Billy Daily

Billy Daily loved his life,
and he loved Amanda Wheeler.
He'd sit with her on the front porch swing
and ache to touch and feel her.

He loved her like a unmarked soul
likes to love another one.
He'd hold her hand when he could,
and then he'd hold the other one.

Billy Daily loved his life,
and he loved Amanda Wheeler.
He wrote her unsent love letters
that one day away he'd steal her.

Their favorite nights were summer -
safe and sweet and dark and warm.
When she came in close to him,
her breath would brush along his arm.

But as much as he loved her - as much as he wanted -
there was another that touched him even deeper -
that called him by his real name, and slipped under his skin
when he was a helpless sleeper.

It was the River that slipped silky into his dreams,
running round the land and through the valley floor.
Penetrating his sleep, its endless rippling seams
ran their fingers through his core.

And as much as he loved Amanda,
it was the river that sang the boy's song,
and called him to the boy's life
growing wild and free and strong.

So, he and his pal Matty Bell
would pray through the winter's cold -
pray for school's rules to end
and free them to the river's fold.

Then, catching an ore car through the Hopewell tunnel
when the engineer turned a blind eye,
they'd hike down from the Clarkdale smelter
to a world of water and sun and sky.

Building a raft out of the broken limbs
the spring flood threw up on the beach,
they'd drift from the sand pits to the Anazazi ruins
wanting for nothing not within their reach.

They'd pretend they were the old ones
that had long since disappeared.
They'd paint their faces with river mud
like warriors white men feared.

The days were long and slow
and filled with the Arizona sun.
When it got too hot
they'd dive in the deep spot
and try to touch the bottom.

One day as Billy was rambling
about Amanda and all she was to him,
Matty laughed and said that Billy's
love-soaked brain was getting dim -
said the girl was ruining his friend,
just by being feminine.
"You know, you're going down.
I never seen the like.
Your eyes are glassy,
got a fever probably.
You ain't talking sense,
and your knees are wobbly.
A Wobbly, that's what I'm calling you boy.
Twitchy and shaky -
Amanda's little toy."

Then he laughed
and pushed Billy off the raft.

Billy rolled into the moving water
clear and cold as a preacher's daughter.
He tumbled weightless in the stream,
silver trout flashing all around him.

Billy Daily loved his life,
and he loved Amanda Wheeler.
He thought he had the insight
on the inside of the real her.

Her eyes were a mysterious place
where love sick boys got lost.
He spent himself upon her
and didn't count the cost.

It was always the river though
that pulled him from her spell.
How deep it ran inside of him
he had no words to tell.

When the sun was warm, and the river smooth under the raft,
slipping through the shade of the Cottonwood trees,
they rode through an untouched world, and life
was as pure and sweet and free as you please.

On the tenth of July in aught-seventeen
they spent the whole day in liquid motion.
floating and dreaming somewhere in between
the valley and the inevitable ocean.

They fished with cane poles and worms
and caught a few dace and bass.
They were lazy in no uncertain terms
and lived the day until the last.

Then, running up the hill,
They caught the five fifteen.
Supper was at six,
And they had to be clean.

Matty was still riding him
about being so much in love,
calling him a "Wobbly"
who needed help from heaven above.

When they got into town,
they could see that something was wrong.
There were armed men everywhere -
soldiers on rooftops with gatling guns.

His friendly neighbors had turned into a mob
shouting and screaming in the dusty street.
He saw Mr. Perkins, Mr. Chavez, Charlie Persons,
and even his drunk uncle Pete.

They were all yelling one word over and over,
and they were yelling it clear.
"Kill the Wobblies! they shouted,
"We don't want no god-damned Wobblies here!"

For the first time in his life Billy Daily tasted fear.
Every face he saw was filled with hate.
They wanted to hurt him
shoot him
undo him.
"Kill the Wobblies!" was all they could say.

He saw the sheriffs driving men before them,
rifles pointed at their heads,
forcing them into box cars at the depot,
grown men like the walking dead.

He heard one man singing
in a proud but sorrowful voice,
singing about how all workers
deserved to have a choice.

"You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray,
live on hay,
You'll get pie
in the sky
when you die."  *

He watched as the sheriff clubbed him -
watched him fall down to the ground -
watched his stunned eyes close
and his mouth cease to make a sound.

It was then the sheriff looked up
and glared hard into his eyes.
He said, "Wobblies are the one thing
that I really do despise."

Billy ran like he had never run before,
down the shadowy hill to his home.
Still the screaming voices chased him,
chilling him to the bone.

He ran into his mother's arms,
held her tight and started to sob.
He told her about the soldiers
and the guns and the vicious, violent mob.

Told her how they yelled
and how hateful people could be,
and how they wanted to kill him
just because he was a Wobbly.

His mother took and held him tight,
and told him everything was fine -
She told him that he was not the Wobbly
that those folks were trying to find.

He stopped and looked into her eyes,
and saw that it was the gospel truth,
but something precious there had slipped away.
It was the last bit of her youth.

She looked a little older now
and sadder, that's for sure.
A certain light had grown clouded there
that used to shine so pure.

Billy Daily changed that day.
as somethings became much clearer.
He learned to hold those
that he loved
just a little nearer.

Billy Daily loved his life,
and he loved Amanda Wheeler.
He'd sit with her on the front porch swing
and ache to touch and feel her.

He loved her like a soiled soul
likes to love a purer one.
Between the lost and innocent,
the innocent's the surer one.

And the river?
It remained the same.
Was Billy who let it go.
He was replaced
by a younger boy
who had no sin to know.

* From "Preacher and the Slave" by Joe Hill, famous folk hero and organizer for the IWW. Hill was executed by a firing squad in 1915 for a murder he said he did not commit. He was seen as a martyr to the cause.

On July 10, 1917 local vigilantes aided by the National Guard rounded up 75 men suspected of being members of the International Workers of the World, put them on railroad boxcars and deported them from the town. The larger and more famous Bisbee deportation took place two days later.

Billy Daily      by Terry Molloy       Copyright 2000      All Rights Reserved

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