Swede’s “Sunny Sundown” Poem

(page numbers from Grove Press edition)

The men who worked the Redtail Mine were fed up with the boss.
They swarmed around his office door like blackflies round a hoss.
“No wages these three months!” one cried. “Let’s hang the lousy rat!
He’ll starve our very children, boys, while he himself gets fat!”
And true enough, behind the door, a fat man shook and wept;
The wobbling bags beneath his eyes said this man hadn’t slept.
A messenger had brought him work that made him feel his age:
Valdez, last night—the third straight month!—had robbed the payroll stage.

And now the mob broke down the door, and now they found a rope.
And now the boss was on his knees, a prayer was his last hope.
“Oh, God, I’m not an evil man, though everybody says
It’s all my fault that we ain’t caught the devil called Valdez.
Please find the man and send him who can plug the bandit king—”

Then each man felt the air go still; each felt a stab of dread;
Each heard the sound of danger in a dancing mustang’s tread.
They watched the horse come down the street; they watched the rider halt;
They watched him size them man by man, as if he knew each fault.
His clothes and hat were black as ink, his dancing mustang pale,
His eyes were blue and hard enough to make the sun turn tail.
He said, “You want to hang this man, I’ll give you each the same.
I don’t much like a mob,” said he, “and Sundown is my name.”

(pages 26-27)

A canyon dim and deep and cool was where he’d made his lair,
A labyrinthine cavern strewn with bits of bone and hair.
It smelled within of smoke and sin and blasphemy and dread,
And none would choose to walk that way who were not walking dead.
Yet down the quiet canyon wall a weary rider came—
A rider bent with grief yet bent on justice all the same.
And while the stormclouds rise on high, and ruin moans and grates,
The rider Sundown draws his Colt, and Valdez grins and waits.

(page 34)

Now Sundown’s wound is seeping and he’s tilting as he rides;
His eyes are red and gritty as he scans the canyon’s sides.
He hadn’t known the nature of the man whose track he sought,
And it sickened him to death to see the things Valdez had wrought.
One day an upturned stagecoach and its driver’s ghastly hue,
The next a blackened farmhouse and its family blackened too.
So many graves had Sundown dug, his hands were chapped and sore,
And now he prayed to God for strength to live and dig one more.

(page 35)

“And as the gunshots echo back against the canyon walls,
Valdez begins to totter—now he staggers—now he falls.”
“And later, Sundown finds a match and lights it with a stroke;
‘Cause graves in sunbaked ground come hard—a man can use a smoke.”

[alternate ending]
“When judgment came as gunfire to determine bad from good,
And Valdez lay all soaked in blood, and weary Sundown stood.”

(pages 68-69)

The moon was black as a miner’s lung,
The sky was black as a shroud,
And deep in a cell that was black as a well
Two men lay moaning aloud.

And one was Rennie, who’d robbed a man,
And one was Bert, who had killed,
And the gallows outside hadn’t ever been tried
But its mission would soon be fulfilled.

Three nooses swayed loose in a breeze like a sigh—
But who was the third who was waiting to die?

He’d been awake in his room one night,
With his darling asleep by his side,
When the bold Reddick boys, hardly making a noise,
Pushed the front door open wide.

His bride they had threatened not once but three times,
When his travels had fetched him away.
They had followed her round as she walked through the town,
Calling names I would rather not say—no,
The names I would rather not say.

And what do you think any good man would do,
No matter what judges or laws told him to?

They opened the door and they crossed the broad floor
With their minds full of evil intent.
For in town they had heard the fortuitous word
That Sundown on business was sent.

And as they approached Sunny rose to his feet,
Like a spirit he made not a sound,
And his blood rose inside as they came near his bride
And he shot the bold Reddick boys down, lads,
He shot the bold Reddick boys down.

So may a good man who has spared his wife hurt
Face death with the likes of poor Rennie and Burt.

(pages 99-100)

Till late in the night he had fought the good fight
With his fear, and had kept it at bay;
And he dreamed of his wife, and their satisfied life,
And he woke to a wicked new day.

* * *

Then he rose in his shirt and he nodded to Bert,
Who was empty and mute as a hole,
But down on his knees Rennie wept aloud, “Please,
Have charity on a thief’s soul, Lord,
Forgive my poor dry-rotted soul.”

Three nooses swung loose as a clergyman prayed.
Three men were marched forward—and two were afraid.

Then up the tight street came a rider so sweet,
She was light as the dawn, and as free—
And her hair was as black as her stallion’s back,
And she parted the crowd like a sea.

Leaned down from the black and pushed her hair back
And kissed his deliverer twice, my lads,
He kissed his deliverer twice.

(pages 105-106)

The blizzard shipped in from the west like a grin
On a darkened, malevolent face,
And the posse that sought Mr. Sundown was caught
In an awfully dangerous place.

For their horses were sore and their chances were poor
Of locating warmth or repose,
When the sweet sudden sight of miraculous light
Shone dim in the dark and the snows, my lads,
A light through the dark and the snows.

And the lady who answered their knock at the door
Had answered another, an hour before.

She bid them to stay, in her courteous way,
And insisted they sit by the fire,
And she poured them all brandy and sang them a song
And they slept as though lulled by a choir.

The sheriff next morning was first to awake
And he called all his men to the chase,
For a dream had suggested their quarry sought rest
In the hay in the barn on the place, lads—
He’d slept in the barn on the place.

But when they crept into the building to spy,
Gone horses, gone lady, gone outlaw, goodbye!

(pages 160-161)

From a spire of stone Sunny watched for his own,
For his raven-haired intrepid bride.
For she’d sworn to seek his Arcadian peak,
Her life to spend by his side

Then a rider appeared on a day stale and seared
And approached through the undulate heat,
And her horse had the stride of a wearisome ride—
Of a horse too long on its feet.

But deep in the distance and churning up smoke,
Who are the riders come charging for broke?

(page 258)

Enger, Leif. “Swede’s “Sunny Sundown” Poem.” Adams County Reads One Book – Explore the Book – Sunny Sundown. Gettysburg College, 2006. Web. 08 Nov. 2013.



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