In nineteen-three my paw told me -
And brothers Joe and Hal -
"You boys go help the Colonel dig
The Panama Canal."
So we went down to Frisco town
And hopped the "Water Witch,"
We told the man in Panama,
"We're here to dig your ditch."
The mud was worse than we had seen,
The bugs were pretty thick;
The Yellow Fever killed a bunch,
And made a lot more sick.
And most men got the jungle rot
That cripples up the feet;
And some got bit by Coral snakes
...But worse of all was heat.
Our sweat drew flies and burned our eyes;
The sun laid good men low;
And Joe would drink and say, "I think
I druther shovel snow."
We watched men die; the years dragged by,
And when we'd marked off five,
The Gaillard Cut came crumbling down
And buried Joe alive.
Though we missed Joe and talked of going,
When all is said and done,
It goes too much against the grain
For us to cut and run.
So seasons passed until at last
Old Hal caught Yellow Jack;
"This ditch has used me up," he swore,
"I won't be going back."
With saffron skin and fevered grin
He died without a moan.
I buried him along side Joe,
And I stayed on alone.
And then one day the ditch was done;
I climbed high up the rocks
And watched the first ship rise above
The Miraflores locks.
That night it seemed that in my dream
A tiny snake, and sleek,
Slipped silently to bed with me
And touched me on the cheek.
My brothers took my hands and smiled,
"Come watch the ships go through;
We've found good seats along the ditch
And saved the best for you."
We shadows watch the waterway
We built with our endeavor;
We did our share and want what's fair -
The ditch is ours forever.
So let the Paper Tiger run:
Old Joe and Me and Hal
We'll still be here in a thousand years,
Watching OUR Canal.