I saw Joe’s eyes, and
knew he’d never go.
Not Joe, the swiftest hand in River Bow!
Springing from where he sat, straight, cleanly made,
He soared, a leaping shadow from the shade
With fifty feet to go.
It was the stiffest hand he ever played.
To win the corner meant
Deep, sweet content
Among his laughing kind;
To lose, to suffer blind,
Degrading slavery upon “the gang,”
With killing suns, and fever-ridden nights
Behind relentless bars
Of prison cars.
He hung a breathless second
in the sun,
The staring road before him. Then, like one
Who stakes his all, and has a gamester’s heart,
His laughter flashed.
He lunged—I gave a start.
God! What a man!
The massive shoulders hunched, and as he ran
With head bent low, and splendid length of limb,
I almost felt the beat
Of passionate life that surged in him
And winged his spurning feet.
And then my eyes went dim.
The Marshal’s gun was out.
I saw the grim
Short barrel, and his face
Aflame with the excitement of the chase.
He was an honest sportsman, as they go.
He never shot a doe,
Or spotted fawn,
Or partridge on the ground.
And, as for Joe,
He’d wait until he had a yard to go.
Then, if he missed, he’d laugh and call it square.
My gaze leapt to the corner—waited there.
And now an arm would reach it. I saw hope flare
Across the runner’s face.
Then, like a pang
In my own heart,
The pistol rang.
The form I watched soared
forward, spun the curve.
“By God, you’ve missed!”
The Marshal shook his head.
No, there he lay, face downward in the road.
“I reckon he was dead
Before he hit the ground,”
The Marshal said.
“Just once, at fifty feet,
A moving target too.
That’s just about as good
As any man could do!
A little tough;
But, since he ran,
I call it fair enough.”
He mopped his head, and started
down the road.
The silence eddied round him, turned and flowed
Slowly back and pressed against the ears.
Until unnumbered flies set it to droning,
And, down the heat, I heard a woman moaning.
 “Contemporary Verse,” prize poem for 1921.
Once melodies of street-cries
washed these walls,
Glad as the refluent song
Of cheerful waters from a happy spring
That shout their way along;
Such cries were born in other days from lips
A spirit taught to sing. Now it is gone!