bought the place.
THE BODY _(singing):_
Down among the sainted dead
Many years I lay;
Beetles occupied my head,
Moles explored my clay.
There we feasted day and night-
I and bug and beast;
They provided appetite
And I supplied the feast.
The raven is a dicky-bird,
The jackal is a daisy,
The wall-mouse is a worthy third,
A SPOOK _(singing):_
But mortals all are crazy.
CHORUS OF SKULLS:
O mortals all are crazy,
Their intellects are hazy;
In the growing moon they shake their shoon
And trip it in the mazy.
But when the moon is waning,
Their senses they're regaining:
They fall to prayer and from their hair
Remove the straws remaining.
That's right, Rogues Gallery, pray keep it up:
Your song recalls my Villiam's 'Auld Lang Syne,'
What time he came and (like an amorous bird
That struts before the female of its kind,
Warbling to cave her down the bank) piped high
His cracked falsetto out of reach. Enough-
Now let's to business. Nellibrac, sweet child,
St. Cloacina's future devotee,
The time is ripe and rotten-gut the grip!
_(Nellibrac brings forward a valise and takes from it five
articles of clothing, which, one by one, she lays upon the points
of a magic pentagram that has thoughtfully inscribed itself in
lines of light on the wet grass. The Body holds its late lamented
Fragrant socks, by Villiam's toes
Consecrated to the nose;
Shirt that shows the well worn track
Of the knuckles of his back,
Handkerchief with mottled stains,
Into which he blew his brains;
Collar crying out for soap-
Prophet of the future rope;
An unmentionable thing
It would sicken me to sing.
UNMENTIONABLE THING _(aside):_
What! _I_ unmentionable? Just you wait!
In all the family journals of the State
You'll sometime see that I'm described at length,
With supereditorial grace and strength.
Throw them in the open tomb
They will cause his love to bloom
With an amatory boom!
CHORUS OF INVISIBLE HOODOOS:
Hoodoo, hoodoo, voudou-vet
Villiam struggles in the net!
By the power and intent
Of the charm his strength is spent!
By the virtue in each rag
Blessed by the Inspired Hag
He will be a willing victim
Limp as if a donkey kicked him!
By this awful incantation
We decree his animation-
By the magic of our art
Warm the cockles of his heart,
Villiam, if alive or dead,
Thou Saralthia shalt wed!
_(They cast the garments into the grave and push over the
coffin. Grimghast fills up the hole. Hoodoos gradually become
apparent in a phosphorescent light about the grave, holding one
another's back-hair and dancing in a circle.)_
HOODOO SONG AND DANCE:
O we're the larrikin hoodoos!
The chirruping, lirruping hoodoos!
We mix things up that the Fates ordain,
Bring back the past and the present detain,
Postpone the future and sometimes tether
The three and drive them abreast together-
We rollicking, frolicking hoodoos!
To us all things are the same as none
And nothing is that is under the sun.
Seven's a dozen and never is then,
Whether is what and what is when,
A man is a tree and a cuckoo a cow
For gold galore and silver enow
To magical, mystical hoodoos!
What monstrous shadow darkens all the place,
Flung like a doom athwart-ha!-thou?
Portentous presence, art thou not the same
That stalks with aspect horrible among
Small youths and maidens, baring snaggy teeth,
Champing their tender limbs till crimson spume,
Flung from, thy lips in cursing God and man,
Incarnadines the land?
Thou dammid slut!
O what a pretty man!
Now who is next?
Of tramps and casuals this graveyard seems
Prolific to a fault!
_(Enter Needleson, exhaling, prophetically, an odor of decayed
eggs and, actually, one of unlaundried linen. He darts an
intense regard at an adjacent marble angel and places his open
hand behind his ear.)_
Sweet, sweet male!
I yearn to play at Copenhagen with him!
_(Blushes diligently and energetically.)_
CHORUS OF SKULLS:
Hoodoos, hoodoos, disappear-
Some dread deity draws near!
Smitten with a sense of doom,
The dead are cowering in the tomb,
Seas are calling, stars are falling
And appalling is the gloom!
Fragmentary flames are flung
Through the air the trees among!
Lo! each hill inclines its head-
Earth is bending 'neath his thread!
_(On the contrary, enter Villiam on a chip, navigating an
odor of mignonette. Saralthia springs forward to put him in
her pocket, but he is instantly retracted by an invisible string.
She falls headlong, breaking her heart. Reenter Villiam,
Needleson, Smyler. All gather about Saralthia, who loudly
laments her accident. The Spirit of Tar-and Feathers, rising
like a black smoke in their midst, executes a monstrous wink of
graphic and vivid significance, then contemplates them with an
obviously baptismal intention. The cross on Lone Mountain
takes fire, splendoring the Peninsula. Tableau. Curtain.)
Comments about this poem (A Bad Night by Ambrose Bierce )
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