I took the clock down from the shelf;
“At eight,” said I, “I shoot myself.”
It lacked a MINUTE of the hour,
And as I waited all a-cower,
A skinful of black, boding pain,
Bits of my life came back again. . . .
“Mother, there’s nothing more to eat —
Why don’t you go out on the street?
Always you sit and cry and cry;
Here at my play I wonder why.
Mother, when you dress up at night,
Red are your cheeks, your eyes are bright;
Twining a ribband in your hair,
Kissing good-bye you go down-stair.
Then I’m as lonely as can be.
Oh, how I wish you were with me!
Yet when you go out on the street,
Mother, there’s always lots to eat. . . .”
For days the igloo has been dark;
But now the rag wick sends a spark
That glitters in the icy air,
And wakes frost sapphires everywhere;
Bright, bitter flames, that adder-like
Dart here and there, yet fear to strike
The gruesome gloom wherein THEY lie,
My comrades, oh, so keen to die!
And I, the last — well, here I wait
The clock to strike the hour of eight. . . .
“Boy, it is bitter to be hurled
Nameless and naked on the world;
Frozen by night and starved by day,
Curses and kicks and clouts your pay.
But you must fight! Boy, look on me!
Anarch of all earth-misery;
Beggar and tramp and shameless sot;
Emblem of ill, in rags that rot.
Would you be foul and base as I?
Oh, it is better far to die!
Swear to me now you’ll fight and fight,
Boy, or I’ll kill you here to-night. . . .”
Curse this silence soft and black!
Sting, little light, the shadows back!
Dance, little flame, with freakish glee!
Twinkle with brilliant mockery!
Glitter on ice-robed roof and floor!
Jewel the bear-skin of the door!
Gleam in my beard, illume my breath,
Blanch the clock face that times my death!
But do not pierce that murk so deep,
Where in their sleeping-bags they sleep!
But do not linger where they lie,
They who had all the luck to die! . . .
“There is nothing more to say;
Let us part and go our way.
Since it seems we can’t agree,
I will go across the sea.
Proud of heart and strong am I;
Not for woman will I sigh;
Hold my head up gay and glad:
You can find another lad. . . .”
Above the igloo piteous flies
Our frayed flag to the frozen skies.
Oh, would you know how earth can be
A hell — go north of Eighty-three!
Go, scan the snows day after day,
And hope for help, and pray and pray;
Have seal-hide and sea-lice to eat;
Melt water with your body’s heat;
Sleep all the fell, black winter through
Beside the dear, dead men you knew.
(The walrus blubber flares and gleams —
O God! how long a minute seems!) . . .