Tell was raised in the muddy dark delta of Arkansas
Rich bottom land in cotton, four hundred acres in all
And another hundred and fifty of hard pan and red clay
Let out to poor share croppers, all Negroes by the way.
His daddy called them lazy, shiftless, slow, and indeed
He taught young Bollinger that Negroes were of a lesser breed.
“Ain’t one in ten can read nor write and look at what shacks they live in.
No white man would endure conditions darkeys grow and thrive in.”
And Tell grew up alongside of them, watchin’ dark familes toil
Tryin to scratch out a livin’ tillin’ his daddy’s red clay soil
Callin’ his daddy ‘Mistah Bollinger, suh,” holdin’ their hats in hand.
Payin’ him in cash and half of their crop for the use of his meager land.
Tell Bollinger turned seventeen in nineteen forty-four
He up and joined the Navy; they shipped him off to war.
His daddy said, “I’ll tend your horse and pray for you each day.
But Tell’s ship was sunk in the Solomons ten thousand miles away.
Listed as”Missing Fate Unknown” that terrible telegram said,
All hope was soon abandoned; Tell Bollinger figured for dead.
Then came that telegram at the end of forty five.
Petty Officer Bollinger has been found and he’s alive.
Black natives in an outrigger found adrift a rubber raft
Half dead of thirst and burned real bad they put him in their craft.
And hid this poor burnt sailor underneath some woven mats
Those heathen dark skinned gentlemen they saved him from the Japs.
With herbs and teas from jungle roots his wounds their women tended
They cooled his burns with poultices and his broken leg they mended.
Five months he lay in a bamboo hut watchin’ the village’s ways
When the Jap patrols came passing through, they’d hide Tell in a cave
They cared and fed the American as though he were their kin
With never a worry or notion about the color of his skin.
These simple generous people the world considered savage
Had somehow escaped the world’s cruelty of ranking social classes.
Though unburdened of such social ills, mankind’s too common flaws
Disease, Tell watched plague his village, malaria, dengue and yaws
Hookworm, tapeworm, roundworrms many parasites unseen
He reckoned could be prevented with some simple, basic hygene.
Kari Kavas was the maiden who tended Tell’s burns and wounds
By his side gently singing and weaving on a backstrap loom
She fetched his water and his food and bathed him of an evening
And taught Tell Melanesian words their soft sounds and ther meaning.
Never having seen a white man some folks would sit and stare
Children came to his litter; they’d laugh and touch his hair.
Some nights he lay there and wondered, if the situation were reversed
Would folks back home help a black man abandoned, alone and hurt?
Malaria’s chills and ague may induce strange febrile dreams
And Tell had a mystical vision, the future foretold it seems
This village had a school, a clinic, a well and ‘lectric lights.
A great thatched hut with benches and movies on Saturday nights
Back home when the war was over, with the help of the G I Bill
Through med school and a residency he became young Doctor Tell.
Then in nineteen forty nine three tornados close in a violent swarm
They took away his mom and dad and flattened out their farm.
In preparing for the sale of the land surveyors at their toil
Not far beneath the surface found deposits of crude oil.
The mineral leases Tell retained but with the land something rare
To thirty dark poor families came the answer to their prayers.
Forty acre plots of land to each family I will sell
And all you’ll have to pay for this is a single dollar bill.
Share cropping days are over now you have rich bottom land,
And you’ll never to another man approach with hat in hand.
Now wealthy with oil lease income Tell satisfied his notion
He settled up stateside affairs and sailed across the ocean.
With thoughts of the tropical islands, of the women in lava lavas
But most of all a certain one, his beautiful Kari-Kavas
Tell returned to that jungle village so tropical and sunny
And he married Kari Kavas who cared for love not money.
Now the village has a clinic, a well, and electric lights
And Tell and dark lady watch the movie on Saturday nights.
© Gary Ives