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[1 of 5] Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Act One, Scene 1, by August Wilson

Author: August Wilson

Wilson, August. "Act One, Scene 1," Joe Turner's Come and Gone. Signet, 1988.

Preface to the Play

Mill Hand’s Lunch Bucket (Pittsburgh Memories)

Name: Mill Hand’s Lunch Bucket (Pittsburgh Memories)
Artist: Romare Bearden (American, b.1911, d.1988), artist
Date: 1978
Medium: collage of cut paper and fabric with watercolor, graphite pencil, gouache, and felt-tip pen on Masonite
Measurements: 13 11/16 x 18 1/16 in. (34.8 x 45.9 cm)
Classification: Painting
Museum: Cincinnati Art Museum
Department: American Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings
Museum Purchase: The Edwin and Virginia Irwin Memorial and the John J. Emery Endowment
Rights: © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Accession No: 2011.7

Writing from Art: August Wilson and Romare Bearden downloaded from PBS LearningMedia, Rights to use this asset do not expire.
Asset Copyright: © WQED Multimedia and THIRTEEN Productions LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Media CreditsAugust Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand is a co-production of WQED and THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC’S American Masters for WNET.
Source:This media asset is from American Masters—August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand
Visit the American Masters Collection for additional resources on August Wilson and other American writers.
Project funded by: PNC Bank



August Wilson

SETH HOLLY, owner of the boardinghouse.|
BERTHA HOLLY, his wife.
BYNUM WALKER, a rootworker.
JEREMY FURLOW, a resident.
HERALD LOOMIS, a resident.
ZONIA LOOMIS, his daughter.
MATTIE CAMPBELL, a resident.
REUBEN MERCER, boy who lives next door.
MARTHA LOOMIS PENTECOST, Herald Loomis’s wife.

August 1911. A boardinghouse in Pittsburgh. At right is a kitchen. Two doors open off the kitchen. One leads to the outhouse and Seth’s workshop. The other to Seth’s and Bertha’s bed-room. At left is a parlor. The front door opens into the parlor, which gives access to the stairs leading to the upstairs rooms.

There is a small outside playing area.


It is August in Pittsburgh, 1911. The sun falls out of heaven like a stone. The fires of the steel mill rage with a combined sense of industry and progress. Barges loaded with coal and iron ore trudge up the river to the mill towns that dot the Monongahela and return with fresh, hard, gleaming steel. The city flexes its muscles. Men throw countless bridges across the rivers, lay roads and carve tunnels through the hills sprouting with houses.

From the deep and the near South the sons and daughters of newly freed African slaves wander into the city. Isolated, cut off from memory, having forgotten the names of the gods and only guessing at their faces, they arrive dazed and stunned, their heart kicking in their chest with a song worth singing.
They arrive carrying Bibles and guitars, their pockets lined with dust and fresh hope, marked men and women seeking to scrape from the narrow, crooked cobbles and the fiery blasts of the coke furnace a way of bludgeoning and shaping the malleable parts of themselves into a new identity as free men of definite and sincere worth.

Foreigners in a strange land, they carry as part and parcel of their baggage a long line of separation and dispersement which informs their sensibilities and marks their conduct as they search for ways to reconnect, to reassemble, to give clear and luminous meaning to the song which is both a wail and a whelp of joy.

Source: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone Full Vimeo Uploader: Anna Bean Uploaded: Thursday, August 20, 2020 at 8:11 PM

Act One

The lights come up on the kitchen. Bertha busies herself with breakfast preparations. Seth stands looking out the window at Bynum in the yard. Seth is in his early fifties. Born of Northern free parents, a skilled craftsman and owner of the boardinghouse, he has a stability that none of the other characters have Bertha is five years his junior. Married for over iwenty-five years, she has learned how to negotiate around Seth’s apparent orneriness.

SETH (At the window, laughing): If that ain’t the damndest thing I seen. Look here, Bertha.

BERTHA: I done seen Bynum out there with them pigeons before.

SETH: Naw . .. naw … look at this. That pigeon flopped out of Bynums hand and he about to have a fit (Bertha crosses over to the window.) He down there on his hands and knees behind that bush looking all over for that pigeon and it on the other side of the yard. See it over there?

BERTHA: Come on and get your breakfast and leave that man alone.

SETH: Look at him … he still looking. He ain’t seen it yet. All that old mumbo jumbo nonsense. I don’t know why I put up with it.

BERTHA: You don’t say nothing when he bless the house.

SETH: I just go along with that ’cause of you. You around here sprinkling salt all over the place … got pennies lined up across the threshold . .. all that heebie-jebie stuff. I just put up with that ’cause of you. I don’t pay that kind of stuff no mind. And you going down there to the church and wanna come come home and sprinkle salt all over the place.

BERTHA: It don’t hurt none. I can’t say if it help … but it don’t hurt none.

SETH: Look at him. He done found that pigeon and now he’s talking to it.

BERTHA: These biscuits be ready in a minute.

SETH: He done drew a big circle with that stick and now he’s dancing around. I know he’d better not … (Bolts from the window and rushes to the back door) Hey, Bynum! Don’t be hopping around stepping in my vegetables. Hey, Bynum .. Watch where you stepping!

BERTHA: Seth, leave that man alone.

