Black Powder Elegy

or Murderous Lamentations for the Dead


Ol’ buzzard smell the carrion rot, ol’ possum climb the tree,

 I’ll find your body in the night, I’ll put my gun to thee.

I was a young man when I left Grant County to fight the Germans. I saw enough death to last ten lifetimes. But, somehow, when I got back, I wanted just a little more.

I’d fallen in love with a woman in France. A girl, really. So had another G.I. You may know that the men from my corner of the world do feud. And this other G.I., he was from a clan in a holler down the way with which mine never got along. Like sickness, hatred infected him and followed us both acrost the ocean.

He come for her one night, in Paris. She denied him for my sake. So he left her face down, bleedin’ to death in the gutter.

I hunted him like a madman possessed, but his unit shipped out the next morning, and find him I could not.

The panther waits upon the rock, silent as can be,

The devil could but move him not, his patience is the key.

I had to wait. I would wait for my revenge and pray that the damn Germans didn’t get him before me. Every night I prayed.

“God, let him live. Let him live and come home safe. Please.

I got word that he was shot somewhere near the Black Forest. I was heartbroke ‘til I learned he had not died. He was sent stateside to recover. So, after the war, when I made it back to the holler where I’d been born, I was ready to end him. But he had not come home. The bastard had turned to bank robbin’ to make a living now that the army was done with him. The law caught him up somewhere in Kentucky. He was rottin’ away in a cell. I could not touch him there.

Winters fall across the hills, the years they come and go,

 And sparrows mark the wasted time, a’ diggin’ in the snow.

 But my love for you, my silk haired girl, it will never wane,

I’ll wait for him, I’ll wait for him, and then we’ll meet again.

Ten years that sonofabitch did in the state pen. Would have done more, but he betrayed a compatriot. Ten years I spent, bidin’ my time. I took a job clerking at a shop in Keyser, and I took a wife. I even had a child. But I never forgot the French girl. And I never forgot the man who killed her. The man who one day would come back home, to the holler down the way. I stared out the window of that shop, watching the dirt road for ten long years. I stared at the face of every man that drove down it. He would come back. He had to come back. And one day, he did.

There’s a way the fall air feels when it shakes yellow leaves that have clung on too long. I can’t quite explain it, other than to say even though it’s cold, the Appalachian wind boils your blood.

I saw him that day, drivin’ slow through early snow. That night my wife wondered where I was goin’ with grandpa’s old muzzleloader. I did not give to her an answer.

On winter nights we hear the fox, he screams into the black,

The mountain swallows every word, it don’t never answer back.

He was easy to find. He’d come home to his mother’s house. I met him on the porch when he came out for firewood.

“This is for the French girl,” I said just before I let the black powder roar. But another was there before me. The robber he had betrayed.

 The robber shot first, and his aim was true.

“You stole him from me,” I screamed as my quarry’s blood stained the snow. The betrayed robber did not answer, only turned to walk away.

My patience had been for nothin’. My life spent waitin’ on nothin’.

Lucky me. I had just enough powder for one shot.

~ fin ~


Ryan Michael Hines is a novelist, podcaster, and screenwriter based in Southern California who loves the Southland sun but misses the beauty and mystery of the Appalachian Mountains every day. His debut novel MOONSHINELAND: A Tale of Haunted Appalachia was published in October 2023. Learn more about Ryan and his fiction at .