Upon discovering a scorpion in the bathtub of our new house this morning, I was reminded of a poem that absolutely enthralled me as a child of about 7 or 8. The piece, called “Hell in Texas” was in a book of poetry that my mom kept around the house and has stuck with me to this day.
We had recently moved to Texas from Minnesota and for a wide-eyed kid to find himself smack dab in the middle on the biggest of the big places in the world – Texas, was amazing. I instantly fell in love with the larger-than-life characters of Texas history as well as the rugged, individualistic swagger that said (without a word) – Texan!
When I discovered the poem, I read it over and over until I had it memorized. This is the only poem in my life I have ever memorized. It just meant that much to me. Without further prefacing, let me post it:
Hell in Texas
The Devil, we’re told, in hell was chained,
and a thousand years he there remained,
and he never complained, nor did he groan,
but determined to start a Hell of his own
where he could torment the souls of men
without being chained to a prison pen.
So he asked the Lord if he had on hand
anything left when he made the land.
The Lord said, “yes, i had plenty on hand,
but i left it down on the Rio Grande.
The fact is, old boy, the stuff is so poor,
i don’t think you can use it in Hell anymore.”
But the Devil went down to look at the truck,
and said if it came as a gift, he was stuck;
for after examining it careful and well
he concluded the place was too dry for hell.
So in order to get it off his hands
God promised the Devil to water the lands.
For he had some water, or rather some dregs,
a regular cathartic that smelt like bad eggs.
Hence the deal was closed and the deed was given,
and the Lord went back to his place in Heaven,
and the Devil said, “I have all that is needed
to make a good Hell.” And thus he succeeded.
He began to put thorns on all the trees,
and he mixed the sand with millions of fleas,
he scattered tarantulas along all the roads,
put thorns on the cacti and horns on the toads;
he lengthened the horns of the Texas steers
and put an addition on jack rabbit’s ears.
He put little devils in the bronco steed
and poisoned the feet of the centipede.
The rattlesnake bites you, the scorpion stings,
the mosquito delights you by buzzing his wings.
The sand burrs prevail, so do the ants,
and those that sit down need half soles on their pants.
The Devil then said that throughout the land
he’d manage to keep up the Devil’s own brand,
and all would be mavericks unless they bore
the marks and scratches and bites by the score.
The heat in the summer is a hundred and ten,
too hot for the devil and too hot for men.
The wild boar roams through the black chaparral,
it’s a Hell of a place he has for Hell;
the red pepper grows by the bank of the brook,
the Mexicans use it in all that they cook.
Just dine with a greaser and then you will shout,
“I’ve a Hell on the inside as well as without.”
Thank you Mom for having the book in the first place and for instilling in me a love of reading, thank you Dawn for the conversation this morning that reminded me of this lost gem, and thank you Hap for doing the legwork to track it down and send it to me.
Most of all – thank YOU for reading.