Lonesome Bar

Original Text: 
Tom McInnes, Lonesome Bar: A Romance of the Lost and Other Poems (Montreal: Desbarats, 1909): 17-35. Internet Archive.
I.
1    Out of the North there rang a cry of Gold!
2    And all the spacious regions of the West,
4    Of Mexican Sièrras mark the old
5    Franciscan frontiers, caught the regal sound,
6    And echo'd and re-echo'd it, till round
7    The eager World the rumor of it roll'd:
9    Where stretch Canadian plains, forlorn and rude,
10Hard upon the iron-temper'd Arctic solitude.
II.
11    Then woke the vanguard of adventurers,
13    And measur'd hours of these exacting days;
14    They heard the call--the pirate call that stirs
15    To reach for easy gold in regions new;
16    That once from lazy Latin cities drew
18    And, later, many a buccaneering crew
19    To sail their curly ships across the foam
20And loot the Spanish galleons upon the run for home.
III.
22    The breed will not die out! The fatal stars
23    That sway the line of loose Irregulars
24    Forevermore 'gainst hazard circumstance,
26    A trail of splendid hopes and ghastly fears,
27    Where only now Aurora gleams askance
28    On the twinkling frosted bones of pioneers;
29    But it's oh! for savage lands alight with spoil--
30For ventures grim and treasure-trove on a stark, unheard-of soil!
IV.
31    And I went with the crowd who took the trail
36    The main rush reach'd the mines. 'Twas no more
37    To me than some new game of head-and-tail
38    To gamble on; but we drank deep, and swore,
39    Around uproarious camp-fires, that we'd find
V.
42    Tho' everywhere I saw the yellow glance
43    Of other's gold, I seem'd to stand no chance
44    Locating claims; the hot, mosquito-curst
45    And scurvy days went empty-handed by,
46    No matter what I'd do or where I'd try;
47    And every day in passing seem'd the worst,
48    Until the last day faded from the sky,
49    And the long, inexorable Night had come,--
50Inlocked with cold, and weird stars, and dumb as a corpse is dumb.
VI.
53    Say, that was the hardpan of experience!
54    Just earning enough to live, and make a play
55    On some infernal card that never won;
56    Or easy by some dance-hall beauty done
57    For all the dust I had--you know the way:
58    Snow-blind once, once frozen to the bone,
59    While mushing with the mails between the creeks;
60Then typhoid laid me on my back delirious for weeks.
VII.
61    The river-ice was breaking in the Spring
63    A haggard region hidden in the far
64    Blank reaches of the North past reckoning.
65    But the Sun was warm again, 'twas afternoon,
66    And I was lounging in the Log Saloon,
67    Ready to turn my hand to anything,
68    When in two strangers came with a tale that soon
69    Drew round the restless crowd, forever fond
VIII.
71    And well within an hour the rush began,
72    For the strangers spoke of fortunes in a day;
73    Careless show'd us nuggets that would weigh
74    A pound or more, and told how every man
75    At Lonesome Bar had sacks of them. Stampede!
76    Already the sleds are out, and the huskies lead,
77    Uneasy at their traces in the van,
78    And yelping 'gainst the time the packers need:
79    Stampede! Stampede! All hangs on the moment's haste,--
80And it's every man and dog for himself on the endless Arctic waste!
IX.
81    But the fever shook me still in every bone;
82    Times I'd feel my legs bend under me,
83    And every sinew loosen utterly;
84    And so I fell behind. Yet all alone
86    And every mile I made was to the good,
87    For the trail of those ahead in the bleak unknown
88    I'd savvy enough to keep. At last I stood
89    One day on a rocky bluff, outworn and weak,
90And saw beneath me Lonesome Bar, at the bend of Boulder Creek.
X.