SETH (Coming back into the house): I don’t care how much he be dancing around… Just don’t be stepping in my vegetables. Man got my garden all messed up now … planting them weeds out there . .. burying them pigeons and whatnot.

BERTHA: Bynum don’t bother nobody. He ain’t even thinking about your vegetables.

SETH: I know he ain’t! That’s why he out there stepping on them.

BERTHA: What Mr. Johnson say down there?

SETH: I told him if I had the tools I could go out here and find me four or five fellows and open up my own shop instead of working for Mr. Olowski. Get me four or five fellows and teach them how to make pots and pans. One man making ten pots is five men making fifty. He told me hed think about it.

BERTHA: Well, maybe he’ll come to see it your way.

SETH: He wanted me to sign over the house to him. You know what I thought of that idea.

BERTHA: He’ll come to see you’re right.

SETH: I’m going up and talk to Sam Green. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. I’m going up and talk to him. See if he got more sense than Mr. Johnson. I can’t get nowhere working for Mr. Olowski and selling Selig five or six pots on the side. I’m going up and see Sam Green. See if he loan me the money.
(Crosses back to the window) Now he got that cup. He done killed that pigeon and now he’s putting its blood in that little cup. I believe he drink that blood.

BERTHA: Seth Holly, what is wrong with you this morning? Come on and get your breakfast so you can go to bed. You know Bynum don’t be drinking no pigeon blood.

SETH: I don’t know what he do.

BERTHA: Well, watch him, then. Hé’s gonna dig a little hole and bury that pigeon. Then he’s gonna pray over that blood . .. pour it on top … mark out his circle and come on into the house.

SETH: That’s what he doing . .. he pouring that blood on top.

BERTHA: When they gonna put you back working daytime? Told me two months ago he was gonna put you back working daytime.

SETH: That’s what Mr. Olowski told me. I got to wait till he say when. He tell me what to do. I don’t tell him. Drive me crazy to speculate on the man’s wishes when he don’t know what he want to do himself.

BERTHA: Well, I wish he go ahead and put you back working daytime. This working all hours of the night don’t make no sense.

SETH: It don’t make no sense for that boy to run out of here and get drunk so they lock him up either.

BERTHA: Who? Who they got locked up for being drunk?

SETH: That boy that’s staying upstairs . . . Jeremy. I stopped down there on Logan Street on my way home from work and one of the fellows told me about it. Say he seen it when they arrested him.

BERTHA: I was wondering why I ain’t seen him this morning.

SETH: You know I don’t put up with that. I told him when he came. . .

(Bynum enters from the yard carrying some plants. He is a short, round man in his early sixties. A conjure man, or rootworker, he gives the impression of always being in control of everything. Nothing ever bothers him. He seems to be lost in a world of his own making and to swallow any adversity or interference with his grand design.)

What you doing bringing them weeds in my house? Out there stepping on my vegetables and now wanna carry them weeds in my house.

BYNUM: Morning, Seth. Morning, Sister Bertha.

SETH: Messing up my garden growing them things out there. I ought to go out there and pull up all them weeds.

BERTHA: Some gal was by here to see you this morning, Bynum. You was out there in the yard . .. I told her to come back later.

BYNUM (To Seth): You look sick. What’s the matter, you ain’t eating right?

SETH: What if I was sick? You ain’t getting near me with none of that stuff.

(Bertha sets a plate of biscuits on the table.)

BYNUM: My … my … Bertha, your biscuits getting fatter and fatter. (Takes a biscuit and begins to eat) Where Jeremy? I don’t see him around this morning. He usually be around riffing and raffing on Saturday morning.

SETH: I know where he at. I know just where he at. They got him down there in the jail. Getting drunk and acting a fool. He down there where he belong with all that foolishness.

BYNUM: Mr. Piney’s boys got him, huh? They ain’t gonna do nothing but hold on to him for a little while. He’s gonna be back here hungrier than a mule directly.

SETH: I don’t go for all that carrying on and such. This is a respectable house. I don’t have no drunkards or fools around here.

BYNUM: That boy got a lot of country in him. He ain’t been up here but two weeks. Its gonna take a while before he can work that country out of him.

SETH: These niggers coming up here with that old backward country style of living. It’s hard enough now without all that ignorant kind of acting. Ever since slavery got over with there ain’t been nothing but foolish-acting niggers. Word get out they need men to work in the mill and put in these roads. . . and niggers drop everything and head North looking for freedom. They don’t know the white fellows looking too. White fellows coming from all over the world. White fellow come over and in six months got more than what I got. But these niggers keep on coming. Walking . . . riding . . . carrying their Bibles. That boy done carried a guitar all the way from North Carolina. What he gonna find out? What he gonna do with that guitar? This the city.

(There is a knock on the door.)

Niggers coming up here from the backwoods . . . coming up here from the country carrying Bibles and guitars looking for freedom. They got a rude awakening.

(Seth goes to answer the door. Rutherford Selig enters. About Seth’s age, he is a thin white man with greasy hair. A peddler, he supplies Seth with the raw materials to make pots and pans which he then peddles door to door in the mill towns along the river. He keeps a list of his customers as they move about and is known in the various communities as the People Finder. He carries squares of sheet metal under his arm.)

