Round 3: "Ballad"

The challenge was to write a ballad inspired by a musical piece. Mine was "The Insiders, Track 2":  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzlTvDD-7ws

Before I go on, let me say a thank you to Trevor/smac972 for coming up with this challenge. Although life got in the way, I still think you were a wonderful leader. I hope you get to come back again later to properly finish things out.

To Will/verse47, thank you for relighting the fire when it seemed the tournament was sure to snuff itself out. You're new, true, but know that you've already left an indelibly permanent mark on the rest of us :)

The Ballad of Paulie Barber

Paulie had his ticket punched
And there was no goin' back.
Paulie caught the last train out:
The endless stretch of track.

He booked a seat in the far-back car
And began to settle in
When he spied through shear of smoke
A game ‘bout to begin.

He asked if he might sit a hand,
The greyed-out heads did nod
And Paulie caught the dealer's sneer,
Like glare off a lightnin' rod.

Paulie had his ticket punched
And there was no goin' back.
Paulie caught the last train out:
The endless stretch of track.

A feline with a frizzed-out mane
And a hat like sunset on his head
Purred, "A change of game might I suggest;
Strip poker, aye, instead."

Paulie and the table shrugged,
Was all the same to them.
The dealer gnawed at his cigar
And dealt to all the men.

The cat was out in one swift round
(He'd tried to bluff bad cards).
So Paulie won that sunset hat
And the train chugged onward.

Paulie had his ticket punched
And there was no goin' back.
Paulie caught the last train out:
The endless stretch of track.

The table shifted, change of hands,
A hound crouched o'er his cards.
He sputtered a greeting to Paulie and said,
"I'm replacin' the cat, that coward."

The dealer cut the deck and dealt.
"Aces high," he muttered.
The dog scratched the chain at his neck,
"Three of a kind," he stuttered.

Paulie fanned his two-tone straight
And saw the hound's face flush.
"I -uh guess that you'll be takin' this."
He tugged his chain and blushed.

Paulie had his ticket punched
And there was no goin' back.
Paulie caught the last train out:
The endless stretch of track.

This round the dealer snagged a chair
And turned his cap around.
He skewered his cigar in the table
And dealt the cards face-down.

"Now this round's special," he said with a grin.
"Call it the ultimate strip.
"If I win, I get your soul.
"You win, it's the end of your trip."

Paulie glanced at the world outside,
The chips of moving scenery.
He noted the sky like an infected scab
And the steadily reddening greenery.

Paulie had his ticket punched
And there was no goin' back.
Paulie caught the last train out:
The endless stretch of track.

Paulie took his cards up.
The dealer took up his.
Nuthin' but fluff, Paulie thought
And the dealer noted his visage.

The train chuffed and bucked,
Its rails glowed with the heat,
Paulie shifted his cards in his grip,
And the dealer picked his teeth.

"I'll let you fold to save some face."
The dealer adjusted his frames.
"Nice offer," thanked a grinning Paulie,
"But I think I'll call, all the same."

Paulie had his ticket punched
But there's always another chance.
Paulie caught the last train out:
Off the endless stretch of track.

Paulie Barber burned the Devil
And won a ticket back.
‘Cuz dealers who wear sunglasses
Clearly don't know jack.

 

Because I thought you'd find it interesting: one of the common themes in a ballad is that of a quest consisting of three "challenges". I took this and decided to play with the idea of underworld guardians leading up to the big man himself.

The cat is representative of Aker, one of the earliest-worshipped gods in Ancient Egypt. Aker was a deification of the horizon and depicted as two lions balancing the horizon on their shoulders. The horizon being a line between night and day eventually came to represent the line between life and death and so Aker was said to guard both the entrance and exit of the underworld. The horizon is a red sun, like a sunset, and so the cat with a sunset hat was my first choice.

The dog symbolizes Cerberus, who, according to Dante, stands in the third circle of Hell and gnaws on those who have succumbed to gluttony. One of Hercules' tasks was to capture Cerberus without weapons and Dante mentions that the dog still has the marks of the hero's chain around his neck. The three heads are represented by the three-of-a-kind hand and Paulie, of course, wins the chain from around Cerberus' neck.

The End

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