91    Ah! well I mind the evening that I came!
92    The month was June, nigh ripen 'd to July,
93    And the hour was midnight, yet the Western sky
94    From the horizontal Sun was all aflame,
95    When with my empty pack I sauntered down
96    The one long tented street that made the town,
97    Hungry and sick--sick of a losing game,
98    And broke for the price of a whiskey-straight to drown
99    The ragged thoughts a-limping thro' my brain--
100Till I saw a crowd and went beside to hear what news again.
XI.
101    And there was a gaunt old ruffian, shaggy-brow'd,
102    Who on a barrel, as far as I could tell,
103    Ranted in drunken ecstasy of Hell!
104    They suited well his theme--that Klondike crowd:
105    Men dogg'd by shadows of despair and crime,
107    Miners, traders, villains unavow'd,
108    And nondescript of every race and clime;
110For they keep tab on everything clear down to the Arctic tide.
XII.
111    But Hell! What use had I for Hell that night?
112    And sullen I turn'd away, when I felt a whack
113    From a heavy open hand upon my back,
114    And, turning quick, my doubtful eyes caught sight
115    Of a college chum of mine--one Julien Roy--
116    Whom I'd not seen for years. Christ! 'twas joy
117    To see the face of him again, and, quite
118    In his old way, to hear him say, "Old boy!
119    You're down on your luck I see! Come on up town,
120Where we can talk and have something to eat, and something to wash it down!"
XIII.
121    'Twas like the sudden shining of the Sun!
122    The flowers forgotten of old fellowship
123    Went all abloom again,--there seem'd to slip
124    A weight of wasted years and deeds ill-done
125    Plumb down and out of my life, with chance to try
126    The upward trail again, where he and I
127    Could venture yet the highest to be won,
128    Could let the very thought of failure die,
129    And weave into our lives, from ravell'd ways,
130That cord of gold we talk'd about in the far-off college days.
XIV.
131    For Julien was a gentleman all through;
132    He stak'd me then, when I had not a cent,
133    Braced me up and shared with me his tent,
134    And help'd in every way a friend could do.
135    As to the fortune that is ours to-day,
136    I stumbled on it in the chancy way
137    That all things come to me; I cut in two
138    The likeliest claim I found, ask'd Jule to stay,
139    And work it with me, share and share alike,--
140And in a month at Lonesome Bar 'twas rank'd the richest strike.
XV.
141    One day I left him working on the claim,
142    I had to buy supplies down at the Bar,
143    When passing by the dance-hall Alcazar,
144    Topmost on its board I read a name,
145    "Beulah, the Singing Girl"! The lesser lights,
146    The Dogans, with Obesity in tights,
147    And the boneless Acrobat--same old game--
148    'Twas not for them I stay'd, nor clownish sights,
149    But I wanted to hear a song--a song to make
150The feel of younger days come back until my heart should ache.
XVI.
151    Something went wrong with me that night, I know;
152    And yet 'fore God I would not set it right
153    For all the North and all its gold in sight!
154    White she was all over, like the snow
155    That on the glacier in the moonlight lies,
157    Its quarry where the forest branches low;
158    But the luring of her deep-illumin'd eyes,
159    And voice voluptuous with all desire,
160And somewhat else beyond all that fair set my soul on fire.
XVII.
161    For Beulah sang a ballad to me then,
162    Of perilous tune, so put to velvet rime,
163    'Twas sure the kind that sirens in old time
164    Sang from the weedy rocks to sailor-men;
165    And all the while her eyes shone splendidly
166    At something far too fine for us to see;
167    But oh! at the ending of the ballad, when
168    Those eyes sank down to rest alone on me,
169    Full well for one such glance of hers I knew
170I'd tip my hat to her command for all that a man may do.
XVIII.
171    And so enamor'd on the instant grown,
172    I sprang to meet her when the song was done;
173    She met me wondrous kind; then one by one
174    The others drew aside, while we, alone,
175    Crush'd from the moments, in our eagerness,
176    A wine of many years, as one would press
177    Sudden the ripen'd grapes. Ah! we had known,
178    In some strange way that I'm too old to guess,
179    A dream of life between, I know not how,
180That link'd her alien soul to mine with a dream out-lasting vow!
