Songs of Jamaica (1912)

Jim at Sixteen

Corpy,[1] it pinch me so,
De bloomin’ ole handcuff;
A dun no warra mek[2]
You put it on so rough.

Many a póliceman
Hab come to dis before;
Dem slip same like a[3] me,
An’ pass t’rough lock-up door.[4]

Mumma, no bodder[5] cry,
It should an[6] hotter be;
I wouldn’ heed you when
You use’[7] fe talk to me.

I run[8] away from you
Same as I tu’n out school,[9]
‘Caus’n a didn’ want
To stan’ under no rule.[10]

An’ though you send[11] fe me,
A wouldn’ face de home;
Yet still dem[12] find you quick
Same as de trouble come.[13]

Mumma, I know quite well
You’ lub fe me is ‘trong;
Yet still you don’t a go
Join wid me in a wrong.[14]

An’ so I won’t beg you
To pay fe[15] me to-day;
I’ll bear me punishment,[16]
‘Twill teach me to obey

* * * * * * * * * *

Mumma, you’ Jim get ‘way
An’ come back home[17] to you,
An’ ask[18] you to forgive
Him all o’ whe’ him do.[19]

I want you to feget
Dat I disgrace de name,
An’ cause de ole fam’ly[20]
To look ‘pon me wid shame.

You come an’ beg de judge
Before dem call fe me,[21]
An’ walk by de back gate,
T’inkin’ I wouldn’ see.

But ‘fore him let me go,
Him lectur’ me, mumma,
Tellin’ me how I mus’
Try no fe bruk de law.[22]

Mumma, I feel it, but
No eye-water caan’ drop:
Yet I wish dat it could,
For me breat’ partly ‘top.[23]

So, mumma, I come back
Again to be your boy,
An’ ever as before
To fill you’ heart wid joy.

NOTE BY THE AUTHOR. —On Friday I went to Court on duty for the third time since my enlistment. I happened to escort a prisoner, a stalwart young fellow, and as I was putting on the handcuff, which was rather small, it pinched him badly, making a raw wound. And yet he was so patient, saying he knew that I could not help it. Although it was accidentally done, I felt so sad and ashamed. The above poem grew out of this incident.

  1. From McKay's glossary: "corpy: corporal"
  2. I don't know what made
  3. This intrusive 'a' is common. 'Like' has the pronunciation of French lac
  4. The door of the lock-up
  5. Do not bother (trouble) to cry —i.e., do not cry
  6. Intrusive again
  7. Used
  8. Ran
  9. As soon as I left school
  10. To be under discipline
  11. Sent
  12. The police
  13. When the trouble came
  14. You are not going to back me up in wrongdoing
  15. The fine
  16. And go to prison
  17. Has got off and comes home
  18. Asks
  19. All he has done. Whe' = what
  20. Pronounce fahmly
  21. You came and begged the magistrate before my case was brought
  22. Telling me I must take care not to break the law. Pronounce lah
  23. He means, that the lump in his throat is more painful than tears


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This work (Poems by Claude McKay by Claude McKay) is free of known copyright restrictions.