Monday, February 14, 2011
The Vinegar Man by Ruth Comfort Mitchell
The Vinegar Man
The crazy old Vinegar Man is dead! He never had missed a day before!
Somebody went to his tumble-down shed by the Haunted House and forced the door.
There in the litter of his pungent pans,
the murky mess of his mixing place
Deep, sticky spiders and empty cans
with the same old frown on his sour old face.
Vinegar - Vinegar - Vinegar Man!
Face - us - and - chase - us - and - catch - if -you - can!
Pepper for a tongue! Pickle for a nose!
Stick a pin in him and vinegar flows!
Glare -at-us- swear -at-us- catch - if - you-can!
Ketchup - and - chow - chow - and -Vinegar -Man!
Nothing but recipes and worthless junk;
greasy old records of paid and due
But down in the depths of a battered trunk,
a queer, quaint Valentine torn in two?
Red hearts and arrows and silver lace,
and a prim, dim, ladylike script that said
"With dearest love, from Ellen to Ned!"
Steal - us - and - peel - us - and - drown - us -in - brine!
He pickles his heart in a valentine!
Vinegar for blood! Pepper for his tongue!
Stick a pin in him and
...once he was young!
Glare -at-us- swear -at-us- catch - if - you - can!
"With dearest love" to the Vinegar Man!
Dingy little books of profit and loss
(died about Saturday, so they say),
And a queer, quaint valentine torn across . . .
torn, but it never was thrown away!
"With dearest love from Ellen to Ned"
"Old Pepper Tongue! Pickles his heart in brine!"
The Vinegar Man is a long time dead:
he died when he tore his valentine.
by Ruth Comfort Mitchell
I found this poem in a 100 year old book of poems for children. The author had included an gentle admonishment to be kind to the many "queer" people who live among us. I think every childhood has some ghosts of Vinegar Men. Mine included a low functioning man who mowed lawns for his living and who was terrorized by teen boys who called him "Cherokee Chuck" and made mock war dances around him in order to evoke his peculiar rage.
I like the way this strange little poem captures the idea of the "other" we think we have pegged as having a mysterious backstory, which is, of course, truth.