Saturday, January 25, 2014

Just for Fun: A Poem About an Anomalous Hindu


     The only material inheritance I received from my father after his death was a beat-up old briefcase and a cardboard box, both stuffed full of old steno pads and typing paper—my father's writings, which was all I had asked for. In addition to two full-length books (tales of Alaska and an "occult" autobiography) there was a heap of poetry. Some of it, in my opinion, isn't good enough for publication, but some of it is really enjoyable. One of his poems, in slightly modified form, has already been published on this blog as "Some Stone Age Spiritual Poetry," posted 10 August '13. 
     One slight difficulty with my father's style is that it is "rustic," that is, he didn't care much about fine details with regard to form, and thus his rhyme and meter are often very irregular. My co-author status comes from my attempts to improve some of the rhyme and meter as well as I can without changing the meaning or the tone. In the following document, which I really like for some strange reason, I was unable to smooth things out to perfectly regular verse. I did my best. It's still good though. Like the earlier sample of my father's poetry, its theme is much influenced by Dad's past exploits as a gold prospector and big game hunter in the wilds of Alaska long ago.
     Special thanks to Conor (he knows who he is) for helping me to iron out a few of the irregularities.


The Hindu Ghost of the Arctic Coast
     by John R. Reynolds and Paññobhāsa Bhikkhu

          Some folks swear on their mother's grave,
               Some folks swear on the Book,
          But the solemnest oath of all was sworn
               On the pot of a Hindu cook.

          The North pulls like a magnet when
               The price of gold's sky-high;
          On foot men sped, by boat and sled,
               With gold lust in their eyes:

          Soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor,
               Ex-lawman and thief,
          Lawyer, baker, casket maker, 
               Long-haired Indian chief.

          Few are the men who move alone
               Through the land of the silvertip:
          Its teeth are long and sharp and strong
               With mighty claws that rip.
          Each man packed gear lashed on his back,
               A pistol on his hip.

          The Arctic trails are dangerous,
               The Arctic winters cold,
          And there ain't no fine restaurants
               On the banks of the Nordenskjold.

          Good chow is took for granted now
               By folks as stays at home,
          But a sumptuous feed is rare indeed
               In anyplace north of Nome.

          One man stood out from the motley crew— 
               All miners must be fed,
          So this man carried all his gear 
               In a cook-pot on his head.

          He came from a land where the lotus blooms,
               Where palms sway by the sea,
          Where pagan idols gaze with peace   
               Unknown to you and me.

          This fellow never packed a gun,
               No tobacco did he smoke,
          And redeye hootch he never drank,
               And never a cussword spoke.

          You'd think this man would not fit in
               Where Arctic lobos howl;
          But the things he could do with a ptarmigan stew
               Would make all stomachs growl.

          With a pinch of this and a dab of that
              He could make a stump taste nice;
          And he could dress up caribou
               With only beans and rice.

          Well, men they come, and men they go
               In this God-forsaken land,
          But one thing's sure: Our little Bin Shur
               Was always in demand.

          When the gold runs out in a mining camp,
               When the colors are near gone,
          It's time to shoulder up one's gear;
               It's time to mosey on— 

          To look for a stream where the gold-specks gleam
               And sparkle in your pan,
          Where pacts are sealed with a spoken word
               And a firm shake of the hand.

          There was Deep Hole Dan, and Stan the Man,
               And Bim with the Marble Eye,
          And Cyrus the Gook, and the Hindu Cook
               Attending to the fire:

          He was making stew for the mining crew
               Where the cooking pot was sittin',
          And the smell from that steaming pot would make
               A wolverine purr like a kitten.

          "The time has come," said Stan the Man, 
               "To divvy up our gold
          And go to town and take a bath
               And sleep out of the cold."

          "Not me," said Dan, "The summer's young—
               I want to make a stake;
          I'll try behind the Sawtooth Range
               Where gold's mined with a rake!"

          Cyrus the Gook puffed on his pipe:
               "I think I'll go with Dan,
          But to cross that pass through the Sawtooth Range
               We'll need us every man."

          "I'm not so sure," said little Bin Shur,
               "I am a simple man;
          I do not like this frozen place
               And yearn for my native land
          Where it's always warm, and the palm tree grows,
               And children play on the sand.

          "I want to bathe in the Sacred Stream
               Where my ashes will go when I die,
          Or I'll never know the total peace
               Of a cloud in the sun-kissed sky.

