1. Home
  2. Poems & Poets
  3. Browse Poems
  4. The Chain Letter (An American Tragedy) by David Lee
The Chain Letter (An American Tragedy)

Related Poem Content Details

Ohdammit sez John I’m in trouble
so I sed why John?
John sez I got the bill for my insurance
and I haven’t got no money to pay it
cause I won’t get paid for swoking and bailing
Keith Guymon’s hay till next week
I done told him that would be just fine
when he ast a week ago but
LaVerne she went and opened the damn envelope
on a chain letter and I aint got no time
to write out twenty copies
I got to get that hay finished
so what am I posta do now?

I sez what John? John sez
it’s the damn govament
sends them things out I know it
and it works with the post office and
the insurance to keep you in line
I sez what John?

John sez my brother oncet
he got this chain letter back home
he didn’t have no time
to write out his copies neither
it sez he has four days to wrote it
before the luck comes good or bad
it aint never good I heard of
be he forgot
back then it was $5,000 this feller got
in four days and then later
when the govament ruint the money
he put on a zero it was $50,000
and then it was $100,000
now it sez he got $420,000
it’s the same guy it was in
that letter back then
just the numbers changed
it’s the way the govament has
to let us know how much
he’s gone let the money be worth
but the next day because he hadn’t
wrote out his twenty letters
he lost all that money
but my brother he was busy too
he didn’t do his letters

the third day after
he had to go kill these pigs
for this man but this other feller
was gone bring his milkcow down
get her bred to my brother’s bull
he told him go ahead and do it
he sez he’d have his boy
walk her down the road
it wasn’t far
so while my brother was gone
his boy brought her down
turnt her in the corral
he climbt up on the fence to watch

it might of been fine
except the hogs been rooting
up under the barn wall
my brother he borrowed
this lectric fence
he strung it along the side of the barn
so the bull mounts up on the milkcow
she turns and backs him up
against the barn he’s stuckt
he gets his back feet
tangled in that lectric fence
one in front and one back
he tries to move and he just tightens
up the lectric wire
that boy he sez you could hear it
zzip zzip zipp that bull
he starts to bellering
milkcow she don’t know
what’s going on so she backs him up
tighter against the barn
it isn’t no way he can get off
he commences to jumping up and down
on her and trying to get his feet
loost of that lectric wire
but he caint it goes zzip
he bellers and she backs up more
it goes zzip again
it was like he was doing a dance
like them crazy people do
trying to get his legs loost
hollering like a sonofabitch

so it was hogs there too
they heard it and here they come
it wasn’t natural and a hog
it won’t let nothing that’s not natural
stay that way around them
it has to get right or go away or die
that boy sez they all run up
grunted and squolt like hell
when that didn’t work
this one old mean bitching sow
she run right in between them
she bit that bull right on his seeds
she wanted him to stop acting that way
making all that noise
jumping up and down like that
right now

that bull he just went over backwards
right up against the barn
like he’d been shot in the head
knocked the whole goddam end
of the barn down
fell right on his back
the end rafter come down
on his chest it torn a piece of skin off
his pecker to his seeds
wide as your hand
they swolt up like basketballs
from the hogbite
broke ribs they figured
but it never did kill him
that milkcow she wan’t finished
she kept backing up
and fell down right on top of him
it was only the end of the barn
come down the rest stood up
that boy he’s ascairt
he got daddy’s milkcow up
off my brother’s bull he left
he sed he seen enough for oncet

