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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Banquet - deadline 8-16-12 10 am NY time (08/09/12)

TITLE: Riding the rattlers, 1932
By Ellen Carr
08/15/12


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His dreams are fierce and frequent,
alone, cold, keeping his dignity
in his swag,
Having left his lover, Lily, new wife,
she inhabits his memories of embrace.

Seeking a future in Depression's winter,
hope undone,
he roves the country, staying alive,
riding the rattlers day after day,
keeping his poverty under wraps.

Leaving his scruples in the trains,
he begs ashamedly at farm doors.
Flour, potatoes
and some milk, cooked inexpertly on fires,
rough damper, billy boiled on coals.

Seasoned swagmen sit, shadows, staring,
sharing fire and anecdotes
of rail and road,
lean-pickings tales, odd jobs,
and sometimes saintly generosity.

In swag, sleep eluded, he weeps,
longs silently, in camp-fire light, for Lily.
She comes, sweet-faced,
singing melodies of love and better times
but leaves him with his melancholy.

Awake at frost-blanket dawn, away
to jump another rattler, bed of coal,
heading west
to possibilities and pastures greener,
with holey shoes, holy hopes.

Hunger gnaws at his resolution,
invades his half-sleep thoughts,
fills his nostrils
with imagined aromas of foods remembered
and scents of home, and hearth.

His day rattles on, rumbling along,
lying low through the towns,
keeping warm
in the black-coal world of the train,
with meagre shelter from the rain.

At dusk, he jumps off awkwardly, riskily,
coal-faced before the last town,
alone again,
an empty, dusty man in the unlit darkness,
seeking succour, seeking satiety.

Hill-top, flickering farmhouse, dimly lit,
a run-of-the-mill, weathered, country shape,
beckons him.
Rumbling stomach wills him again, swallowing pride,
to beg for food, knock on the door.

Comes a mangy dog, a snotty-nosed kid,
then a kindly man, a welcoming voice,
inviting him in
to a family table, clothed and garnished,
to a kitchen wood stove, bubbling.

Ungainly and spare, grimy and grey
he begs to eat outside, swagman style.
His hosts insist
he sit at table, family-like, their guest,
and share their simple fare.

A gracious 'thank you' prayer begins the feast,
rabbit stew and dumplings, china plate.
He slowly eats,
mellow vegetables, gravy brown,
savouring every banquet bite's delight.

He talks, misty-eyed, of his heart left behind,
with Lily, at her parents' home
while he travels
seeking work, to make a life for them,
for days ahead, for love.

A bread and butter pudding, sweet,
tastes of home and heart. Replete,
he stands to thank
his humble, generous hosts, so grateful
for this hard-times country banquet.


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This article has been read 470 times
Member Comments
Member Date
CD Swanson 08/16/12
A very complex and well written entry, filled with so many emotions and images. Nicely done. God bless~
Noel Mitaxa 08/19/12
Very evocative story with a whole spread of well-drawn emotions, wrapped up in warmth and respect.
Nancy Bucca 08/19/12
Very intricate and unique take on the topic. I love that line "swallowing his pride." Great job.
Laura Manley08/21/12
I absolutely love this entry. I think the way you have written and presented this entry is superb and to add any explanation would take away from its beauty. Wonderful entry... just wonderful!
Verna Cole Mitchell 08/21/12
Beautifully written as poetry--"frost-blanket dawn" my favorite description.
Skillful writing.
It might be good to have swag and swagman definitions at the end of the piece.
Partially on topic--
a most satisfying read!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 08/21/12
This is a charming poem. You added a lot of visual pictures for the reader to dine on. Good job.
Leola Ogle 08/22/12
Very moving and a telling of Americana gone by. Well written and one of my favorites. God bless!
Hiram Claudio08/23/12
I enjoyed this alot. It really touched my heart as, last year, I too had to travel away from my family to work in two different states for 9 months. I identified with the MC so much ... a sign of excellent writing.
CD Swanson 08/23/12
Congrats Ellen...God bless~
Genia Gilbert08/23/12
Congratulations on your first place! Well Deserved.
Danielle King 08/23/12
Congratulations Ellen. Great poem. Well deserved win.
Leola Ogle 08/23/12
Good job, Ellen! Yay and congrats!
Noel Mitaxa 08/23/12
Congratulations on your win. Excellent work.
Wilma Schlegel 08/23/12
I have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. A wonderful reminder to be thankful and generous. Congratulations!
Carla Procida08/24/12
This is one of the best poems I have read in a long while! Congratulations! Well
deserved win to say the least! I hope u entered this in some major contests (ie Writers Digest) cause I think it would be a winner there too!!