          "You must swear me a solemn oath:
               If in this place I die
          My ashes you'll take to the great Ganges
               Where my ancestors' ashes lie.

          "And with my share you'll build a shrine
               Where the holy river runs,
          And shade it about with tamarind trees
               Where pilgrims can rest from the sun."

          That night when the pot was emptied out
               And the supper chores were done,
          They gathered around that empty pot
               Still lit by the midnight sun.

          Each put his hand upon the pot,
               And solemn oaths they swore
          That his ashes would go to India
               When Bin Shur was no more.

          Then Bin Shur looked in each man's face
               And said, "Sometimes you lie;
          But if you break your oath to me
               If I should come to die,
          Each one of you will shrink an inch
               Each time you tell a lie.

          "It's a time-honored Hindu curse,
               And it will work, I swear;
          It worked in the land of my ancestors,
               And it will work up here."

          So then spoke up the quiet one,
               The one with the marble eye,
          "Begad," he said, "We'll have to work
               Not to let this fellow die!"

          The trail that goes through the Sawtooth Range
               Was blazed by caribou;
          The men who dared to follow it
               Were far between and few— 

          Old-timers told of boiling springs
               And geysers that spray the sky,
          And Koozak, a mighty silvertip 
               Who always lurked nearby:

          Koozak with a crippled paw, 
               Who hated humans' guts— 
          And according to the sourdoughs
               Those few who dared were nuts.

          They argued far into the night
               Until old Deep Hole Dan
          Swore they'd be better off by far
               Without a dude like Stan.  

          "Go let him take his lousy share!
               Go let him be a chicken!
          He needs to soak his dimpled butt
               In bubble baths, I reckon.

          "Oh, we can get along just fine
               Without this chicken liver.
          Hell, if I'd known he needs a bath
               I'd have thrown him in the river!

          "But why pollute that pristine stream
               And make the fish all die?"— 
          At this Stan doubled up his fist
               And poked Dan in the eye.

          The Arctic brotherhood still tells
               Of this momentous fight,
          When Deep Hole Dan and Stan the Man
               Kept the camp awake all night;

          And how the thing that stopped the fight
               Was Bin Shur's steaming stew,
          How his delicious breakfast's smell 
               Becalmed them through and through.

          Then Stan the Man said "What the hell,
               I guess I'm coming too,
          So let's all shoulder up our gear
               And chase them caribou…"

          The Sawtooth Range loomed over them,
               The pass was wild and high;
          They also knew that grizzly bear
               Was likely somewhere nigh.

          The trail grew steep and narrowed down
               To just a single track;
          And from the top they gazed upon
               The Valley of Koozak— 

          A wondrous scene of waterfalls
               And meadows came to view;
          The fish were jumping in the lakes
               'Midst herds of caribou.

          Some timber promised firewood
               And a cabin snug and warm;
          Why, they could even winter here 
               With shelter from the storm.

          And there were several steaming springs
               To help ward off the cold;
          And in the many little creeks
               They saw the glint of gold.

          They'd found an Arctic paradise
               To call their very own,
          So they set out most diligent 
               To build themselves a home.

          They felled some trees and whip-sawed planks
               With lookouts for the bear;
          It was indeed a pleasant place— 
               With danger in the air.

          They built the cabin snug and warm
               With a stout stockade about
          To keep the warm and cheery in,
               And the cold and Koozak out.

          They made a sluice to work the gold;
               They stored up food and wood,
          Because when winter snows arrive
               The foraging's not good.

          Bin Shur dried berries, smoked some fish,
               And jerkied caribou
          Till he was sure they had enough
               To see the winter through.

          He had a little garden where
               He planted herbs and greens,
          Which he stored dry with tender care
               To flavor tea and beans.

          They stored their gold in leather sacks
               Just underneath the floor;
          They never seemed to get enough—
               They poured in more and more.

          Once Stan the Man and Deep Hole Dan
               Were working at the sluice;
          Cyrus the Gook and quiet Bim
               Were stalking Arctic goose;

          Bin Shur was tending to the fish
               Smoke-drying on the rack…
          When they heard roars that chilled their blood:
               The silvertip Koozak.

          'Twas Koozak with the blazing eyes,
               With claws that rend and tear;
          He smashed the Hindu's smoking rack— 
               Fish scattered everywhere.

          Bin Shur just shook a bony finger
               Right in Koozak's face:
          "You want some fish, you naughty bear?
               You're messing up the place!"

