Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund

 

 

Two Possum Songs - (2010)    

Paul Laurence Dunbar

for medium voice and piano


 

i.    Sling Along - [ 4 pages, circa 4' 00" ]

 

Sling along, sling along, sling along,
De moon done riz,
Dem eyes o’ his,
Done sighted you,
Where you stopped to woo.
Sling along, sling along,
It ain’t no use fu’ to try to hide,
De moonbeam allus at yo’ side,
He hang f’om de fence, he drap f’om de limb,
Dey ain’t no use bein’ skeered o’ him.
Sling along, sling along.

Sling along, sling along, sling along,
De brook hit flow,
Fu’ to let you know,
Dat he saw dat kiss,
An’ he know yo’ bliss.
Sling along, sling along.
He run by yo’ side,
An’ he say howdydo,
He ain’t gwine to tell but his eye’s on you,
You can lay all yo’ troubles on de very highest she’f,
Fu’ de little ol’ brook’s jes’ a talkin’ to his se’f,
Sling along, sling along.

Sling along, sling along, sling along.
De ‘possum grin,
But he run lak sin,
He know love’s sweet,
But he prize his meat.
Sling along, sling along.
He know you’d stop fu’ to hunt his hide,
If you los’ a kiss and a hug beside,
But de feas’ will come and de folks will eat,
When she tek yo’ han’ at de altah seat.
So sling along, sling along.
 

ii.    Possum - [ 3 pages, circa 2' 25" ]

 

Ef dey's anyt'ing dat riles me
An' jes' gits me out o' hitch,
Twell I want to tek my coat off,
So's to r'ar an' t'ar an' pitch,
Hit's to see some ign'ant white man
'Mittin' dat owdacious sin--
W'en he want to cook a possum
Tekin' off de possum's skin.

W'y, dey ain't no use in talkin',
Hit jes' hu'ts me to de haht
Fu' to see dem foolish people
Th'owin' 'way de fines' paht.
W'y, dat skin is jes' ez tendah
An' ez juicy ez kin be;
I knows all erbout de critter--
Hide an' haih--don't talk to me!

Possum skin is jes' lak shoat skin;
Jes' you swinge an' scrope it down,
Tek a good sha'p knife an' sco' it,
Den you bake it good an' brown.
Huh-uh! honey, you's so happy
Dat yo' thoughts is 'mos' a sin
When you's settin' dah a-chawin'
On dat possum's cracklin' skin.

White folks t'nk dey know 'bout eatin',
An' I reckon dat dey do
Sometimes git a little idee
Of a miedlin' dish er two;
But dey ain't a t'ing dey knows of
Dat I rekon cain't be beat
W'en we set down at de table
To a unskun possum's meat!

[ 7 pages, circa 6' 25" ]


Paul Laurence Dunbar

 

"Sling Along" is taken from Dunbar's collection, Joggin' Erlong, 1906, and "Possum" is found his in Howdy Honey Howdy, 1905. The seeming oddity in the present day of eating possum -- alternatively, opossum -- belies the truth that it was once a staple meat. An article on Wikipedia states, "The opossum was once a favorite game animal in the United States, and in particular the southern regions which have a large body of recipes and folklore relating to the opossum. Opossum was once widely consumed in the United States where available, as evidenced by recipes available online and in books such as older editions of The Joy of Cooking." Among online sources for recipes is North Carolina State University A&T State University Cooperative Extension, wherein may be found a recipe for Stewed Opossum. One may note the humor and indeed sweet affection with which the animal and its being served at table is lovingly recorded in Dunbar's dialect poetry.

 

 

This is a gentle commentary on love, wrapped in the images of that kind of community which Dunbar, in yet another poem, named Possum Trot. Lyrical, it is meant to be sung without affect.

 

 

The second setting is in an unusual 7/8 meter, of shifting groupings of two and three. It is a verse form with a bridge on the subdominant for the third stanza of poetry. Dunbar's accusatory "ig'nant white man" is a pointed reference at the differences in cultures, though it is also true within other social groups, white "rednecks" have their affection for possum in a variety of recipes and preparations. Let us therefore note that Dunbar calls skinning the animal -- rather than removing the fur alone -- is an audacious "sin" to the advocates of the meat.

 

 

The score for Two Possum Songs is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.

 

Two Possum Songs