Ho! Forgot you was coming today. Come on in.

BYNUM: If it ain’t Kusherford Selig. . . the People Finder himself.

SELIG: What say there, Bynum?

BYNUM: I say about my shiny man. You got to tell me something. I done give you my dollar. . . I’m looking to get a report.

SELIG: I got eight here, Seth.

SETH (Taking the sheet metal): What is this? What you giving me here? What I’m gonna do with this?

SELIG: I need some dustpans. Everybody asking me about dustpans.

SETH: Gonna cost you fifteen cents apiece. And ten cents to put a handle on them.

SELIG: I’ll give you twenty cents apiece with the handles.

SETH: All right. But I ain’t gonna give you but fifteen cents for the sheet metal.

SELIG: It’s twenty-five cents apiece for the metal. That’s what we agreed on.

SETH: This low-grade sheet metal. They ain’t worth but a dime. I’m doing you a favor giving you fifteen cents. You know this metal ain’t worth no twenty-five cents. Don’t come talking that twenty-five cent stuff to me over no low-grade sheet metal.

SELIG: All right, fifteen cents apiece. Just make me some dustpans out of them.

(Seth exits with the sheet metal out the back door.)

BERTHA: Sit on down there, Selig. Get you a cup of coffee and a biscuit.

BYNUM: Where you coming from this time?

SELIG: I been upriver. All along the Monongahela. Past Rankin and all up around Little Washington.

BYNUM: Did you find anybody?

SELIG: I found Sadie Jackson up in Braddock. Her mother’s staying down there in Scotchbottom say she hadn’t heard from her and she didn’t know where she was at. I found her up in Braddock on Enoch Street. She bought a frying pan from me.

BYNUM: You around here finding everybody how come you ain’t found my shiny man?

SELIG: The only shiny man I saw was the Nigras working on the road gang with the sweat glistening on them.

BYNUM: Naw, you’d be able to tell this fellow. He shine like new money.

SELIG: Well, I done told you I can’t find nobody without a name.

BERTHA: Here go one of these hot biscuits, Selig.

BYNUM: This fellow don’t have no name. I call him Tohn ’cause it was up around Johnstown where I seen him. I ain’t even so sure he’s one special fellow. That shine could pass on to anybody. He could be anybody shining.

SELIG: Well, what’s he look like besides being shiny? There’s lots of shiny Nigras.

BYNUM: He’s just a man I seen out on the road. He ain’t had no special look. Just a man walking toward me on the road. He come up and asked me which way the road went. I told him everything I knew about the road, where it went and all, and he asked me did I have anything to eat ’cause he was hungry. Say he ain’t had nothing to eat in three days. Well, I never be out there on the road without a piece of dried meat. Or an orange or an apple. So I give this fellow an orange. He take and eat that orange and told me to come and go along the road a little ways with him, that he had something he wanted to show me. He had a look about him made me wanna go with him, see what he gonna show me. We walked on a bit and it’s getting kind of far from where I met him when it come up on me all of a sudden, we wasn’t going the way he had come from, we was going back my way. Since he said he ain’t knew nothing about the road, I asked him about this. He say he had a voice inside him telling him which way to go and if I come and go along with him he was gonna show me the Secret of Life. Quite naturally I followed him. A fellow that’s gonna show you the Secret of Life ain’t to be taken lightly. We get near this bend in the road.

(Seth enters with an assortment of pots.)

SETH: I got six here, Selig.

SELIG: Wait a minute, Seth. Bynum’s telling me about the secret of life. Go ahead, Bynum. I wanna hear this.

(Seth sets the pots down and exits out the back.)

BYNUM: We get near this bend in the road and he told me to hold out my hands. Then he rubbed them together with his and I looked down and see they got blood on them. Told me to take and rub it all over me. . . say that was a way of cleaning myself. Then we went around the bend in that road. Got around that bend and it seem like all of a sudden we ain’t in the same place. Turn around that bend and everything look like it was twice as big as it was. The trees and everything bigger than life! Sparrows big as eagles! I turned around to look at this fellow and he had this light coming out of him. I had to cover up my eyes to keep from being blinded. He shining like new money with that light. He shined until all the light seemed like it seeped out of him and then he was gone and I was by myself in this strange place where everything was bigger than life.

I wandered around there looking for that road, trying to find my way back from this big place . .. and I looked over and seen my daddy standing there. He was the same size he always was, except for his hands and his mouth. He had a great big old mouth that look like it took up his whole face and his hands were as big as hams. Look like they was too big to carry around. My daddy called me to him. Said he had been thinking about me and it grieved him to see me in the world carrying other people’s songs and not having one of my own. Told me he was gonna show me how to find my song. Then he carried me further into this big place until we come to this ocean. Then he showed me something I ain’t yot words to tell you. But if you stand to witness it, you done seen something there. I stayed in that place a while and my daddy taught me the meaning of this thing that I had seen and showed me how to find my song. I asked him about the shiny man and he told me he was the One Who Goes Before and Shows the Way. Said there was lots of shiny men and if I ever saw one again before I died then I would know that my song had been accepted and worked its full power in the world and I could lay down and die a happy man. A man who done left his mark on life. On the way people cling to each other out of the truth they find in themselves. Then he showed me how to get back to the road. I came out to where everything was its own size and I had my song. I had the Binding Song. I choose that song because that’s what I seen most when I was traveling. . . people walking away and leaving one another. So I takes the power of my song and binds them together.