          And then he waved his kitchen broom,
               "Shoo-shoo! You go away!
          Come back when I have time to spare— 
               We'll play some other day."

          This Koozak, who could fell a moose
               With one swipe of his paw,
          Looked at this skinny little man 
               With looks of quiet awe.

          He scratched the bear behind the ear,
               Then patted Koozak's head;
          "You come back here tomorrow, then,
               And we'll play nice," he said.

          "Well I will be horn-swaggled! Look!"
               ('Twas Stan the Man who spoke)
          "He's had us fools all buffaloed!
               The critter's just a joke!"

          Then hitching up his pants a bit
               And with a regal sneer
          He swaggered up behind Koozak
               And kicked him in the rear.

          The funeral was beautiful—
               The eulogy by Dan;
          A plank behind the cabin read
               "Here Layeth Stan the Man."

          The days were getting shorter,
               And the nights were getting cold;
          The leather sacks beneath the floor
               Were bulging full of gold;

          The caribou had left the place;
               The geese and ducks were gone;
          And four men in the cabin faced
               A winter six months long.

          In summer in the Arctic North
               There's daylight all the time,
          But in the cold, dark winter months
               The sun won't ever shine.

          Old Koozak slept within his den,
               Beneath the ice, the beaver,
          But they within the cabin's walls
               Were getting cabin fever.

          Cyrus the Gook and the Hindu cook
               And Bim with the Marble Eye
          Blamed Deep Hole Dan that Stan the Man
               So suddenly came to die.

          "You should have grabbed and held him, Dan— 
               Why, dimwits anywhere
          Know better than to let a pal
               Go kick a grizzly bear!"

          They argued long and very loud
               And far into the night;
          It was too much for the Hindu cook
               To separate the fight.

          He wrapped a blanket round himself
               And headed out the door:
          "I go and live with Koozak now,
               I won't live here no more."

          "You can't survive outside, you nut!
               It's fifty-five below!"
          But Bin just drew himself up proud
               And simply said, "I go."

          He did not make it very far:
               They found him there next day,
          Frozen hard as a hooker's heart
               (As Arctic miners say).

          Now a promise made to a trusted friend
               Is a debt that must be paid;
          And an oath that's sworn to a trusted friend
               Is more than a promise made.

          So they built a roaring funeral pyre
               And put his small corpse on it;
          In India that's how it's done,
               And that's the way he'd want it.

          In the Arctic you must get things done
               In any way you can;
          And the best they could do for a funeral urn
               Was a baking powder can.

          "I think," said Bim, "we should honor him
               With some sort of a service;
          Around dead folks that don't get one
               I get a little nervous."

          "You got it right," said Deep Hole Dan,
               "A few choice words will do:
          I'm gonna miss that little guy,
               Especially his stew."
          To which old Cyrus cleared his throat
               And stammering, said, "Me too."

          Then both of them, with heads still bowed,
               Turned facing one another;
          With hand on heart they ended with,
               "Amen. Now what's for supper?"

          When snowbound in a little shack
               With no TV or phone,
          No newspaper or magazines,
               Just four men all alone,

          You start to hate each other's guts,
               And all that frozen land;
          You've got no books or radio,
               Just a baking powder can…

          They'd look at it, then look away— 
               Then swear that it had moved
          From one place to another on
               That shelf above the stove.

          And sometimes when they'd shake the can
               They'd hear a sighing sound;
          "Come spring," said Dan, "I'll take that can
               And plant it in the ground.

          "'Twas good enough for Stan the Man;
               Bin Shur can make it do.
          I don't believe no Hindu curse—
               Does it make sense to you?"

          He spoke thus to Cyrus the Gook
               And Bim with the Marble Eye
          Who vigorously shook their heads:
               "Old Bin Shur wouldn't lie.

          "You gave your word to a comrade, Dan,
               You swore it on the pot;
          You're six-foot-six and can afford
               To shrink—us guys cannot.

          "We're rich as kings, and come the spring
               We'll honor the little guy.
          He ought to know the perfect peace 
               Of a cloud in a sun-kissed sky."

          Now Deep Hole Dan glared down his nose
               At the timid little men;
          "We promised him the Ganges, true,
               But did not promise when.

          "When comes the spring the ice will break;
               It's time for mining gold—
          Maybe next winter we could go 
               Escape the blooming cold.

          "We'll build that dammit little shrine
               Where folks rest from the sun,
          But it won't be in summertime
               When mining's to be done.

