John Milton Hayes
The Whitest Man I Know - Poem by John Milton Hayes
HE’S acruisin’ in a pearler with a dirty nigger crew,
Abuyin’ pearls and copra for a stingy Spanish Jew,
And his face is tann’d like leather ’neath a blazin’ tropic Sun,
And he’s workin’ out a penance for the things he hasn’t done.
Round the Solomons he runs, tradin’ beads and castoff guns,
Buyin’ pearls from grinnin’ niggers, loadin copra by the ton;
And he’ll bargain and he’ll smile, but he’s thinkin’ all the while
Of the penance that he’s workin’ out for sins he hasn’t done.
We’d been round the Horn together, and I’d come to know his worth;
The greatest friend I’d ever had, the whitest man on earth.
He’d pull’d me out of many a scrape, he’d risk’d his life for me,
And side by side, for many a year, we’d rough’d it on the sea;
But a woman came between us; she was beautiful as Venus,
And she set her cap at him until she hook’d him unawares:
And I sailed off on my own
Leavin’ him and her alone:
Sign’d aboard a tramp for ’Frisco, leavin’ them in Bu’nos Ayres.
When I met him in a twelvemonth he was goin’ to the deuce,
For she’s blacken’d all the good in him, she’d play’d him fast and loose,
And she’d gone off with a Dago who was lettin’ dollars fly,
And she’d left my mate to drink his precious soul away and die.
Well, I talk’d and talk’d him over, and we sign’d aboard ‘The Rover.’
It was just like good old times, until we shor’d at Rio Bay;
Then the hand of Fate show’d plain brought us face to face again
With the woman, and the Dago who had taken her away.
We were sittin’in a cafe when the couple came along,
She simply smil’d and pass’d us by, then vanish’d in the throng.
My mate jump’d up to follow, but I wouldn’t let him stir,
And later on a waiter brought a note that came from her:
She pretended she regretted
What she’d done, and that she fretted
For the wrong that she had done him, and she wanted to atone;
There was so much to explain,
Would he meet her once again
After midnight, in her garden she would watch for him, alone.
’Course he went, but unbeknown to him I follow’d on behind.
I watch’d, and saw the shadows of two figures on the blind
The woman and the Dago and I heard the Dago shout,
They quarrell’d, and the woman scream’d and then a shot rang out.
My mate dash’d thro’ the curtain
And I follow’d, makin’certain
That my little gun was ready case I had to make a stand:
There I saw the Dago dead,
With a bullet thro’ his head,
And the woman standin’ near him with a shooter in her hand.
Before the Civil Guard came in my mate had snatch’d her gun,
And he ask’d them to arrest him for the thing he hadn’t done.
I tried madly to explain things, but they shook their heads at me,
And the woman let them take him, so that she might get off free.
In the court I sat and heard her
Tell them all he’d done the murder,
And I pray’d she might be stricken into some shape,
He was sentenc’d for his life
But out there corruption’s rife,
And I brib’d and brib’d, until at last I manag’d his escape.
Then I stow’d him on a hooker sailin’ far from woman’s wiles,
And he’s workin’ his salvation out amongst the South Sea Isles;
And the woman’s there at Rio, and she’s weavin’ of her spell,
With a crowd of fools awaitin’ her commands to burn in hell;
Whilst the whitest man I know
Runs a Christy minstrel show,
Buyin’pearls from dirty niggers ’neath a blazin tropic sun,
And he’ll cuss’em, and he’ll smile
But he’s thinkin’ all the while
Of the penance that he’s workin’out for things he hasn’t done.
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