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Hell After Yearlin'


Carl Carmer

I'd got 'most halfway home from church
Afore I'd seen I'd lost the ribbon belt
That came with my new gingham dress last spring,
And although it was after nine o'clock,
I turned right round and started back again.
The meetin' had been over quite a spell-
The church was dark and still when I went in,
But moonlight spillin' in the busted panes
Was strong enough for me to find my seat
And there, sure 'nough, I seen my ribbon belt.

Well, when I turned and started for the door
I heard a sound- a fiddle carryin' on
Like it was in the middle of a jig;
Buckin' Mule is what it played (I know
For I ain't been converted very long).
The music come from just in back the church
And so I walked behind the pulpit stand
On up the choir steps and to the wall,
Got down and peeped above the window ledge.

There was the graveyard and the lolly pine
That grows plum in the midst of it alone,
And leanin' up his back against its trunk
Sat old Chun Gizzard fiddlin' like all sin.
It might a' been a dance at Vinegar Bend
The way he swung his bow and let her rip.
Around him in the moonlight were the graves,
Each one lined out with bits of colored glass,
Old lamps and busted teapots, sugar bowls
And small blue towers of glass the linemen leave
Runnin' their wires across the woods and fields.
Chun wound up with a flourish, and he bowed,
Noddin' his head to left and right in turn
As if the dead folk there clapped bony hands.
And then he spoke, “You all 'll remember this,
I can still see Joe Bowers step it off
With Susie Ventress down at Vinegar Bend.”

With the fiddle tucked into the crook of his arm
He started Old Cow Died in the Forks of the Branch;
And when he'd done, he played Sweet Sorghum Mill,
Chicken in the Bread Tray Scratchin' Out Dough,
The Devil's Hiccough, and Them Wolves A-Howlin',
Double-headed Train, and Peanut Gal,
All while I set there quiet on the floor
And scarce could keep from pattin' with my foot
(Though that'd be powerful wicked in a church).
At last he stopped a moment, raised his bow,
Looked all around him solemn-like, and said:
“This was the one you liked the best of all,”
I could a' told what it was goin' to be-
Hell After Yearlin'- and he played like mad,
His fingers dancin' on the singin' strings,
The notes a-fallin' quick and quicker still,
Like drops of rain that start a summer shower.

The moonlight seemed to be a-getting' brighter;
It burned a fire in all those bits of glass
And the fiddle kept on faster yet and louder,
A-pourin' out that tune like from a bucket,
Till on a sudden, in the midst, it stopped,
And the place seemed terrible still for just a moment.
Chun stood up then and shook his head right slow,
“They can't do it like you no more,” he said,
“It ain't in them the way it was in you.
I'd rather fiddle a tune for you all here
Than see 'em step it off at Vinegar Bend.”
He put his fiddle in his old green bag
And walked on off into the thick of the trees
Holdin' it under his coat and close to his side.
When he was gone from sight I got up quick,
Ran tiptoe down the aisle of the empty church
And lit out fast's my legs would go for home.

from Carmer, Carl. Deep South. New York:
Farrar & Rinehart, 1930. (pp. 15-18).