          "Next spring we'll go back into town
               And buy the latest gear;
          We'll be a blooming syndicate 
               When we pull out of here.

          "Next year when we hit India
               We'll do it up big time:
          We'll buy old Bin a whole dang town,
               Not just some stupid shrine.

          "The Ganges, I swear, will still be there,
               And kids still in the sand;
          Till then old Bin's serene enough 
               In that baking powder can.

          "So what if he sighs a little bit;
               So what if he sighs a lot!
          It's one of you that moves that can,
               More likelier than not.

          "Come springtime and the ground is thawed,
               We'll plant him next to Stan;
          In time we'll dig him up again;
               I'm sure he'll understand."

          But Bim and Cyrus weren't so sure;
               It's writ in the Holy Book,
          "Beware the wrath of a quiet man"— 
               The little Hindu cook.

          Then Cyrus twisted his mustache
               And said, "I think we oughter
          Just leave him where he is right now,
               Till he goes in the water."

          "He's right," said Bim, "We swore an oath,
               And we must keep our vow;
          Until we go to India
               He'll stay where he is now."

          "You got me way outnumbered, so
               I guess you win," said Dan.
          (A deep, resounding sigh came from
               The baking powder can.)

          It was the longest winter they
               Had ever seen before;
          And now the baking powder can 
               Was sighing more and more;

          Sometimes the can would jiggle
               As it sat there on the shelf;
          Dan said, "It's acting like old Bin
               Is all beside himself."

          Bim said, "I got the jitterbugs,
               I'm nervous as a cat."
          So Cyrus rose, approached the can,
               And hid it with his hat.
          "I don't know how," said Deep Hole Dan,
               "I'll take much more of that."

          But then Bim said, "That dancing hat
               Is worser than the can!"
          "We've got to figure out some way
               To stop it," muttered Dan.

          "We must relax and hang on tight— 
               The spring is almost here;
          When we can get out in the sun
               There's nothing left to fear...

          "But wait! The Ganges river flows
               Down right into the sea;
          Why, we could make this Ganges thing
               As easy as could be!

          "We'll dump those ashes in the creek:
               It'd smile up old Bin's face,
          'Cause that creek and the Ganges flow
               Into the same dang place!

          "I'll bet that's what old Binny wants— 
               His ashes in the sea!
          We've got ourselves a shortcut now;
               It's simple as can be!"

          The ptarmigan began to shed
               Their snow-white winter coats;
          And on the cliffsides they could see
               Spring-frisky mountain goats.

          Soon after came a welcome sound— 
               The grinding of the ice;
          And to the men inside that shack
               It sounded awful nice.

          Then came a little tremble, then
               A rumble, then a roar:
          And a zillion tons of Arctic ice
               Went rushing towards the shore.

          They waited for a sunny day
               ('Twas sure to please old Bin),
          Then solemn-like marched to the creek
               To duly scatter him.

          Dan took the top from off the can,
               Prepared to pour the ashes;
          But then a fiery, smoky air
               Came rushing out in flashes.

          Dan slapped the lid back on the can
               As quickly as he could;
          But screaming squalls came from the smoke
               That nearly chilled their blood;

          It swirled and danced around their heads,
               And then it billowed tall— 
          As high as all the mountaintops— 
               Then settled down real small;

          It yo-yo'd, swirled, and bounced some more,
               And when it finally sank
          A skinny, see-through Hindu cook
               Was standing on the bank. 

          It shook an angry, bony finger
               Right in Deep Hole's face,
          And in a voice like thunder roared,
               "You, Dan, are a disgrace!

          "You swore to me your solemn vow
               The ashes in that can
          You would take back to India,
               Back to my native land!

          "Now every time you lie you'll shrink— 
               That was my vow to you;
          There's just one way I'll lift my curse,
               And you know what to do:

          "Not till my humble ashes in 
               The holy Ganges rest
          Will you grow to full size again— 
               So pass the Ganges test!"

          The Hindu's eyes shot lightning bolts
               To match the thunder voice:
          "Now keep your vow or shrink away!
               It's you who make the choice!"

          Now, men who're standing face to face
               With ghosts in any land
          Will tend to beat a fast retreat
               And flee it if they can;

          Though Cyrus, Bim, and Deep Hole Dan
               Were braver men than most
          They took off running for the shack 
               Just like they'd seen a ghost.

