The Poem That Is My Compass

1. Into our town the Hangman came.
Smelling of gold and blood and flame
And he paced our bricks with a diffident air
And built his frame on the courthouse square

The scaffold stood by the courthouse side,
Only as wide as the door was wide;
A frame as tall, or little more,
Than the capping sill of the courthouse door

And we wondered, whenever we had the time.
Who the criminal, what the crime.
That Hangman judged with the yellow twist
Of knotted hemp in his busy fist.

And innocent though we were, with dread,
We passed those eyes of buckshot lead:
Till one cried: “Hangman, who is he
For whom you raise the gallows-tree?”

Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye,
And he gave us a riddle instead of reply:
“He who serves me best,” said he,
“Shall earn the rope on the gallows-tree.”

And he stepped down, and laid his hand
On a man who came from another land
And we breathed again, for another’s grief
At the Hangman’s hand was our relief

And the gallows-frame on the courthouse lawn
By tomorrow’s sun would be struck and gone.
So we gave him way, and no one spoke.
Out of respect for his Hangman’s cloak.

2. The next day’s sun looked mildly down
On roof and street in our quiet town
And stark and black in the morning air,
The gallows-tree on the courthouse square.

And the Hangman stood at his usual stand
With the yellow hemp in his busy hand;
With his buckshot eye and his jaw like a pike
And his air so knowing and business like.

And we cried, “Hangman, have you not done
Yesterday with the alien one?”
Then we fell silent, and stood amazed,
“Oh, not for him was the gallows raised.”

He laughed a laugh as he looked at us:
“…Did you think I’d gone to all this fuss
To hang one man? That’s a thing I do
To stretch a rope when the rope is new.”

Then one cried “Murder!” One cried “Shame!”
And into our midst the Hangman came
To that man’s place. “Do you hold,” said he,
“With him that was meant for the gallows-tree?”

And he laid his hand on that one’s arm.
And we shrank back in quick alarm,
And we gave him way, and no one spoke
Out of fear of his Hangman’s cloak.

That night we saw with dread surprise
The Hangman’s scaffold had grown in size.
Fed by the blood beneath the chute
The gallows-tree had taken root;

Now as wide, or a little more,
Than the steps that led to the courthouse door,
As tall as the writing, or nearly as tall,
Halfway up on the courthouse wall.

3. The third he took-we had all heard tell
Was a user and infidel, and
“What,” said the Hangman “have you to do
With the gallows-bound, and he a Jew?”

And we cried out, “Is this one he
Who has served you well and faithfully?”
The Hangman smiled: “It’s a clever scheme
To try the strength of the gallows-beam.”

The fourth man’s dark, accusing song
Had scratched out comfort hard and long;
And what concern, he gave us back.
“Have you for the doomed–the doomed and black?”

The fifth. The sixth. And we cried again,
“Hangman, Hangman, is this the man?”
“It’s a trick,” he said, “That we hangmen know
For easing the trap when the trap springs slow.””

And so we ceased, and asked no more,
As the Hangman tallied his bloody score:
And sun by sun, and night by night,
The gallows grew to monstrous height.

The wings of the scaffold opened wide
Till they covered the square from side to side:
And the monster cross-beam, looking down.
Cast its shadow across the town.

4. Then through the town the Hangman came
And called in the empty streets my name-
And I looked at the gallows soaring tall
And thought, “There is no one left at all

For hanging.” and so he calls to me
To help pull down the gallows-tree.
And I went out with right good hope
To the Hangman’s tree and the Hangman’s rope.

He smiled at me as I came down
To the courthouse square through the silent town.
And supple and stretched in his busy hand
Was the yellow twist of the strand.

And he whistled his tune as he tried the trap
And it sprang down with a ready snap.
And then with a smile of awful command
He laid his hand upon my hand.

“You tricked me. Hangman!” I shouted then.
“That your scaffold was built for other men…
And I no henchman of yours,” I cried,
“You lied to me. Hangman. foully lied!”

Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye,
“Lied to you? Tricked you?” he said. “Not I.
For I answered straight and I told you true”
The scaffold was raised for none but you.

