My father, Arthur Enright, different ties, 1927, 1960
The Re-creation of Sam McGee
for Art Enright
There were strange things stuck inside my head
By that bear-all of a man
At those parties in my mother’s kitchen
Where the whiskey always ran.
Those Buffalo snows enclosed it all
But the guests were warm and free
When me Dad would stand bottle in hand
And declaim The Cremation of Sam McGee.
Now me Dad was born in the nineteen-oughts
When Mr. Service was a hero
Because his poems let the people know
That not all poems were infernal,
That some were meant just to calm a crowd
And tell a well rhymed story,
And me Dad was there to share the tale
And in telling share its glory.
My place was on the kitchen stairs
In the shadow of the landing
Where my parents knew all us kids would be
Out of sight but understanding.
The party would progress apace,
My Irish uncles would be singing,
Then me Dad would stand and take his place
His moment just beginning.
Someone would tap a knife to glass
And the circle would slowly center.
The women would turn, my Mom would smile,
The men would cease their banter.
Me Dad would stub his Camel out
And take a drink for voice and luck,
Then looking off, he’d start the piece
That he’d learned when just a pup.
His voice was grand, it filled the room
As if it were a castle.
His face transformed from the man we knew
As he became the ballad’s vassal.
No bottles clinked, no chairs scraped back,
The silence went unshattered.
For a stretch of time unmeasured still
His words were all that mattered.
Sent off to bed I’d repeat in my head
The verses I’d retained,
And the snow’s cold fall re-enforced it all,
The source of Sam McGee’s pain.
Long after sleep as in a dream I’d feel
A hand press down upon my head
And a whiskey kiss as warm as bliss
Would press my cheek into the bed.
Many years went by before I found
That Service poem inside a book.
I checked it out and took it home
To take another look.
The poem’s alright, but I’ll tell you this
And this is not a lie—
The way it’s writ is not as good
As me Dad could tell it on the fly.