          The entrance of the cabin's door
               Was not so very wide;
          They dang near stomped each other dead 
               Before they got inside.

          To add to their confusion now,
               And much to their surprise,
          Bim's pants were down around his feet,
               Dan's hat around his eyes;

          And Cyrus's boots had fallen off
               Just halfway up the path;
          Said Dan, "Boys, we are smitten by
               The little Hindu's wrath.

          "I ain't the smartest man alive,
               But this is what I think:
          We're victims of a Hindu curse,
               And we've begun to shrink!

          "That Sawtooth Pass will open soon,
               And we'll get out of here;
          When that can gets to India 
               We'll all be in the clear…

          "The can! The can—who's got the can?
               Don't say you left it there!
          You guys go out and fetch it fast
               While I stand guard in here."

          Then Cyrus shook a trembling hand,
               His finger in Dan's face:
          "No, you're the guy who dropped it, man, 
               You got us in this place!"

          'Twas then spoke Bim, the quiet one, 
               The one with a marble eye:
          "Shut up and let's go get that can,
               Or we are gonna die."

          "To think," said Dan, "He'd be like this!
               I loved him like a brother."
          They saw him flinch, and shrink an inch— 
               They stared at one another.

          Dan had to hold his trousers up,
               His hat around his eyes;
          "Oh boys," said Dan, "let's get that can;
               Can't take much more surprise.

          "And watch out for the things you speak;
               He hears each word we say.
          Thank God them caribou are due 
               Here almost any day.

          "We've got to go to India— 
               Back to his native land;
          And we have got to get there quick,
               So let's go get that can."

          They sidled out most cautious-like
               And went back down the path
          Until they reached the creek bank where
               They faced the Hindu's wrath.

          "I think," said Dan, "this was the place";
               The can was lying there."
          All day they searched, both high and low:
               It wasn't anywhere.

          They really searched, most diligent, 
               But all they ever found
          Was giant tracks from Koozak's paws
               Compressed into the ground.

          They knew that they were snookered now— 
               Knew what they had to do:
          Each day they'd look up toward the pass
               For herds of caribou;

          For that would mean the pass was clear,
               That they could get away;
          If they would only hurry up— 
               They shrank more every day.

          One day they sensed a rumbling sound,
               A trembling in the floor;
          And then they saw that caribou
               Were milling past the door.

          That night they lifted up the planks
               And divvied up the gold;
          They talked about the things they'd do
               When they had left the Cold;

          Bim said, "I'll go to India
               And build that little shrine;
          I gave Bin Shur my solemn word,
               And long for some sunshine.

          "Too bad about them ashes in 
               That baking powder can;
          If I can't fill my vow complete,
               I'll do the best I can."

          Then Cyrus said, "I'll rest awhile
               And bathe for Stan the Man,
          Then I'll become a Trappist monk
               And never speak again."

          Dan said, "You try to hedge your bets,
               You try to play it safe;
          My safety lies inside that can:
               It's somewhere round this place.

          "I'll find that can and keep my vow
               Or know the reason why!
          Until I do I'll try real hard
               To never tell no lie.

          "You guys are rich as Midas now,
               Your lives are yours to spend;
          But Deep Hole Dan's no quitter, see?
               I'll never cash it in;
          I'll play the hand that's dealt to me
               Right to the bitter end.

          "I'll come back to this valley, and
               I'll find that dammit can;
          I know it as I know for sure
               My name is Deep Hole Dan.

          "A metal detector's what I'll bring:
               I'll cover inch by inch;
          That way I'm sure to find the thing— 
               It's gonna be a cinch."

          This is the tale prospectors tell
               Of days of yesteryear— 
          Where brave men prowled the Arctic waste
               With no TV or beer— 

          About a little Arctic vale
               Where dwells a silvertip
          With giant teeth that rend and tear
               And mighty claws that rip,

          Where a Hindu ghost howls with the wind
               (A sound that brave men fear);
          He screams in the face of blizzards' rage
               And rides the grizzly bear;

          He plays with unabated glee
               A game called Hide the Can
          With a tiny, shrinking mountaineer, 
               A man called Deep Hole Dan,

          Who prowls the valley year by year
               Beneath a Hindu spell— 
          I can't vouch for the truth of it, 
               But it's what prospectors tell.

          Why does the Hindu hide that can?
               I often wonder why.
          Well, maybe shrinking Dan's more fun
               Than a cloud in a sun-kissed sky.



     




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