For who has served me more faithfully
Then you with your coward’s hope?” said he,
“And where are the others that might have stood
Side by your side in the common good?”

“Dead,” I whispered, and sadly
“Murdered,” the Hangman corrected me:
“First the alien, then the Jew…
I did no more than you let me do.”

Beneath the beam that blocked the sky.
None had stood so alone as I.
And the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there
Cried “Stay!” for me in the empty square.

By Maurice Ogden


10 thoughts on “The Poem That Is My Compass

  1. @BroadBlogs

    Are you refering to the recent decisions about birth control?
    I think Church and State are seperate. Do these religious institutions recieve
    federal funds? If they do, then the government has a right to tell them to
    provide birth control. If they don’t recieve a dime from the government, then
    the government should leave them alone.
    People are often “programmed” to believe their religion, but when they
    become of age they can decide for themselves whether to attend or be
    employed by these religious concerns. If they desire, they are free to leave
    I don’t see this as a “war” on women. The REAL war on women is an
    unspeakable (By the media’s standards anyway) event that occurred in
    Danvers Mass. this last October.

    (Tarnished says: Since Lon’s comment doesn’t go against my Comments Policy, I am letting it through. However, past this point it is a story about a murder and he tells it somewhat graphically. Please do not read any further if you are triggered by such things. Thanks.)

    A 9th grade Math teacher named
    Colleen Ritzer was attacked, raped, and slashed to death with a box cutter
    by one of her students, a 6’2 14 year old named Philp Chism. He carefully
    planned the assault. He brought a change of clothes, the box cutter, and a
    mask from home. He was caught on school cameras following behind her to
    a bathroom. He punched her in the face and started the rape. A student
    walked in the room while he was raping the teacher, but she quickly left.
    He then slashed the teacher to death. He took a janitor’s supply cart and
    put her body in it. He walked to a wooded area behind the school and dumped
    the body. He seperated her legs and pushed a 3ft tree limb up her vagina.
    He pulled up her top exposing her breasts then covered the body with
    leaves. He left a note next to the body, that said, “I hate you all!’
    He changed into clean clothes and went to a resturant and the movies.
    The teacher’s (She still lived at home) parents reported her missing.
    Philip’s mother reported him missing. He was picked up by the police at
    11 PM walking down the road. He had the teacher’s undergarments and
    cell phone on him. Also the bloody murder weapon. He recently
    attempted to do the same exact same thing at the juvenial facility were
    he’s held awaiting trial. He followed a female guard into a locker room and
    started punching her. She was saved in the nick of time.
    Now that’s what I call a war on women.

  2. Everybody believes THEY are at the center of the world.
    For example, many men would insist there is no such thing as a female incel.
    I urge them to listen to a song from 1990, (One of my favorites.) titled
    “Too Many Walls,” by Cathy Dennis.

  3. The Colleen Ritzer case was actually the murder of a woman, not a war on women.
    There are more men who die from violence than women who die from violence.

  4. Did you READ the details of what was done to her. And the way she died?
    I hardly believe that the baboon who commited that crime, and attempted
    to commit a simular crime had a love for women.
    If you believe that he can be reformed by a little T.L.C. you are welcome to try!

  5. @ Lon

    I think Liz was pointing out that while the crime you described was depraved and horrible, it isn’t quite a war on women because it’s a single really messed up boy, not an actual army against female citizens or a all around societal oppression directed towards one sex.

  6. But it’s ENTITLEMENT that was responsible for her death, and the attacks
    on women. Some guys believe they are ENTITLED to a woman’s body.
    Nobody get’s rejected on T.V.

  7. Sophia: “I think Liz was pointing out that while the crime you described was depraved and horrible, it isn’t quite a war on women because it’s a single really messed up boy, not an actual army against female citizens or a all around societal oppression directed towards one sex.”
    LS: “But it’s ENTITLEMENT that was responsible for her death, and the attacks
    on women.”

    There are all sorts of motivations for attacking all sorts of people.

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