Kipling’s Bet

If people stop and ask you do you know the way,
I suggest you tell them what Kipling had to say,
But don’t wax too lyrically or they’ll put you to the test,
Of which verse of Kipling’s ‘IF’ do you know the best.
They’ll say to you my friend, would you risk it on one pitch,
Would you stake all that you have gained, against a life lived in a ditch?
And you in your retort may say to them in jest,
“Do you think that I look so handsomely dressed?
You haven’t seen the tools, which I carry in this pack;
You haven’t heard the fools who stabbed me in the back.
But the hammer’s a little worn and the axe has lost its gloss.
Now, that’s enough my friend about my loss.”

But they might twist your arm a little as your story has intrigue,
And you in turn may care to tell them something of your dreams,
Tell them of your youth, and of all your lofty plans,
Tell them of time you crossed the Rio Grande,
Tell them of the places you haunted and the women that you met,
And then tell them all of that God almighty bet.

Let them know the circumstances, how your dreams had taken over;
How all rationale had left you with a girl you met in Dover,
How you’d built a fair stake, but not enough to win her hand,
How another man was courting her who owned half of fucking England,
Tell them how your love, could lift you when you walked,
How you passed through some sublime vortex that allowed your souls to talk,
Then tell them of the dark side how in a drunken binge,
A game of pitch-and-toss was happening on the fringe.
You’d watched it for a while, whilst sipping from a can,
When who should walk in but the Lord of all England,
Inside your heart was thumping the adrenaline pump was on;
Little did you know how much would go wrong.

“Hey! You,” was your challenge. One so poorly mustered,
It wouldn’t have had the strength of purpose to ripple a bowl of custard,
In fact, as it turned out, most unfortunate in the end,
The Mighty Lord of England mistook you for a friend.

“It’s you,” he did effuse, “My mutual friend of Nancy’s
And one I do believe who also shares her fancy,
Come over here my man; let me know your name,
I want to know my challenger in life’s eternal game,
Barman,” he commanded. “Get my friend a drink,
Let’s have ourselves a little chat,” he said with a sly wink.
“What is it that you’re drinking in that infernal can?
Come on get this in you.” He shoved a whisky in your hand.

The “common touch” they call it, and it can be so disarming
Especially in the hands of someone, oh so charming,
To say you’d dropped your guard would be an understatement,
The Mighty Lord of England had all but dropped your dacks and raped you.

Nancy was the natural topic so of her you did converse,
But things slinked quickly into something quite perverse.
The Mighty Lord of England started in on a rant,
Of the bed he shared with you-know-who and all his dirty plans,
Though you were sick with jealousy, as your love was unrequited,
What the Lord had to say made you quite excited.

You knew then for certain it was money that she wanted,
And at that foul moment all your decency absconded,
If you’d had been a better man, if only you could have walked with kings,
You would have known to turn away and plan a different sting,
But you wanted Nancy in your bed, and a chance to bludgeon this Lord’s head,
You wanted all that this man had; and you wanted it all so very bad.

“Hey look!” said the Lord. “They are playing pitch-and-toss,
Can you believe at that fine game I have never had a loss?”

“What’s the odds of that,” your mind numbly computed.
“Pretty slim you’d have to think,” something inside you muted,
“It’ll be just like roulette you can’t keep betting black.
I’ll stake all that I have got and give this prick a heart attack.”

“So, you’ve never lost a twirl at a game of pitch and toss.
Well funny as it may seem I too have never lost.”
You let that thought drift, out there on the smoke,
But the look on your face, made sure it was no joke.
It was a challenge pure and simple, one no betting man could pass up,
Especially one like the Lord who wasn’t lacking in a buck.

“Never lost a twirl, you say. How remarkable that is.
Lets say we get together and give those coins a whiz.
We’ll have to have a stake. What will your marker be?
How about the other man can never see Nancy?”

Never see Nancy was a price you wouldn’t pay.
You weren’t about to give up your chance for a roll there in the hay.

“How about we make a wager of the financial kind?
I’m prepared to put down every fucking dime.”

“Right then. Then that’s it. I’ll match your marker square,”
Though the Mighty Lord of England probably didn’t really care.

From there you muscled over to the edge of the game,
Where the Lord seemed to know the spruiker by name,
They had a casual chat in a private kind of way,
Before the spruiker turned, and had this to say,
“Leave it off then lads. We’ve got ourselves a bet,
We all know that Ed ’ere ain’t ever been bet,
He’s got ’imself a challenger, a likely lad as well,
’e says ’e’ll bet every dime or see Ed ’ere in Hell,”

Well the laughter fair rung out and if you’d have had your doubts,
Now was the time for every one of them to count.
But the odds had to be even or slightly in your favor,
As time and chance were against Ed, but would they be your saviors.

“Clear the ring!” the spruiker called, as he gave the coin a kiss,
“What it’ll be then Ed?” The coin resting on his fist,

“Heads!” was the call and the glint of metal hit the air,
The game of pitch and toss is irrevocably fair,
It flipped and turned and landed and spun out of control,
It twirled whilst it standed, commanding fate over lost souls,
It drove a final listless circle and landed on its tail,
With its head there for all to see, fate had prevailed,
The laughter and the back slapping left you in despair,
Ed turned and took your hand; he fixed you with his stare,
He could have made a joke and belittled you even more,
But instead he gave you the key to another door.
“If you can cop this on the chin, treat it all as just good fun,
Then yours is the earth and all that’s with in,
And what’s more you’ll be a man my son.”

Copyright Dan Flynn 1999

Kipling’s Bet


Taipei, Taiwan

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