(Seth enters from the yard carrying cabbages and tomatoes.)
Been binding people ever since. That’s why they call me Bynum. Just like glue I sticks people together.

SETH: Maybe they ain’t supposed to be stuck sometimes. You ever think of that?

BYNUM: Oh, I don’t do it lightly. It cost me a piece of myself every time I do. I’m a Binder of What Clings. You got to find out if they cling first. You can’t bind what don’t cling.

SELIG: Well, how is that the Secret of Life? I thought you said he was gonna show you the secret of life. That’s what I’m waiting to find out.

BYNUM: Oh, he showed me all right. But you still got to figure it out. Can’t nobody figure it out for you. You got to come to it on your own. That’s why I’m looking for the shiny man.SELIG: Well, I’ll keep my eye out for him. What you got there, Seth?

SETH: Here go some cabbage and tomatoes. I got some green beans coming in real nice. I’m gonna take and start me a grapevine out there next year. Butera says he gonna give me a piece of his vine and I’m gonna start that out there.

SELIG: How many of them pots you got?

SETH: I got six. That’s six dollars minus eight on top of fifteen for the sheet metal come to a dollar twenty out the six dollars leave me four dollars and eighty cents.

SELIG (Counting out the money): There’s four dollars. . . and. . . eighty cents.
SETH: How many of them dustpans you want?

SELIG: As many as you can make out them sheets.

SETH: You can use that many? I get to cutting on them sheets figuring how to make them dustpans. . . ain’t no telling how many I’m liable to come up with.

SELIG: I can use them and you can make me some more next time.

SETH: All right, I’m gonna hold you to that, now.

SELIG: Thanks for the biscuit, Bertha.

BERTHA: You know you welcome anytime, Selig.

SETH: Which way you heading?

SELIG: Going down to Wheeling. All through West Virginia there. I’ll be back Saturday. They putting in new roads down that way. Makes traveling easier.

SETH: That’s what I hear. All up around here too. Got a fellow staying here working on that road by the Brady Street Bridge.

SELIG: Yeah, it’s gonna make traveling real nice. Thanks for the cabbage, Seth. I’ll see you on Saturday.

(Selig exits.)

SETH (To Bynum): Why you wanna start all that nonsense talk with that man? All that shiny man nonsense.

BYNUM: You know it ain’t no nonsense. Bertha know it aint no nonsense. I don’t know if Selig know or not.

BERTHA: Seth, when you get to making them dustpans make me a coffeepot.

SETH: What’s the matter with your coffee? Ain’t nothing wrong with your coffee. Don’t she make some good coffee, Bynum?

BYNUM: I ain’t worried about the coffee. I know she makes some good biscuits.

SETH: I ain’t studying no coffeepot, woman. You heard me tell the man I was gonna cut as many dustpans as them sheets will make … and all of a sudden you want a coffeepot.
BERTHA: Man, hush up and go on and make me that coffeepot.

(Jeremy enters through the front door. About twenty-five, he gives the impression that he has the world in his hand, that he can meet life’s challenges head on. He smiles a lot. He is a proficient guitar player, though his spirit has yet to be molded into song.)

BYNUM: I hear Mr. Piney’s boys had you.

JEREMY: Fined me two dollars for nothing! Ain’t done nothing.

SETH: I told you when you come on here everybody know my house. Know these is respectable quarters. I don’t put up with no foolishness. Everybody know Seth Holly keep a good house. Was my daddy’s house. This house been a decent house for a long time.

JEREMY: I ain’t done nothing. Mr. Seth. I stopped by the Workmen’s Club and got me a bottle. Me and Roper Lee from Alabama. Had us a half pint. We was fixing to cur that half in two wher they came up on us. Asked us if we was working. We told them we was putting in the road over yonder and that it was our payday. They snatched hold of us to get that two dollars. Me and Roper Lee ain’t even had a chance to take a drink when they grabbed us.

SETH: I don’t go for all that kind of carrying on.

BERTHA: Leave the boy alone, Seth. You know the police do that. Figure there’s too many people out on the street they take some of them off. You know that.

SETH: I ain’t gonna have folks talking.

BERTHA: Aint nobody talking nothing, That’s all in your head. You want some grits and biscuits. Jeremy

JEREMY: Thank you, Miss Bertha. They didn’t give us a thing to eat last night. I’ll take one of them big bowls if you don’t mind.

(There is a knock at the door. Seth goes to answer it. Enter Herald Loomis and his eleven-year-old daughter, Zonia. Herald Loomis is thirty-two years old. He is at times possessed. A man driven not by the hellhounds that seemingly bay at his heels, but by his search for a world that speaks to something about himself. He is unable to harmonize the forces that swirl around him, and seeks to re-create the world into one that contains his image. He wears a hat and a long wool coat.)
LOOMIS: Me and my daughter looking for a place to stay, mister. You got a sign say you got rooms.

(Seth stares at Loomis, sizing him up.)

Mister, if you ain’t got no rooms we can go somewhere else.

SETH: How long you plan on staying?