XIX.
181    You know how goes the custom of the Camp;
182    How swift the wooing where the pace is set
183    To live all in the hour--and then forget!
184    The midnight moon shone pale, like an onyx lamp
185    Hung in the amber twilight of the sky,
186    When we went forth together, she and I,
188    Won high approval from the rascals dry
189    Who pledg'd us o'er and o'er, upon the chance
190To waste in regions barbarous that vintage of old France.
XX.
191    The first ones of the North still tell of it:
192    That was the night the Lucky Swede made bold
193    To bid for Beulah all her weight in gold;
194    And when, from mere caprice, my side she quit,
195    And challenged him to make the offer good,
196    With iron pans and a beam and a chunk of wood
197    A rough-and-ready balance soon was fit,
198    And the Swede brought up his gold where Beulah stood,
199    And 'gainst her weight upon the other scale
200He piled his buckskin-sacks, while I--saw red, but watch'd the sale.
XXI.
201    In all my life I never felt so broke;
202    But when the balance quiver'd evenly,
203    She threw a kiss to him--and came to me,
204    And my heart went all a-tremble as she spoke:
205    "Olè, you're a sport alright--for a Swede!
207    I only play'd to leave him for a joke;
208    Let's call it off--and the drinks on me! Agreed?"
209    Since then for me there's been no other girl--
210And all the boys shook hands on it, and things began to whirl.
XXII.
211    And it's something worth, even in memory,
212    To linger thro' those ample hours again.
213    It may not be the same with other men,
214    But clear on the topmost waves of revelry
215    The soul of me was lifted cool and clean,
216    Silent--to feel the surge of what had been:
217    Content--to weigh the evil yet to be:--
218    Then Beulah's arms closed warm and white between,
219    And I let go of all in her embrace,
220And for a time escaped from Time and the latitudes of Space.
XXIII.
221    And the last was a sense of sound--a tremulo,
222    So vagrant, sweet and low, 'twas like the thin,
223    Continual twinkling tune of a mandolin
224    To mellow-toned guitars in Mexico,
225    Where lovers pace the plaza by the sea;
226    Where the deep Pacific phosphorescently
227    Goes rolling smoothly 'neath the Moon, as tho'
228    The influence of her yellow witchery
229    Thro' all the sparkling waters off the Main
230Had sunken, sunken, drunken down like limitless champagne.
XXIV.
231    Slowly I woke. The last of the stars had fled:
232    Only beside me Beulah murmur 'd "Stay!"
233    And kiss'd me, sleepy-eyed. But early day
234    Chills all of that somehow; I turned instead,
235    Thinking to leave her dreaming, I confess;
236    Yet even in that gray light her loveliness,
237    And certain drowsy dulcet words she said,
238    Charm'd my heart to hers in a last caress--
239    Chained if you like, and clinch'd with a parting smile--
240What then? In the round of the World I've found naught else so well worth while.
XXV.
241    Far up a valley, where the summer-rills
242    Long ages thro' the glacial-drift have roll'd,
243    I work'd in gravel studded thick with gold
244    For days and days on the double-shift that kills.
245    Yet oft, to hear the echoes ring and stir
246    That vacant valley like a dulcimer,
247    I flung her name against the naked hills,
248    And crimson'd all the air with thoughts of her;
249    While 'mong the fair returning stars I'd see
250Pale phantoms of her chill, sweet face receding endlessly,
XXVI.
251    Till I could stand the pull of it no more;
252    I, who as a fool knew every phase
253    Of woman's lighter love, and love's light ways,
254    Had felt no passion like to this before.
255    As the lost drunkard's longing at its worst,
256    And keen as the craving of the opium-curst,
257    Was the elemental lust that overbore
258    My very body till it gasp'd athirst,
259    As one in some fierce desert dying dreams
260Of snowy peaks and valleys green with unavailing streams.
