A Ballad for George Bailey

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It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946

Your town your streets your closing walls
Home of the tree your wife is trimming
You both fell backward gasping swimming

Sputtering—too much life too soon
Made up a joke about the moon
You both agreed you’d half believe
Your brain’s on fire it’s Christmas Eve

The snow is plunging through the dark
The piano’s pounding Hark Hark Hark
The Angels La La Peace on Earth
To hell with everything since birth

The druggist that you saved from killing
Kids with capsules he was filling
The stairpost with its broken knob
The knowledge that you’ll lose your job

The trips you canceled, deeds you did
For all the good—again your kid
Plays Hark the God Damned Angels Sing
So loud your thoughts can’t hear a thing

What was the poison in those drugs?
A different child yells and tugs
Your coattail—deafening little elf
Your trick ear whispers Kill yourself

Let the town crawl to fatcat Potter
Go hit your mark above the water
The cross of rail and backdrop girder
Desert your wife you’ll only hurt her

Go to the bridge and pay the toll
But first you hit your watering hole
To drink among the lonelier locals
Pray to the god of suckers, yokels

Shut out of inns, holed up in dives
Locked up like oxen in their lives
Snorting mad to climb the stalls

And now into the water’s rush
Beneath the bridge’s snowbound hush
A stranger dives who cannot swim
A cute trick: making you save him

“Your guardian angel” he announces
Costumed in archaic flounces
OK, can he loan you money?
Oh no he chuckles oh that’s funny

We don’t use that in heaven oh dear
“Comes in pretty handy here”
What has your earthly business built?
A tower of debt, a cell of guilt

Why did you even swim or blunder
Into your mother’s womb, you wonder
Better your life had leapt and died
Committing its own spermicide

The angel grants your wish, undoes you
Turns you to a shell that was you
Roaring wind proclaims the change
Now thou see’st a vision strange:

All thy town ablaze with neon
Hung by the rich to daze the peon
Music tackier than the lights

Here thine uncle did not ruin
Thy life’s work in an afternoon
Yet neither didst thou save thy brother
Thy mother scorns thy cry of “Mother”

Thine own wife flees thee, nameless creep
The sirens howl the snow is deep
The angel wrestles with the cop
Whose gun is gleaming—stop it stop

Bring back the sweet dull town forsaken
Now as from a snow-globe shaken
New flakes fall and break the spell
The fatcat-financed neon hell

Dissolves, the little Main Street choirs
With Christmas cheer, no pistol fires
You run home hug the kids and wife
The door swings wide—here comes your life

To save your life: the parlor fills
With joy and warmth and wads of bills
From bowls and jars like penny candy
It’s true this stuff does come in handy

Wine flows like the dividends
Of decades spent and spent on friends
(The fatcat villain who misspent
Is absent for all punishment)

You grin back at the grin with which
Your teasing brother says you’re rich
Real assets underwrite the joke
No man with generous friends is broke

So hark the bills the bells the tree
The chorus that swells—for it may be
(Like drunk to drink, like ox to slaughter)
All towns crawl in time to Potter

And many a stifled spirit crawls
Yet here and now in Bedford Falls
Until the big THE END bell rings
Even the useless uncle sings