LOOMIS: Don’t know. Two weeks or more maybe.

SETH: It’s two dollars a week for the room. We serve meals twice a day. It’s two dollars for room and board. Pay up in advance.

(Loomis reaches into his pocket.)

It’s a dollar extra for the girl.

LOOMIS: The girl sleep in the same room.

SETH: Well, do she eat off the same plate? We serve meals twice a day. That’s a dollar extra for food.

LOOMIS: Ain’t got no extra dollar. I was planning on asking your missus if she could help out with the cooking and cleaning and whatnot.SETH: Her helping out don’t put no food on the table. I need that dollar to buy some food.

LOOMIS: I’ll give you fifty cents extra. She don’t eat much.

SETH: Okay. . . but fifty cents don’t buy but half a portion.

BERTHA: Seth, she can help me out. Let her help me out. I can use some help.

SETH: Well, that’s two dollars for the week. Pay up in advance. Saturday to Saturday. You wanna stay on then it’s two more come Saturday.

(Loomis pays Seth the money.)

BERTHA: My name’s Bertha. This my husband, Seth. You got Bynum and Jeremy over there.

LOOMIS: Ain’t nobody else live here?

BERTHA: They the only ones live here now. People come and go. They the only ones here now. You want a cup of coffee and a biscuit?

LOOMIS: We done ate this morning.

BYNUM: Where you coming from, Mister. . . I didn’t get your name.

LOOMIS: Name’s Herald Loomis. This my daughter, Zonia.

BINUM: Where you coming from?

LOOMIS: Come from all over. Whicheverway the road take us that’s the way we go.

JEREMY: If you looking for a job, I’m working putting in that road down there by the bridge. They can’t get enough mens. Always looking to take somebody on.

LOOMIS: I’m looking for a woman named Martha Loomis. That’s my wife. Got married legal with the papers and all.

SETH: I don’t know nobody named Loomis. I know some Marthas but I don’t know no Loomis.

BYNUM: You got to see Rutherford Selig if you wanna find somebody. Seligs the People Finder. Rutherford Selig’s a first-class People Finder.

JEREMY: What she look like? Maybe I seen her.

LOOMIS: She a brownskin woman. Got long pretty hair. About five feet from the ground.

JEREMY: I don’t know. I might have seen her.\

BYNUM: You got to see Rutherford Selig. You give him one dollar to get her name on his list … and after she get her name on his list Rutherford Selig will go right on out there and find her. I got him looking for somebody for me.

LOOMIS: You say he find people. How you find him?

BYNUM: You just missed him. He’s gone downriver now. You got to wait till Saturday. He’s gone downriver with his pots and pans. He come to see Seth on Saturdays. You got to wait till then.

SETH: Come on, I’ll show you to your room.

(Seth, Loomis and Zonia exit up the stairs.)

JEREMY: Miss Bertha, I’ll take that biscuit you was gonna give that fellow, if you don’t mind. Say, Mr. Bynum, they got somebody like that around here sure enough? Somebody that find people?

BYNUM: Rutherford Selig. He go around selling pots and pans and every house he come to he write down the name and address of whoever lives there. So if you looking for some-body, quite naturally you go and see him. . . ’cause he’s the only one who know where everybody live at.

JEREMY: I ought to have him look for this old gal I used to know. It be nice to see her again.
BERTHA (Giving Jeremy a biscuit): Jeremy, today’s the day for you to pull them sheets off the bed and set them outside your door. I’ll set you out some clean ones.
BYNUM: Mr. Pirey’s boys done ruined your good time last night, Jeremy. . . what you planning for tonight?
JEREMY: They got me scared to go out, Mr. Bynum. They might grab me again.
BYNUM: You ought to take your guitar and go down to Seefus. Seefus got a gambling place down there on Wylie Avenue. You ought to take your guitar and go down there. They got guitar contest down there.
JEREMY: I don’t play no contest, Mr. Bynum. Had one of them white fellows cure me of that. I ain’t been nowhere near a contest since.

BYNUM: White fellow beat you playing guitar?

JEREMY: Naw, he ain’t beat me. I was sitting at home just fixing to sit down and eat when somebody come up to my house and got me. Told me there’s a white fellow say he was gonna give a prize to the best guitar player he could find. I take up my guitar and go down there and somebody had gone up and got Bobo Smith and brought him down there. Him and another fellow called Hooter. Old Hooter couldn’t play no guitar, he do more hollering than playing, but Bobo could go at it a while.
This fellow standing there say he the one that was gonna give the prize and me and Bobo started playing for him. Bobo play something and then I’d try to play something better than what he played. Old Hootet, he just holler and bang at the guitar. Man was the worst guitar player I ever seen. So ine and Bobo played and after a while I seen where he was getting the attention of this white fellow. He’d play something and while he was playing it he be slapping on the side of the guitar, and that made it sound like he was playing more than he was. So I started doing it too. White fellow ain’t knew no differ-ence. He ain’t knew as much about guitar playing as Hooter did. After we play a while, the white fellow called us to him and said he couldn’t make up his mind, say all three of us was the best guitar player and wed have to split the prize between us. Then he give us twenty-five cents. That’s eight cents apiece and a penny on the side. That cured me of playing contest to this day.

