Sterling A Brown

The Ballad of Joe Meek

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You cain't never tell
How far a frog will jump,
When you jes' see him planted
On his big broad rump.

Nor what a monkey's thinking
By the working of his jaws---
You jes' cain't figger;
And I knows, because

Had me a buddy,
Soft as a pie
Joe Meek they called him
And they didn't lie.

The good book say
"Turn the other cheek,"
But that warn't no turning
To my boy Joe Meek.

He turned up all parts
And baigged you to spank,
Pulled down his breeches,
And supplied the plank.

The worm that didn't turn
Was a rattlesnake to Joe:
Wasn't scary--- jes' meek, suh,
Was made up so.


It was late in August
What dey calls dog days,
Made even beetle hounds
Git bulldog ways.

Would make a pet bunny
Chase a bad blood-hound,
Make a new-born baby
Slap his grandpa down.

The air was muggy
And heavy with heat,
The people all sizzled
Like frying meat.

The ice house was heaven
The pavements was hell
Even Joe didn't feel
So agreeable.

Strolling down Claiborne
In the wrong end of town
Joe saw two policemen
Knock a po' Gal down.

He didn't know her at all,
Never saw her befo'
But that didn't make no difference,
To my ole boy Joe.

Walks up to the cops,
And, very polite,
Ast them ef they thought
They had done just right.

One cracked him with his billy
Above the left eye,
One thugged him with his pistol
And let him lie.


When he woke up, and knew
What the cops had done,
Went to a hockshop,
Got hisself a gun.

Felt mo' out of sorts
Than ever befo',
So he went on a rampage
My ole boy Joe.

Shot his way to the station house,
Rushed right in,
Wasn't nothing but space
Where the cops had been.

They called the reserves,
And the national guard,
Joe was in a cell
Overlooking the yard.

The machine guns sputtered,
Didn't faze Joe at all---
But evvytime he fired
A cop would fall.

The tear-gas made him laugh
When they let it fly,
Laughing gas made him hang
His head an' cry.

He threw the hand grenades back
With a outshoot drop,
An' evvytime he threw
They was one less cop.

The Chief of Police said
"What kinda man is this?"
And held up his shirt
For a armistice.

"Stop gunning black boy,
And we'll let you go."
"I thank you very kindly,"
Said my ole boy Joe.

"We promise you safety
If you'll leave us be---"
Joe said: "That's greeable
Sir, by me...."


The Sun had gone down
The air it was cool,
Joe stepped out on the pavement
A fighting fool.

Had walked from the jail
About half a square,
When a cop behind a post
Let him have it fair.

Put a bullet in his left side
And one in his thigh,
But Joe didn't lose
His shootin' eye.

Drew a cool bead
One the cop's broad head;
"I returns you yo' favor"
And the cop fell dead.

The next to last words
He was heard to speak,
Was just what you would look for
From my boy Joe Meek.

Spoke real polite
To de folks standing by:
"WOuld you please do me one kindness.
Fo' I die?"

"Won't be here much longer
To bother you so,
Would you bring me a drink of water,
Fo' I go?"

The very last words
He was heard to say,
Showed a different Joe talking
In a different way.

"Ef my bullets weren't gone,
An' my strength all spent---
I'd send the chief something
With a compliment."

"And we'd race to hell,
And I'd best him there,
Like I would of done here
Ef he'd played me fair."


So you cain't never tell
How fas' a dog can run
When you seehim a-sleeping,
In the sun.

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Sterling A Brown