Black Cross

by Joseph S. Newman,
as performed by Richard "Lord" Buckley

"Black Cross" was published in 1948 by Joseph S. Newman in a collection of poems entitled It Could Be Verse. The poet was Paul Newman's uncle, not his grandfather. He ran a sporting goods store in Cleveland, and wrote and published as a poet and as a local journalist. His collection included an appreciative introduction by the critic Louis Untermeyer, so it was hardly unrecognized in its time, though it is hard to find today.

Buckley probably met Newman at some time. He recorded two of the other poems in his collection, "Jehova and Finnegan" and "Leviathan" as well as one, "Shah's Embroidered Pants," that does not appear in the book. I have included both the published version and the poem as Buckley recorded it, though the differences are minor.

"Black Cross" was also performed by Bob Dylan and has been preserved in bootleg recordings.

The original reads as follows:

Black Cross

Joseph S. Newman

Hezekiah Jones of Hogback County
Lived on a hill in a weather-beaten hovel
And all that he owned was a two-acre plot
And a bed and some books and a hoe and a shovel.

Hezekiah, black as the soil he was hoeing,
Worked pretty hard to make ends meet;
Raised what he ate, with a few cents over
To buy corn likker that he drank down neat,

And a few cents more that he put in the cupboard
Against what he called "de rainy season,"
But he never got to save more'n two or three dollars
Till he gave it away for this or that reason.

The white folks around knew old Hezekiah...
"Harmless enough, but the way I figger
He better lay off'n them goddam books,
'Cause readin' ain't good fer an ignorant nigger."

Reverend Green, of the white man's church,
Finally got around to "comin' ovah
To talk with you-all about the Pearly Kingdom
An' to save yo' soul fer the Lawd Jehovah!"

"D'ya b'lieve in the Lawd?" asked the white man's preacher.
Hezekiah puckered his frosty brow,
"Well I can't say 'yes,' so I ain't gonna say it,
Caze I ain't SEEN de Lawd....nowhere....no-how."

"D'ya b'lieve in Heaven?" asked the white man's preacher,
"Where you go, if you're good, fer yer last rewa'hd?"
"Ah'm good," said Hezikiah, "good as Ah'm able,
But Ah don't expect nothin' from Heaven OR the Lawd."

"D'ya b'lieve in the Church?" asked the white man's preacher.
Hezekiah said, "Well de Church is divided;
Ef they can't agree, than Ah cain't neither...
Ah'm like them....Ah ain't decided."

"You don't b'lieve nothin'," roared the white man's preacher.
"Oh yes Ah does," said old Hezikiah,
"Ah b'lieve that a man's beholden to his heighbash
Widout de hope of Heaven or de fear o' hell's fiah."

There's a lot of good ways for a man to be wicked...
They hung Hezikiah as high as a pidgeon,
And the nice folks around said, "He had it comin'
'Cause the son-of-a-bitch didn't have no religion!"


And Buckley's version:

It's a beautiful thing.

It was written by Paul Newman's beloved grandfather, in Cleveland,
a Cleveland poet. It's "Black Cross."

There was Old Hezekiah Jones, of Hogback County.
He lived on a hill in a weatherbeaten hovel.
And all that he owned was a two-acre plot
with a bed and some books and a hoe and a shovel.

Old Hezekiah, black as the soil he was hoeing,
Worked pretty hard to make both ends meet.
Raised what he ate, with a few cents over
To buy corn likker that he drank down neat,

And a few cents more that he put in the cupboard
Against what he called "de rainy season,"
But he never got to save more'n two or three dollars
Till he gave it away for this or that reason.

The white folks around knew old Hezekiah...
"Harmless enough, but the way I figger
He better lay off'n them goddam books,
'Cause readin' ain't good fer an ignorant nigger."

Reverend Green, of the white man's church,
Finally got around to "comin' ovah
To talk with you-all about the Pearly Kingdom
An' to save yo' soul fer the Lawd Jehovah!"

"D'ya b'lieve in the Lawd?" asked the white man's preacher.
Hezekiah puckered his frosty brow,
"Well I can't say 'yes,' so I ain't gonna say it,
Caze I ain't SEEN de Lawd....nowhere....no-how."

"D'ya b'lieve in Heaven?" asked the whiteman's preacher,
"Where you go, if you're good, fer yer last rewa'hd?"
"Ah'm good," said Hezikiah, "good as Ah'm able,
But Ah don't expect nothin' from Heaven OR the Lawd."

"D'ya b'lieve in the Church?" asked the white man's preacher.
Hezekiah said, "Well de Church is divided;
Ef they can't agree, than Ah cain't neither...
Ah'm like them....Ah ain't decided."

"You don't b'lieve nothin'," roared the white man's preacher.
"Oh yes Ah does," said old Hezikiah,
"Ah b'lieve that a man's beholden to his neighbahs
Widout de hope of Heaven or de fear o' hell's fiah."

There's a lot of good ways for a man to be wicked...
They hung Hezikiah as high as a pidgeon,
And the nice folks around said, "He had it comin'
'Cause the son-of-a-bitch didn't have no religion!"


From Way Out Humor, World Pacific, 1959. Recorded live at the Ivar Theatre, Los Angeles, 1959. Rereleased as Lord Buckley in Concert, Demon Verbals, 1985

Transcribed by EARL RIVERS

[Text Only Version]

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