The Song of Uncle John


Once, in the dead of night, nestled between us sleeping, Dubsie sat bolt upright. She began to chant in a deep voice we didn’t know she possessed.

Mother, Father, Uncle John
Went to market, one by one

The words rolled slow and solemn from her mouth, like a dirge.

Mother fall off … whee!
Father fall off … whee!
Uncle John went on and on.

She repeated the verse, to our confusion and alarm. We had never heard this rhyme before. We looked at each other and wondered if Poltergeist were perhaps more than just a movie.

She promptly fell back to sleep.

uncle john

Inquiries the following morning revealed that this Uncle John was a ditty she had learned at library music class. Why she muttered it in our chamber, once upon a midnight dreary, is a dark and curious mystery.

That was a few months ago, but Uncle John remains one of her favorites. Each time she recites it I am amused yet disquieted. Who was this Uncle John? And what of Mother and Father? When they fell off, how did he so callously go on and on? Did he not hear their whees?

Uncle John, careening down a muddy country road, in his rags and matted hair, cackling as he drives a whip across the horses’ backs, and Dubsie shuddering behind him on the buckboard. These are the rhymes that try a father’s soul.



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