Sidi J. Mahtrow

Bumming Pipe - Poem by Sidi J. Mahtrow

Around the courthouse
Before the heat of day
The benches were filled with
Those with nothing else to do
Mingling with those other few
That had business
Or at least gave pretenses.

A new arrival moved
From group to group
As it was the custom
To inquire if they had news,
From the superintendent of the schools,
Or about the 'Boss'
And his many wives.
Or who was in jail
Protesting innocence and other lies.
Maybe about a new play
In the oil field,
And if it would pay.
Or just to visit and pass the day.

There on the steps,
An excited ring of peers
Surrounded two combatants,
Arms waving
And words flying.
Would they mix it up?
Or depend on justice
To settle their dispute?

Then approached one
Whom it was said
Was well read
On Torts and
Other things.
'How do you do',
And with a tip of hat,
The Judge involved himself.
And that was that.

Seems one's cow had trespassed
Into the other's field
And did more damage
Than should be allowed.

Now it must be noted that
The one most agitated
Was often in the position of one
That hadn't been violated.
This burly one was known
To have many transgressions
Of his own.

When the Judge appeared,
Both simmered down
Hoping to enlist assistance
from this one known about town.

As if intending
To hear them out,
He paused and considered.
What was it all about?
It seemed necessary
To not be hasty,
And filling his pipe
Seemed a necessity.

It was known that
the burly one prided himself
With having the choicest
Tobacco from the shelf
So a request was kindly made
Would he provide
'Just a pinch to start the day.'

Others knew that
If the shoe was
On the other foot
The surly one would have
Asked as much.

Now the judge was known to
Smoke a corn-cob pipe,
One that he favored
Morning, noon and night
As one of nature's pleasures.
That particular pipe
Of which we write
Could hold not more
Than a thimble full
Of Vulcan tinder.

How else could
This one but reply
In offering his pouch,
'Sure. Help yourself'
And he must have had
The thought in mind
That a 'judgement' might
Be made in kind.

Then from deep
In the Judge's pocket
Came a pipe that he had
Never seen before.
Some describe it
More like a cup
That on a saucer
Should sit,
Capable of holding a
Fistful of toasted, aged
Virginia's best.

The pouch was tipped and
The flaked tobacco
Began to flow,
Then more upright,
The pouch was held
To add more fragrant
To the bowl.
Of a sudden,
The pouch was empty.
But the bowl
Remained unfilled.

Not to be discouraged
By this problem of late,
The Judge tamped down
The sweet and spicy shreds
Of aged burley.
And eyed the contents
Of the bowl.

'Much obliged, ' said he to
The beefy gent,
And returned the pouch
To the owner with a smile.
Then taking a match
From who knows where
Struck a blaze to
This awesome pipe.
And took a deep draught
Of the smouldering leaf,
Then exhaled the smoke
In total satisfaction.

The flustered one stared
In amazed confusion,
Then it occurred that
He had been subject
To an illusion.
The Judge had ruled
Against his case
And imposed a penalty
To his face.

Red crept up from
His bulging neck
But before he spoke or acted
Had occasion to look about.
The gathered crowd
Was beginning to grin,
The joke was clearly
On him.

'Your Welcome, ' came
From between clenched teeth
And the loser gave a smile
That must have hurt.
He kicked a nearby clod of dirt.
Then retired to lick his wounds
And consider his empty pouch.

Some in Athens say the pipe
Is a symbol of justice.
Where the scales
Can't be tipped
By a 'bit' of tobacco.

And the Judge went inside
to see a man about a dog.

The Bumming Pipe is based on a remembrance by J. L. Wortham. As a boy, he went to town with his father, which always included a visit to the Henderson County, Texas courthouse. His father was well known as 'The Judge; 'one well read in law, although he was neither a judge or lawyer.

Comments about Bumming Pipe by Sidi J. Mahtrow

  • (10/23/2005 11:34:00 AM)

    As soon as I realized this story was about men lounging in the park square in front of a small town courthouse, my interest was aroused. It was pretty much sustained through the entire story, though I think you could smooth out the flow a little, here and there. (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Sunday, October 23, 2005

Poem Edited: Saturday, May 29, 2010

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