A Nod To R.W. Service
The great Robert Service wrote some stirring poems about the Yukon in general and the gold rush there in particular. We at Madazine like to think that if he had managed another piece, it might have been similar to the one composed recently by our sub-editor, Tom Bola. It is given below:
A Loser’s Lament
When the cry of ‘Gold’ went up, it rang out loud and clear.
We answered it in legions, with neither doubt nor fear.
I was in the fevered throng and barely gave a thought,
To obstacles ahead of us, or battles to be fought.
My job as an accountant was secure and quite well paid.
Yet off I went without a qualm, exchanging pen for spade.
‘Cobbler, stick to your last,’ how oft I heard those words.
And each time my prompt retort was: ‘Tell that to the birds.’
It takes all sorts to make a world, and most of them were there.
Young and old, short and tall, the cheaters and the fair.
Some were the intrepid types, surmounting every hitch.
Then there were the predators, with hearts as black as pitch.
A hundred thousand started out and only one third finished.
No wonder that on such a trek, the multitude diminished.
Of those who made it to the end, about an eighth found gold.
And some had problems keeping it, for that stuff’s hard to hold.
It wasn’t such a great surprise that many lost their all,
For pride is not the only thing that comes before a fall.
There’s pestilence or thieves or hooch, plus lots of other threats,
To move a man from sudden wealth to piling up the debts.
A ton of food at least they said, was what a man must take,
When heading for that fearsome pass that led to Bennett Lake.
The overseer weighed my sacks and found I’d come up short.
‘You’d better hop around,’ he said ‘and see what’s to be bought.’
The grocer was a canny chap, not interested in gold,
But he made a bumper profit on everything he sold.
At last with larder empty, he declared his business ceased.
Then hired a guard to escort him, and hurried off back east.
When we reached the Yukon River, we still had far to go,
And nearly every mile of it meant further toil and woe.
We built skiffs, canoes and kayaks, near any kind of craft.
I opted for the simple course and made a little raft.
I’d always seen myself as smart, not one of Nature’s fools,
But I was none too handy with a set of borrowed tools.
At length with task accomplished, I floated all the way,
Arriving at the diggings on a wet and windy day.
The waterway was tricky and the trip was long and tough.
Hundreds simply balked at it, and said they’d had enough.
Some lost their lives in rapids, while others fell to floods,
And I heard a number vanished, when foraging in woods.
I staked my claim and slaved away and had no wish to shirk.
But oh, how I got tired of that unrelenting work.
I have this flimsy cabin which I put up in a rush.
If you wanted to demolish it, you’d only have to push.
For near a year I laboured, from dawn to dusk each day,
Though nothing I experienced encouraged me to stay.
I didn’t see a speck or flake of what I’d come to find.
That well-nigh wrecked my body, and discomposed my mind.
I wound up slightly crazy and I got a taste for booze.
They say that happens frequently to men marked down to lose.
And destiny included me among the ones who fail.
Well, never mind, it’s over and I don’t intend to wail.
I’m weaker than a kitten and I’ve neither food nor drink.
Twelve months ago my mind was full of dinner suits and mink.
My roof leaks and the fire’s out and I can’t get foot to floor.
And hungry creatures lurk outside, a few feet from my door.
On top of other troubles, there’s this paralysing cold.
Minus forty-odd at times, or that’s what I was told.
I’m scrawling out this poem with a little pencil stub,
But I’d swap my paltry verses for an ounce or two of grub.
I’ve simply been unlucky and it’s senseless to complain,
But I’d like a dose of something strong, to ease this awful pain.
I’ve no more paper now to write a fitting epitaph,
So I guess I’ll just peg out, not with a curse but with a laugh.
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