Constab Ballads (1912)


DERE’S a little anxious crowd
Jes’ outside de barrack gate,
All a-t’inkin’ deir own way
Dat de pay is kept back late:
Faces of all types an’ shades,
Brown an’ yaller, black an’ gray,
Dey are waitin’, waitin’ dere,
For it’s póliceman pay-day.

Clearly seen among dem all
Is a colourless white face
Anxious more dan every one,
Fine type of an alien race :
He is waitin’ for some cash
On de goods trust’ tarra[1] day,–
Our good frien’ de Syrian,—
For it’s policeman pay-day.

Wid a lee[2] piece of old clot’
Ton her curly glossy hair,
Print frock an’ old bulldog boots
Tatters all t’rough wear an’ tear,
She is waitin’, ober-bex’,[3]
Our mess-woman, mudder Mell,
An’ ‘twould grieve you’ heart to hear
‘Bouten wha’ she’s got to tell.

Six long fortnight come an’ gone
Since some constab hol’ her up,
An’, wid all de try she try,
She can neber get a tup:[4]
“Me wi’ tell Inspector F—
‘Bout de ‘ole o’ i’ to-day,
An’ den me wi’ really see
Ef him caan’ boun’ dem fe pay.

“Man dem, wid dem hungry gut,
Six long fortnight nyam me rash;
Not a gill[5] me caan’ get when
Chiny dah dun fe him cash
Fe de plenty t’ings me trus’,
Sal’ fish, pork, an’ flour, an’ rice,
Onion an’ ingredients,
Jes’ fe mek de brukfus’ nice.”

See de waitin’ midnight girl
Wid her saucy cock-up lips,
An’ her strongly-built black hands
Pressed against her rounded hips :
She has passed de bound’ry line,
An’ her womanhood is sold ;
Wonder not then, as you gaze,
Dat, though young, she looks so bold,

Once she roamed de country woods
Wid a free an’ stainless soul,
But she left for Kingston’s slums,
Gave herself up to de wul’:
She has trod de downward course,
Never haltin’ on de way;
Dere’s no better time for her
Dan a policeman pay-day.

Waits de slimber ball-pan man,
Waits de little ice-cream lad,
Waits our washerwoman Sue,
All deh chat how pólice bad;
Each one sayin’ police vile,
Yet deir faces all betray
Dat for dem dere’s no rag time
Laka policeman pay-day.

Inside in de ord’ly room
Things are movin’ very fine;
Constab standin’ in a row
Hea’ de jinglin’ o’ de coin;
Constab wid a solemn face,
Constab only full o’ fun,
Marchin’ in de ord’ly room
As dem name call one by one.

Quick march! halt! a sharp right tu’n,
Wid de right han’ smart salute,
All attention poker-stiff,
An’ a-standin’ grave an’ mute :
Office-clerk calls out de name,
Officer hands de amount
To Sa’an’ Major standin’ by,
Who gives it a second count.

‘Ter all de formalities,
Dis an’ dat an’ warra[6] not,
Salute, ‘tion, right about turn,
Den de precious pay is got :
Lee gone to de reward fund
Trough a blot’ defaulter-sheet,
Run do’n by sub-officers,
Or caught sleepin’ on dem beat;

Den dere’s somet’ing gone fe kit;
Uniform mus’ smart an’ nice,
Else de officer won’ t’ink
Dat a bobby’s wutten price.
All dem way de money go ;
So de payin’-out fe some,
When de fortnight dem come roun’,
in-a ord’ly room.

Now comes payin’ up de debts
To de miscellaneous crowd
Waitin’ by de barrack-gate,
Chattin’, chattin’ very loud :
Payin’, payin’ all de time,
From a poun’ do’n to a gill,
Whole fortnight-pay partly done,
Yet rum-money lef back still.

Strollin’ t’rough de gate at night,
Drinkin’ Finzi[7] tell dead drunk,
Barely standin’ at tattoo,
After[8] tumblin’ in-a bunk ;
All de two-an’-four is done,
So-so trust nong[9] ebery day
Tell de fortnight comes again
An’ we get de little pay.

  1. Tarra: the other. Vowel-sound as in t'other.
  2. Lee: little
  3. Ober-bex': over-vexed
  4. Tup: twopence of the old Jamaica coinage; three halfpence of the new
  5. Gill: three farthings. Gill bread-loaf costing three farthings
  6. Warra: what. The value of the a is unchanged
  7. Finzi: rum
  8. Afterwards
  9. Nong: now. The vowel sound is very dumb and short


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