BYNUM: Seefus ain’t like that. Seefus give a whole dollar and a drink of whiskey.

JEREMY: What night they be down there?

BYNUM: Be down there every night. Music don’t know no certain night.

BERTHA: You go down to Seefus with them people and you liable to end up in a raid and go to jail sure enough. I don’t know why Bynum tell you that.

BYNUM: That’s where the music at. That’s where the people at. The people down there making music and enjoying themselves. Some things is worth taking the chance going to jail about.

BERTHA: Jeremy ain’t got no business going down there.

JEREMY: They got some women down there, Mr. Bynum?

BYNUM: Oh, they got women down there, sure. They got women everywhere. Women be where the men is so they can find each other.

JEREMY: Some of them old gals come out there where we be putting in that road. Hanging around there trying to snatch somebody.

BYNUM: How come some of them ain’t snatched hold of you?

JEREMY: I don’t want them kind. Them desperate kind. Ain’t nothing worse than a desperate woman. Tell them you gonna leave them and they get to crying and carrying on. That just make you want to get away quicker. They get to cutting up your clothes and things trying to keep you staying. Desperate women ain’t nothing but trouble for a man.

(Seth enters from the stairs.)

SETH: Something ain’t setting right with that fellow.

BERTHA: What’s wrong with him? What he say?

SETH: I take him up there and try to talk to him and he ain’t for no talking. Say he been traveling . . . coming over from Ohio. Say he a deacon in the church. Say he looking for Martha Pentecost. Talking about that’s his wife.

BERTHA: How you know it’s the same Martha? Could be talking about anybody. Lots of people named Martha.

SETH: You see that little girl? I didn’t hook it up till he said it, but that little girl look just like her. Ask Bynum. (To Bynum) Bynum. Don’t that little girl look just like Martha Pentecost?

BERTHA: I still say he could be talking about anybody.

SETH: The way he described her wasn’t no doubt about who he was talking about. Described her right down to her toes.

BERTHA: What did you tell him?

SETH: I ain’t told him nothing. The way that fellow look I wasn’t gonna tell him nothing. I don’t know what he looking for her for.

BERTHA: What else he have to say?

SETH: I told you he wasn’t for no talking. I told him where the outhouse was and to keep that gal off the front porch and out of my garden. He asked if you’d mind setting a hot tub for the gal and that was about the gist of it.

BERTHA: Well, I wouldn’t let it worry me if I was you. Come on get your sleep.

BYNUM: He says he looking for Martha and he a deacon in the church.

SETH: That’s what he say. Do he look like a deacon to you?

BERTHA: He might be, you don’t know. Bynum ain’t got no special say on whether he a deacon or not.

SETH: Well, if he the deacon I’d sure like to see the preacher.

BERTHA: Come on get your sleep. Jeremy, don’t forget to set them sheets outside the door like I told you.

(Bertha exits into the bedroom.)

SETH: Something ain’t setting right with that fellow, Bynum.
He’s one of them mean-looking niggers look like he done killed somebody gambling over a quarter.

BYNUM: He ain’t no gambler. Gamblers wear nice shoes. This fellow got on clodhoppers. He been out there walking up and down them roads.

(Zonia enters from the stairs and looks around.)

You looking for the back door, sugar? There it is. You can go out there and play. It’s all right.

SETH (Showing her the door): You can go out there and play. Just don’t get in my garden. And don’t go messing around in my workshed.

(Seth exits into the bedroom. There is a knock on the door.)

JEREMY: Somebody at the door.

(Jeremy goes to answer the door. Enter Mattie Campbell. She is a young woman of twenty-six whose attractiveness is hidden under the weight and concerns of a dissatisfied life. She is a woman in an honest search for love and companionship. She has suffered many defeats in her search, and though not always uncompromising, still believes in the possibility of love.)

MATTIE: I’m looking for a man named Bynum. Lady told me to come back later.

JEREMY: Sure, he here. Mr. Bynum, somebody here to see you.

BYNUM: Come to see me, huh?

MATTIE: Are you the man they call Bynum? The man folks say can fix things?

BYNUM: Depend on what need fixing. I can’t make no promises. But I got a powerful song in some matters.

MATTIE: Can you fix it so iny man come back to me?

BYNUM: Come on in. . . have a sit down.

MATTIE: You got to help me. I don’t know what else to do.BYNUM: Depend on how all the circumstances of the thing come together. How all the pieces fit.

MATTIE: I done everything I knowed how to do. You got to make him come back to me.

BYNUM: It ain’t nothing to make somebody come back. I can fix it so he can’t stand to be away from you. I got my roots and powders, I can fix it so wherever he’s at this thing will come up on him and he won’t be able to sleep for seeing your face. Won’t be able to eat for thinking of you.

MATTIE: That’s what I want. Make him come back.