XXVII.
261    And Julien, good old Julien, knowing all,
262    Pretended not to know, but said he guess'd
263    That I had overwork'd myself, and best
264    Lay off a spell in town. Then I let fall
265    My useless tools, and wash'd and got in trim
266    For the long ten miles ahead. The trail was slim,
267    And crawl'd at times 'gainst some sheer granite wall,
268    Or lost itself 'mong boulders huge and grim;
269    But dreaming of her I pick'd a buoyant way,
270Descending easy to the Bar at ending of the day.
XXVIII.
271    That region was abandon'd years ago,
272    And Lonesome Bar is to the wild again,
273    Yet still it haunts me as I saw it then:--
274    Far up in the banner'd West a crimson glow,
275    And a silver crescent on its edge aslant,
276    With Jewell'd Venus sinking jubilant
277    Thro' opal spaces of the vault below;
278    Then goblin rocks and waterfalls and scant
279    Green tamarac around the white marquee
280Where Beulah lodg'd--and there was ending of the trail for me.
XXIX.
281    Ending of the trail--for she was there!
282    Sylph-like I saw her figure thro' the haze
283    Made of the twilight and the camp-fire blaze;
284    And the piney odors passing thro' the air
285    So pure I took for random kisses blown
286    From her red mouth to mine, while yet unknown
287    My whereabouts; then wholly unaware
288    I stole upon her standing there alone,
289    And sudden she was mine without appeal,
290And lip to lip within my arms made all my fancies real.
XXX.
291    Shall I forget the words she said to me?
292    Nay, I believ'd them--I believe them yet!
293    She told me how she dream'd that we had met
294    Where dreams are true; and then how endlessly,
295    Like some lost dove, she roamed this evil world
296    Seeking for me; how now her wings were furl'd,
297    And I should bide with her, till I should see
298    This whitest secret in her soul impearl'd;
299    And her songs were all for me, I heard her say,--
300For me, for me and only me, forever and a day!
XXXI.
301    Then pass'd the last good hours I ever knew;
302    I lit my pipe, sat on a log, and look'd
303    At her and her neat hands that neatly cook'd
304    A supper hot and homely--just for two;
305    And out in God's sweet air, beside the fire,
306    Where comrade ways but strengthen'd Love's desire,
307    We made it up to marry then for true,
308    And I thought how all my life I'd never tire
309    Of loving her, her eyes, her voice, her form,
310Her charm of something unreveal'd forever young and warm.
XXXII.
311    But at last, as night drew on, she rose and said:
312    "I'd talk with you till dawn, dear, if talk
313    Could hold my audience or charm the clock,
314    But I musn't miss my turn, so come ahead!"
315    Down at the theatre the crowd was thin,
316    Perhaps two score, no more, as we went in;
317    But the manager was hanging out his red
318    Big-letter'd signal-lantern to begin,
319    When from the street, crescendo, came a roar,
320Nearer and still nearer, till it reach'd the dance-hall door.
XXXIII.
321    Beulah stood ready on the stage, and the black
322    Professor at the crack'd piano play'd
323    His overture twice through, but no one stay'd,
324    So I joined in where all were crowding back
325    To where the row was on. "Speech, Mac, speech!"
326    They cried, as up the aisle they rush'd to reach
327    Where Beulah stood, confused. "It's Hellfire Mac!"
328    I whisper'd her, "and he's drunk and wants to preach!"
329    "What! why sure--whoever he is--come dear,
330That lets me off for a while, you know; come on--come on in here!
XXXIV.
331    And laughing softly she drew me aside
332    Into a rough alcove, her dressing-room,
333    Curtain'd from the stage, and half in gloom,
334    When at a sound her eyes ' gan staring wide,
335    And she clutch'd my arm. Twas not the pious drone,
336    But a fearsome something in the undertone
337    Of the ruin'd Calvinist, whose soul espied
338    Damnation toppling from the great White Throne
339    Upon the woeful habiters of Earth,
340That somehow check'd the crowd that night, and still'd its shallow mirth.
