The Re-creation of Sam McGee

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.




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