BYNUM: The roots is a powerful thing. I can fix it so one day he’ll walk out his front door. . . won’t be thinking of nothing. He won’t know what it is. All he knows is that a powerful dissatisfaction done set in his bones and can’t nothing he do make him feel satisfied. He’ll set his foot down on the road and the wind in the trees be talking to him and everywhere he step on the road, that road’ll give back your name and something will pull him right up to your doorstep. Now, I can do that. I can take my roots and fix that easy. But maybe he ain’t supposed to come back. And if he ain’t supposed to come bac . . . then he’ll be in your bed one morning and it’ll come up on him that he’s in the wrong place. That he’s lost outside of time from his place that he’s supposed to be in. Then both of you be lost and trapped outside of life and ain’t no way for you to get back into it. ‘Cause you lost from yourselves and where the places come together, where you’re supposed to be alive, your heart kicking in your chest with a song worth singing.

MATTIE: Make him come back to me. Make his feet say my name on the road. I don’t care what happens. Make him come back.

BYNUM: What’s your man’s name?

MATTIE: He go by Jack Carper. He was born in Alabama then he come to West Texas and find me and we come here. Been here three years before he left. Say I had a curse prayer on me and he started walking down the road and ain’t never come back. Somebody told me, say you can fix things like that.

BYNUM: He just got up one day, set his feet on the road, and walked away?

MATTIE: You got to make him come back, mister.

BYNUM: Did he say good-bye?

MATTIE: Ain’t said nothing. Just started walking, I could see where he disappeared. Didn’t look back. Just keep walking. Can’t you fix it so he come back? I ain’t got no curse prayer on me. I know I ain’t.

BYNUM: What made him say you had a curse prayer on you?

MATTIE: ‘Cause the babies died. Me and Jack had two babies. Two little babies that ain’t lived two months before they died. He say it’s because somebody cursed me not to have babies.

BYNUM: He ain’t bound to you if the babies died. Look like somebody trying to keep you from being bound up and he’s gone on back to whoever it is ’cause he’s already bound up to her. Ain’t nothing to be done. Somebody else done got a powerful hand in it and ain’t nothing to be done to break it. You got to let him go find where he’s supposed to be in the world.

MATTIE: Jack done gone off and you telling me to forget about him. All my life I been looking for somebody to stop and stay with me. I done already got too many things to forget about. I take Jack Carper’s hand and it feel so rough and strong. Seem like he’s the strongest man in the world the way he hold me. Like he’s bigger than the whole world and can’t nothing bad get to me. Even when he act mean sometimes he still make everything seem okay with the world. Like there’s part of it that belongs just to you. Now you telling me to forget about him?

BYNUM: Jack Carper gone off to where he belong. There’s somebody searching for your doorstep right now. Ain’t no need you fretting over Jack Carper. Right now he’s a strong thought in your mind. But every time you catch yourself fretting over Jack Carper you push that thought away. You push it out your mind and that thought will get weaker and weaker till you wake up one morning and you won’t even be able to call him up on your mind. (Gives her a small cloth packet) Take this and sleep with it under your pillow and it’ll bring good luck to you. Draw it to you like a magnet. It won’t be long before you forget all about Jack Carper.

MATTIE: How much. . . do I owe you?

BYNUM: Whatever you got there. . . that Il be all right.

(Mattie hands Bunum two quarters. She crosses to the door.)

You sleep with that under your pillow and you’ll be all right.

(Mattie opens the door to exit and Jeremy crosses over to her. Bynum overhears the first part of their conversation, then exits out the back.)

JEREMY: I overheard what you told Mr. Bynum. Had me an old gal did that to me. Woke up one morning and she was gone. Just took off to parts unknown. I woke up that morning and the only thing I could do was look around for my shoes. I woke up and got out of there. Found my shoes and took off. That’s the only thing I could think of to do.

MATTIE: She ain’t said nothing?

JEREMY: I just looked around for my shoes and got out of there.

MATTIE: Jack ain’t said nothing either. He just walked off.

JEREMY: Some mens do that. Womens too. I ain’t gone off looking for her. I just let her go. Figure she had a time to come to herself. Wasn’t no use of me standing in the way. Where you from?

MATTIE: Texas. I was born in Georgia but I went to Texas with my mama. She dead now. Was picking peaches and fell dead away. I come up here with Jack Carper.

JEREMY: I’m from North Carolina. Down around Raleigh where they got all that tobacco. Been up here about two weeks. I likes it fine except I still got to find me a woman. You got a nice look to you. Look like you have mens standing in your door. Is you got mens standing in your door to get a look at you?

MATTIE: I ain’t got nobody since Jack left.

JEREMY: A woman like you need a man. Maybe you let me be your man. I got a nice way with the women. That’s what they tell me.

MATTIE: I don’t know. Maybe Jacks coming back.

JEREMY: I’ll be your man till he come. A woman can’t be by her lonesome. Let me be your man till he come.

MATTIE: I just can’t go through life piecing myself out to different mens. I need a man who wants to stay with me.

JEREMY: I can’t say what’s gonna happen. Maybe I’ll be the man. I don’t know. You wanna go along the road a little ways with me?

MATTIE: I don’t know. Seem like life say it’s gonna be one thing and end up being another. I’m tired of going from man to man.

JEREMY: Life is like you got to take a chance. Everybody got to take a chance. Can’t nobody say what’s gonna be. Come on. . . take a chance with me and see what the year bring, Maybe you let me come and see you. Where you staying?

MATTIE: I got me a room up on Bedford. Me and Jack had a room together.

JEREMY: What’s the address? I’lI come by and get you tonight and we can go down to Seefus. I’m going down there and play my guitar.

