Backblock Ballads and Later Verses
Five nights agone I lay at rest
   On my suburban couch.
My trousers on the bedpost hung,
   Red gold within their pouch.
The twin-gods Law and Order seemed
To me all powerful as I dreamed.

My life was staid, my rates were paid,
   And peace was in my mind.
Nor recked I of unruly men
   To evil deeds inclined --
Strange, primal atavistic men
Who shock the peaceful citizen.

But all the same by stealth he came,
   A man of vile intent.
What cared he that my life was pure,
   Or that I paid my rent?
He willed to violate my shrine
For household treasures that were mine.

With purpose vile and with a file
   My window he attacked.
A stealthy scratch upon the catch
   Awoke me to the fact.
Softly, with sudden fear amazed,
A corner of the blind I raised.

I saw his face!...Oh, what a man
   His manhood should degrade,
And seek to rob (I checked a sob)
   Except in honest trade!
A predatory face I saw
That showed no reverence for Law.

With whirring head I slid from bed,
   Crept from my peaceful couch;
Forsook my trousers hanging there,
   Red gold within their pouch.
Out through my chamber door I fled
And up the hallway softly sped.

Into the murky night I stole
   To see a certain cop,
Whose forthright feet patrol the beat
   A stone's throw from my shop.
In my pyjama suit went I....
Across the moon dark clouds swept by.

I saw him draped upon a post,
   Like someone in a swoon.
His buttons gleamed what time the clouds
   Released the troubled moon.
He gazed upon the changing sky,
A strange light in his dreamy eye.

"Now, haste thee cop!" I called aloud,
   And seized him by the arm.
"There is a wretch without my house
   Who bodes my treasure harm" ....
Toward the sky he waved a hand
And answered, "Ain't that background grand?"

"Nay, gentle John," said I, "attend
   A thief my goods and gold
Seeks to purloin.  Go, seize the man
   Before the trail is cold!"
"Those spires against the sky," said he,
"Surcharged with beauty are to me."

"I give the man in charge!" I cried,
   "He is on evil bent!
He seeks of all its treasured art
   To strip my tenement!"
He answered, as one in a dream,
"Ain't that a bonzer colour-scheme?   

"Them tortured clouds agen the moon,"
   The foolish cop pursued,
"Remind me of some Whistler thing;
   But I prefer the nood."
Said I, "Arrest this man of vice!"
Said he, "The nood is very nice."

"My pants," cried I, "unguarded lie
   Beside my peaceful couch --
My second-best pair, with the stripes,
   Red gold within their pouch!
Thieves!  Murder!  Burglars!  FIRE!" cried I.
Sighed he, "Oh, spires against the sky!"

Then, in my pink pyjamas clad,
   I danced before his eyes.
In anger impotent I sought
   His car with savage cries.
He pushed me from him with a moan.
"Go 'way!" he said.  "You're out of tone."

"Why do I pay my rates?" I yelled --
   "The wages that you draw!
Come, I demand, good cop, demand
   Protection from the law!"
"You're out of drorin', too," said he.
"Still, s'pose I better go an' see."

I guided him a-down the street;
   And now he stayed to view
The changing sky, and now he paused
   Before some aspect new.
And thus, at length, we gained my gate.
"Too late!" I cried.  "Alas, too late!"

Too late to save my household gods,
   My treasures rich and rare.
My ransacked cupboards yawned agape,
   My sideboard, too, was bare.
And there, beside my tumbled couch,
My trousers lay with rifled pouch.

"Now, haste thee, cop!" I called again,
   "Let not thy footsteps lag!
The thief can not be far away.
   Haste to regain the swag!" ...
His arms I saw him outward fling.
He moaned, "Where did you get that thing?"

With startled state I looked to where
   His anguished gaze was bent,
And, hanging by my wardrobe, was
   A Christmas Supplement --
A thing I'd got for little price
And framed because I thought it nice.

It was a Coloured Supplement
   (The frame, I thought, was neat).
It showed a dog, a little maid --
   Whose face was very sweet --
A kitten, and some odds and ends.
The title, rather apt, was "Friends."

"Accursed Philistine!" I heard
   The strange policeman hiss
Between his teeth.  "O wretched man,
   Was I hired here for this?
O Goth!  Suburbanite!  Repent!
Tear down that Christmas Supplement!"

And, as athwart my burgled pane
  The tortured storm-wrack raced,
That man of Coptic Culture grew
   All limp and ashen-faced.
Then to my window seat he crept,
And bowed his head, and wept, and wept.

This poem was originally published in The Bulletin on 28 January 1915 in slightly different form with the title Culture and Cops.

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2004-06