XXXV.
341    And Beulah, more than all like one enthrall'd,
342    Smother'd a moan, and dumbly motioning
343    For me to follow, crept into the wing
344    Close up to him. Bearded, gray and bald,
345    With eyes sunk gleaming under beetling shag,
346    And face rough-chisel'd like a granite crag,
347    He tower'd above us all; but so appall'd
348    He seem'd that scarce his drunken tongue could drag
349    Meet words to match his ghastly fantasies,
350Yet I remember some in Gaelic accents drawn like these:
XXXVI.
351    "Last night, my friens, she dreampt she was a snake,
352    Prodigious as wass nefer seen before:
354    For when she moved she made ta mountains quake,
355    And all ta waters of ta oceans roll
356    In frightnet waves from Pole to frozen Pole;
357    While efermore her starving body'd ache
359    But twistit round and round, till she was curl'd
360In endless coils of blastit flesh about ta blastit World.
XXXVII.
361    "For in those days she was ta only thing;
362    There wass no man nor woman left at all;
363    No fish to swim, no beast to run or crawl,
364    No bird nor butterfly to spread its wing;
365    Around ta World herself wass all alone,
366    For all that efer lived to her had grown;
367    And Winter, that would nefermore be Spring,
368    Now glowert silent ofer every zone:
369    Then liftit she her head into ta sky
370To spit ta last great blasphemy into God's face--and die.
XXXVIII.
371    "But oh! ta silence of ta endless sky--
372    And oh! ta blackness of ta endless Night!
373    Where all ta stars can nefer make it light--
374    Where in ta empty, like a Defil's eye,
375    Ta eerie Sun, grown small and smooth and cold,
376    Stared down upon her doom ordain'd of old!
377    And she torment--and she couldna tell forwhy--
378    With agonies in every quaking fold,
379    Where only flowit poison streams for blood:
380And still she hiss'd and spit and curst-and still there wass no God!
XXXIX.
381    "But at ta last she felt ta power to make
382    Ta great escape, and finish all her hurt;
383    Ta Spirit moved her, and her body girt
384    Its straining coils until ta World she brake
385    To splinter'd rocks that ground and crash'd and roar'd,
386    While all ta inner fires reek'd up and pour'd
387    In fury round ta universal Snake--
388    Consuming in ta vengeance of ta Lord!"
389    We never heard the meaning of his dream,
390For sudden thro' the building rang a wild hysteric scream.
XL.
391    And Beulah springing frenzied to the stage,
392    And the old man halting face to face with her,
393    Too swift and strange for any theatre
394    Follow'd a scene whose measure none could gauge,
395    Only we felt its mad reality.
396    "That man's my father--keep him back from me!"
397    I heard her cry, while horror blent with rage
398    Upon the other's face. "A fient I see!
399    A damit fient of Hell, who stole my name!
400Beulah, ta harlot, come again to cross my face with shame!"
XLI.
401    I saw the old man grip and throttle her;
402    I saw her choking, and her white hand dart
403    Down to the knife that flashed--and found his heart!
404    I saw him reel and fall--I saw the blur
405    Of blood that gush'd upon her heaving breast
406    Out of his own! Ah! God, how quick the rest!
407    Ere I or any one of us could stir,
408    Full to the hilt that fatal knife she press'd
409    Into her side, that ran and reek'd with red,
410As she fell dead upon the stage where lay her father dead.
XLII.
411    Moments there are that gleam beyond all Time!
412    Blown from enormous Years! O name that seems
413    To hearken back thro' vague primeval dreams!
414    O maid remember'd from the young, sublime,
415    Untrammel'd days when God foregathered us!
416    My woman still--grown strangely perilous!
417    All in a moment marr'd with scarlet crime,
418    And lost before mine eyes incredulous!
419    My woman still--tho' I go babbling dazed
420At thought of her and her father damn'd, and a Hell of things gone crazed!