MATTIE: You play guitar?

JEREMY: I play guitar like I’m born to it.

MATTIE: I live at 1727 Bedford Avenue. I’m gonna find out if you can play guitar like you say.

JEREMY: I plays it, sugar, and that ain’t all I do. I got a ten-pound hammer and I knows how to drive it down. Good God. . . you ought to hear my hammer ring!

MATTIE: Go on with that kind of talk, now. If you gonna come by and get me I got to get home and straighten up for you.

JEREMY: I’ll be by at eight o’clock. How’s eight o’clock? I’m gonna make you forget all about Jack Carper.

MATTIE: Go on, now. I got to get home and fix up for you.

JEREMY: Eight o’clock, sugar.

(The lights go down in the parlor and come up on the yard outside. Zonia is singing and playing a game.)

I went downtown
To get my grip
I came back home

Just a pullin’ the skiff
I went upstairs To make my bed
I made a mistake
And I bumped my head
Just a pullin’ the skiff

I went downstairs
To milk the cow
I made a mistake
And I milked the sow
Just a pullin’ the skiff

Tomorrow, tomorrow
Tomorrow never comes
The marrow the marrow
The marrow in the bone.

(Reuben enters.)



REUBEN: What’s your name?

ZONIA: Zonia.

REUBEN: What kind of name is that?

ZONIA: It’s what my daddy named me.

REUBEN: My name’s Reuben. You staying in Mr. Seth’s house?

ZONIA: Yeah.

REUBEN: That your daddy I seen you with this morning?

ZONIA: I don’t know. Who you see me with?

REUBEN: I saw you with some man had on a great big old coat. And you was walking up to Mr. Seths house. Had on a hat too.

ZONIA: Yeah, that’s my daddy.

REUBEN: You like Mr. Seth?

ZONIA: I ain’t see him much.

REUBEN: My grandpap say he a great big old windbag. How come you living in Mr. Seth’s house? Don’t you have no house?

ZONIA: We going to find my mother.

REUBEN: Where she at?

ZONIA: I don’t know. We got to find her. We just go all over.

REUBEN: Why you got to find her? What happened to her?

ZONIA: She ran away.

REUBEN: Why she run away?

ZONIA: I don’t know. My daddy say some man named Joe Turner did something bad to him once and that made her run away.

REUBEN: Maybe she coming hack and you don’t have to go looking for her.

ZONIA: We ain’t there no more.

REUBEN: She could have come back when you wasn’t there.

ZONIA: My daddy said she ran off and left us so we going looking for her.

REUBEN: What he gonna do when he find her?

ZONIA: He didn’t say. He just say he got to find her.

REUBEN: Your daddy say how long you staying in Mr. Seth’s house?

ZONIA: He don’t say much. But we never stay too long nowhere. He say we got to keep moving till we find her.

REUBEN: Ain’t no kids hardly live around here. I had me a friend but he died. He was the best friend I ever had. Me and Eugene used to keep secrets. I still got his pigeons. He told me to let them go when he died. He say, “Reuben, promise me when I die you’ll let my pigeons go.” But I keep them to remember him by. I ain’t never gonna let them go. Even when I get to be grown up. I’m just always gonna have Eugene’s pigeons. (Pause) Mr. Bynum a conjure man. My grandpap scared of him. He don’t like me to come over here too much. I’m scared of him too. My grandpap told me not to let him get close enough to where he can reach out his hand and touch me.

ZONIA: He don’t scem scary to me.

REUBEN: He buys pigeons from me. . . and it you get up early in the morning you can see him out in the yard doing something with them pigeons. My grandpap say he kill them. I sold him one yesterday. I don’t know what he do with it. I just hope he don’t spook me up.

ZONIA: Why you sell him pigeons if he’s gonna spook you up?

REUBEN: I just do like Eugene do. He used to sell Mr. Bynum pigeons. That’s how he got to collecting them to sell to Mr. Bynum. Sometime he give me a nickel and sometime he give me a whole dime

(Loomis enters from the house.)

LOOMIS: Zonia!


LOOMIS: What you doing;

ZONIA: Nothing.

LOOMIS: You stay around this house, you hear? I don’t want you wandering off nowhere.

ZONIA: I ain’t wandering off nowhere.

LOOMIS: Miss Bertha set that hot tub and you getting a good scrubbing. Get scrubbed up good. You ain’t been scrubbing.

ZONIA: I been scrubbing.

LOOMIS: Look at you. You growing too fast. Your bones getting bigger every day. I don’t want you getting grown on me. Dont you get grown on me too soon. We gonna find your mamma. She around here somewhere. I can smell her. You stay on around this house now. Don’t you go nowhere.

ZONIA: Yes, sir.

(Loomis exits into the house.)

REUBEN: Wow, your daddy’s scary!

ZONIA: He is not! I don’t know what you talking about.

REUBEN: He got them mean-looking eyes!

ZONIA: My daddy ain’t got no mean-looking eyes!

REUBEN: Aw, girl, I was just messing with you. You wanna go see Eugenes pigeons? Got a great big coop out the back of my house. Come on, I’ll show you.

(Reuben and Zonia exit as the lights go down on the scene.)

DMU Timestamp: August 19, 2023 16:30