African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Joseph S. Cotter, "The Tragedy of Pete" (1926)

Awarded Third Prize--Opportunity Contest (1926)

There was a man
—Whose name was Pete,
And he was a buck
—From his head to his feet.

He loved a dollar,
—But hated a dime;
And so was poor
—Nine-tenths of the time.

The Judge said “Pete,
—What of your wife?”
And Pete replied
—“She lost her life.”

“Pete,” said the Judge,
—“Was it lost in a row?
Tell me quick,
—And tell me how.”

Pete straightened up
—With a hic and a sigh,
Then looked the Judge
—Full in the eye.

“O, Judge, my wife
—Would never go
To a Sunday dance
—Or a movie show.

“But I went, Judge,
—Both day and night,
And came home broke
—And also tight.

“The moon was up,
—My purse was down,
And I was the bully
—Of the bootleg town.

“I was crooning a lilt
—To corn and rye
For the loop in my legs
—And the fight in my eye.

“I met my wife;
—She was wearing a frown,
And catechising
—Her Sunday gown.

“ ‘O Pete, O Pete’
—She cried aloud,
‘The Devil is falling
—Right out of a cloud.’

“I looked straight up
—And fell flat down
And a Ford machine
—Pinned my head to the ground.

“The Ford moved on,
—And my wife was in it;
And I was sober,
—That very minute.

“For my head was bleeding,
—My heart was a-flutter;
And the moonshine within me
—Was tipping the gutter.

“The Ford, it faster
—And faster sped
Till it dipped and swerved
—And my wife was dead.

“Two bruised men lay
—In a hospital ward—
One seeking vengeance,
—The other the Lord.

“He said to me:
—‘Your wife was drunk,
You are crazy,
—And my Ford is junk.’

“I raised my knife
—And drove it in
At the top of his head
—And the point of his chin.

“O Judge, O Judge,
—If the State has a chair,
Please bind me in it
—And roast me there.”

There was a man
—Whose name was Pete,
And he welcomed death
—From his head to his feet.

Published in Opportunity, July 1926

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