The expulsion of Sam McGee
By Gregg Smith
"Get out McGee I've had enough
there's not another beer.
You'll go right, now my temper's up
I'll toss you out of here.
Pete MaGirth had stunned the bar
but none as much as me,
I couldn't move nor even breathe.
Stood rooted as a tree.
Smoke hung about in stringy clouds
'bove silence wrought by Pete.
The only sound a sunken heart
like muffled funeral beat.
The moon ducked behind a cloud,
the wind began to build,
and I'd rather feel the cold of steel
than what he had just willed.
"Wait Pete. How's this?" Says me,
as all eyes slowly turned.
What leper could have brought such wrath and condemnation earned
""Enough!" again the barkeep snapped,
"You've heard me final judgement"
but I remained and dumbly stared
guts heaving from such torment.
Now in all the winters past I'd found
the northland's only warmth
within those walls tended by
the honourable Pete MaGirth.
"Pete" I said "You've been my friend,
no better to be found"
but he just furrowed up his brow,
first time I'd seen him frown.
"McGee your out, that's it."
Not much to understand,
"n'er again I'll see your face,
'tis over 'tween us man"
Five winters never brought a cold
like that shoulder turned to me
an outcast, that's what I'd become -
the curse'ed Sam McGee.
"Listen, Pete, you've been my mate
for long as I've been up
and now old friend I've got no clue
what's turned you so abrupt.
It was you stuck by, when my stake ran out took me in when it was worst,
no hesitation, nor a second thought
you fed me, slacked my thirst.
That second year, when fever made
both health and spirit fail
'Twas you who nursed me back again,
spoon fed me warm flat ale.
And when I got a taste of gold
put together some small poke
it was you I always first sought out
for a laugh, a drink, a smoke."
MaGirth never turned around,
just maintained an icy freeze
I well knew Pete would have no ear
for begging, mournful pleas
There was no escape, no recourse
from this desperate haunting dream
I trance-walked out to snowy street
with the sled's impatient team.
The Arctic's blazing dome of dark
is never really black,
it drapes the land in celestial light
shines off the runners tracks.
And out upon the open glade
the unblemished spread of snow
twinkles in numbers quite beyond
the heavens nightly show.
More subtle than this vision
is the sound of winters grip
and the frigid air which chokes your thoughts on an unplanned return trip.
The dogs scampered cross it all
in a headlong dash to nowhere
with minds too simple for a thought
and mine shocked unaware.
When you never see it coming
the impact clubs you numb
That's how it was that loathsome night
struck good as deaf and dumb
Through habit they found their way.
There was the cabin's roof,
where I'd be condemned to serve my time, without single charge or proof.
The winter taunted with an image
of the spirit and the mirth
found over beers and within the bar
denied by Pete MaGirth
I stumbled in, gathered wood
and blindly lit a fire
all the while wondering how and when
I'd somehow earned Pete's ire.
Through to spring I sat alone
yet stunned by his decree
never thought I'd wear the sobriquet
"Outcast Sam McGee"
Later when the weather broke
I sold my claim and gear
the chance for gold's not worth a damn
without good friends, good times, and beer.
So I sought a different fortune
and traveled round about,
time healed the festered social wound
from when I'd been shut out
Two decades in a blink had passed
since that winter's prison cabin
I was touring the lower forty-eight
free to stop in any tavern.
Such was the place in Oakland,
located near the pier,
where old diggers from the Yukon
could meet others over beer.
But a small step through the doorway
was a big step back in time
for the 'keeper who was tapping pints
was once a friend of mine.
"Is Jake Dead?"
His voice attacked and ripped.
He leaned forward, squinted and snarled then fingered a pistol grip
It was almost enough to amuse,
this peculiar way to break,
a silence held more than twenty years
with an inquiry 'bout old Jake
I slowly walked toward the bar
with caution but no fears,
"I don't know what happened to him Pete. Haven't thought of him in years".
Pete's eyes went wide, his face turned red, before his hot reply
"I'd shot that bastard in his tracks
just to watch him slowly die"
Was this what turned him sour?
Must have been a heinous crime.
What could my old lead dog have done
that lasted all this time.
Then Pete stood up full erect,
broke into a grin,
extended out his shootin' hand
said "let's begin again.
It's plain to see you've got no clue
of what it was about,
how it was your dog that done it all
and made me throw you out."
He grabbed a pint in a pirouette
tapped up a cold fresh ale
asked where I'd been and who I'd seen
near begged me for the tale.
"Wait Pete, this is all too fast.
First tell me what it was
Jake did to make you hellish hot
I've got to know the cause"
Pete smiled and looked sheepish
"He was too damn smart McGee,
he carried out a cunning plan,
and sure outsmarted me.
That last day you came into town
you left him in my care.
Jake lay down by the fire,
I settled in a chair."
Then Pete burst into a belly laugh
which shook him to the core
bent down with hands upon his knees
staring at the floor.
"It was as the bar was filling
when Jake quick broke from repose,
and it happened oh so quickly
he did it right beneath my nose.
He dashed 'round me in a circle
in one motion grabbed my shoe
shook it in his slobbery maw
then dropped it in the loo.
But after I retrieved it
was when I saw the worst
there was Jake with what had been my beer quenching a canine thirst."
I couldn't help but smile
for time could let us see
the humor in what Jake had done
and why Pete barked at me.
We could finally lift a pint,
laugh 'bout how Pete was outsmarted,
we talked nearly through to dawn
was like we never parted.
I'll always hold my time up North
as a memory most dear
but the chance for gold's not worth a damn without good friends, good times, and beer.
© Gregg Smith