XLIII.
421    How since that hour again and yet again
422    I've play'd the fool with Death! Go let him take
423    What shape he please, I'll meet him wide awake,
424    And keep a date with him--no matter when!
425    Mad, I tell you--mad, I've laughed to hear
426    In Wintertime the mad gray-wolves draw near
427    And circle round me, all unarm'd--and then,
428    Snapping their teeth, slink back and howl with fear:
429    God knows of what! So queer it seem'd, almost
430I think they saw beside me there old Hellfire's drunken ghost!
XLV.
431    Lonesome Bar! Too far--too far and old
432    The hollow sound of it now comes to me
433    To quicken this sick heart that crazily
434    Goes lurching on to everlasting cold!
435    Fill up my glass! What game have I to play
436    But drink into this drear, indifferent day,
437    Some brief delirium, wherein to hold
438    A phantom floating goldenly away
439    Beyond the zenith of my soul, as bright

Notes

3] Caribou: the so-called "barren grounds" of north-western Canada with its great herds of caribou (reindeer). Back to Line
8] Eldorado: El Dorado, mythical country rich in gold, associated with the Amazon. Back to Line
12] trammel'd: shackled. Back to Line
17] Pizarro: Gonzalo Pizarro y Alonso (1502.-48), who commanded an expedition into the Amazon in search of El Dorado. Back to Line
21] rake: search in. Back to Line
25] "The Klondike gold-rush, the greatest in history, took place from 1897 to 1900, during which period the Canadian North yielded about one hundred million dollars in placer gold." (poet's note) Back to Line
32] Chilkoot Pass, on the British Columbia-Alaska border, the high point in a trail from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett Lake, British Columbia, that was used by prospectors in the Klondike Gold Rush. Back to Line
33] White Divide: the alternate route to the Klondike, the White pass, on a trail from Skaguay, Alaska, to Lake Bennett. Back to Line
34] Tagish, a long narrow Yukon lake into which Lake Bennett flowed. Back to Line
35] Yukon: Yukon River. Back to Line
40] Klondike: a small river entering the Yukon River from the east at Dawson. Back to Line
41] hoodoo: bad-luck curse. Back to Line
51] "A phrase originating perhaps with the sealers of Behring Sea, with whom it meant an allowance, in lieu of wages, of a certain percentage of the value of seal-skins secured by the hunters. In mining parlance, to 'work a claim on a lay' meant to have an agreed percentage of the clean-up or output." (poet's note) Back to Line
52] Sixty below zero Fahrenheit (-51 Celsius). Mining was normally restricted to summer months when temperatures would enable miners to dig past the permafrost. Back to Line
62] Bar: place of sand or silt "where gold is found and worked, on a river's bank" (OED, "bar," n.1, 15; quotation of 1862). Lonesome Bar is an imagined place. Back to Line
70] strikes: discoveries (of gold). Back to Line
85] mush along: "corruption of French Canadian 'marchons,' the travelling word for men and dogs throughout the Canadian North and Alaska." (poet's note) Back to Line
106] aftertime: the future. Back to Line
109] red police: Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Back to Line
156] lissome: supple, lithe. Back to Line
187] yellow wine: vin jaune, imported white wine made in the Jura district of France. Back to Line
206] "Early prospectors in mining regions of the Far West carried with them a lump of sour-dough, in lieu of yeast, for making camp-bread, and were dubbed 'sourdoughs.' In the Yukon, however, the term was generally applied to those who had spent an entire winter in that region during the first years of the gold-rush." (poet's note) Back to Line
353] "Gaelic, meaning 'The offspring of Satan the Great Beast.'" (poet's note) Back to Line
358] thole: endure. Back to Line
440] Aurora: goddess of the dawn. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire; Ian Lancashire / Sharine Leung
RPO Edition: 
2011
Rhyme: 
Form: