Margaret Walker Poems >>
Big John Henry

Big John Henry
This here's a tale of a sho-nuff man
Whut lived one time in the delta lan'
His hand was big as a hog's fat ham
And he useta work for Uncle Sam.
His gums was blue, his voice was mellow
And he talked to mules, fellow to fellow.
The day he was born in the Mississippi bottom
He made a meal on buttermilk and sorghum
A mess o' peas and a bait o' tunnips
And when he finished he smacked his lips
And went outside to help pick cotton.
And he growed up taller than a six-foot
shooter Skinnin' mules and catchin' barracuda
And stronger than a team of oxen
And he even could beat the champion
boxin' An' ain't nary man in Dixie's forgotten
How he could raise two bales of cotton
While one hand anchored down the
steamboat. Oh, they ain't no tale was ever wrote
'Bout Big John Henry that could start to tell
All the things that Big Boy knowed so well:
How he learned to whistle from the
whippoorwills, And turned the wheels whut ran the mills;
How the witches taught him how to cunjer,
And cyo the colic and ride the thunder;
And how he made friends with a long lean
houn' Sayin', "It's jes' John Henry a-giftin' roun'."
But a ten-poun' hammer done ki-ilt John Henry,
Yeah, a ten-poun' hammer ki-ilt John Henry,
Bust him open, wide Lawd!
Drapped him ovah, wide Lawd!
Po' John Henry, he cold and dead.