my brother that night
he’s coming home from killing them hogs
he never knew none of this happened yet
he’s driving see? and he’d lost
his picking finger on his left hand
in the leaf springs of a wagon
when we’s kids so
he’s driving left-handed
and doing the gears and picking
with his right hand
it was a moon out so he’d turned off
his pickup lights listening
to the radio because his battery
wasn’t much good
he couldn’t do both
while he was driving
he couldn’t see good as
he thot he could
he hit this big chuckhole
slung him right into the steering wheel
he figured it would of broke his nose
if he hand’t been picking
but his hand took the cushion
it only gave him a nosebleed
but almost broke his hand
where it hit
his knuckles was bruised so bad
he couldn’t even open and shut
his fingers for a week
he had to drive the rest of the way home
left-handed and lean acrost
and shift with that hand too
he thot the other one was broke
but it wasn’t
he got home and the first thing
he seen was the end of his barn out
that bull standing there
inside the barn with his head down low
my brother thot he’d butted it down
he run in the house to get his gun
he was mad he would of kilt that bull
but they told him how it happened
so he didn’t
he went out to look
but it wasn’t no way they could
get that bull to go back in that yard
where them pigs was
he wouldn’t go out the barn
they him him acrost the butt
with a board he’d just stand there
he didn’t care no more

they went in the house
my brother he got out the dishpan
and soaked some cold water
so he lain his hand in it
to get the swollen to go down
he wouldn’t tell them how it happened
at first but while he was setting there
with his hand ducked
he remembered that chain letter
he jumped up and run to get it
sloshed water all over the kitchen floor
he was hollering how long’s it been?
how long’s it been?
they sez it happened this morning
it was just his morning
he sez whar? they sez when the sow
bit the bull on his seeds
knocked the barn down
he hollers no not that
how long’s it been since I got
this here chain letter in the mail?
they sez oh three days
he sez goddam I only got one day left

my brother he set up all night
writing out his twenty copies
he had to tape the pencil to his hand
cause it was swole up
his fingers wouldn’t bent
they sed he even wrote some
with his left hand
it was so bad you couldn’t read the words
he got them all done by sunup
the fourth day like it sed
and took it to the mailbox

he waited all morning on the porch
till they remembered it was Memoral Day
the mail he wouldn’t come
my brother he about had a worm
he run out to the mailbox
and got them letters he run over
to his pickup and clumb in
it wouldn’t crunk
he’d run the battery down
listening to the radio
goddam my brother he was mad
he busted the side winder
with his head when the pickup
wouldn’t turn over
jumped out and slammed the door
so hard it didn’t catch
it bounce right back and hit him
right on his swole-up hand
it hurt so bad he sez
he nearly fainted of the pain
he knew he had to get them letters
in the mail
so he walked all the way to town
it was more’n ten miles back then
it worked
nothing else happened
they got the end back in the barn
without it coming down
but they had to shoot the bull finally
and eat him
because he wouldn’t do nothing
just set there and waste away
he’d seen enough they guessed
it wasn’t no way he’d go
back out there with them pigs
in the corral

since then ever time
we seen a envelope in my family
it looks like it might be a chain letter
we don’t open it till we got time
to set down right then
and make out them twenty copies
like it sez to do
but this time LaVerne must of forgot
it snuck up on her
when I got home it was laying
on the table and it wasn’t nothing
I could do
it was my name on the envelope

I know it come from the insurance company
it was two years ago the man’s wife
from the insurance called
she sez to LaVerne then that she wanted her
to come to her house
she wanted to tell her about selling Amway
LaVerne she sez she wasn’t inarrested
a week later here comes
the insurance bill
by god it’s gone up almost double
I sez how come you didn’t go?
you could of just set and nod
now see what happened?
but it was too late

so I’m gone to have to stay up tonight
writing chain letters
I done wrote one to send to the insurance
so he’ll know I did it
and let the govament know
I wrote him a note on the bottom
and sez I’ll pay the insurance bill
as soon as I can
but things is tough all over
I just hope he’ll understand
I’d as soon right now
rather not have no luck at all
but I am willing to cooperate
if that’s what my duty is
as a patriotic American citizen

David Lee, “The Chain Letter (An American Tragedy)” from A Legacy of Shadows. Copyright © 1999 by David Lee.  Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.
Source: A Legacy of Shadows (Copper Canyon Press, 1999)
The Chain Letter (An American Tragedy)

Related Poem Content Details

Other Information