A trickster finds deception in "Slim Greer in Hell"

White devils with pitchforks
Threw black devils on,
Slim thought he'd better
Be gittin' along.

This poem is from the early 1930s, written by Sterling A. Brown, whose work was influenced by black music and other black poets like himself. This folktale poem, written in dialect, is an ironic burlesque that takes his trickster character Slim Greer on a journey from Heaven to Hell and back again. It's a satire that rewards a reading.


Slim Greer in Hell
by Sterling A. Brown


I

Slim Greer went to heaven;
  St. Peter said, "Slim,
You been a right good boy."
  An' he winked at him.

     "You been travelin' rascal
       In yo'day.
     You kin roam once mo';
       Den you come to stay.

"Put dese wings on yo' shoulders,
  An' save yo' feet."
Slim grin, and he speak up,
  "Thankye, Pete."

     Den Peter say, "Go
       To Hell an' see,
     All dat is doing, and
       Report to me.

"Be sure to remember
  How everything go."
Slim say, "I be seein' yuh
  On de late watch, bo."

     Slim got to cavortin'
       Swell as you choose,
     Like Lindy in de Spirit
       Of St. Louis Blues.

He flew an' he flew,
  Till at last he hit
A hangar wid de sign readin'
  DIS IS IT.

     Den he parked his wings,
       An' strolled aroun',
     Gittin' used to his feet
       On de solid ground.

II

Big bloodhound came aroarin'
  Like Niagry Falls,
Sicked on by white devils
  In overhalls.

Now Slim warn't scared
  Cross my heart, it's a fac',
An de dog went on a bayin'
  Some po' devil's track.

     Den Slim saw a mansion
      An' walked right in;
     De Devil looked up
      Wid a sickly grin.

"Suttingly didn't look
  Fo' you, Mr. Greer,
How it happens you comes
  To visit here?"

     Slim say---"Oh, jes' thought
       I'd drop by a spell."
     "Feel at home, seh, an' here's
      De keys to hell."

Den he took Slim around
  An' showed him people
Rasin' hell as high as
  De first Church Steeple.

     Lots of folks fightin'
       At de roulette wheel,
     Like old Rampart Street,
       Or leastwise Beale.

Showed him bawdy houses
  An' cabarets,
Slim thought of New Orleans
  An' Memphis days.

     Each devil was busy
       Wid a devlish broad,
     An' Slim cried, "Lawdy,
       Lawd, Lawd, Lawd."

Took him in a room
  Where Slim see
De preacher wid a brownskin
  On each knee.

     Showed him giant stills,
       Going everywhere,
     Wid a passel of devils
       Stretched dead drunk there.

Den he took him to de furnace
  Dat some devils was firing,
Hot as Hell, an' Slim start
  A mean presspirin'.

     White devils with pitchforks
       Threw black devils on,
     Slim thought he'd better
       Be gittin' along.

An' he says---"Dis makes
  Me think of home---
Vicksburg, Little Rock, Jackson,
  Waco and Rome."

     Den de devil gave Slim
       De big Ha-Ha;
     An' turned into a cracker,
       Wid a sheriff's star.

Slim ran fo' his wings,
  Lit out from de groun'
Hauled it back to St. Peter,
  Safety boun'.

III

     St. Peter said, "Well,
       You got back quick.
     How's de devil?  An' what's
       His latest trick?"

An' Slim Say, "Peter,
  I really cain't tell,
The place was Dixie
  That I took for hell."

     Then Peter say, "you must
       Be crazy, I vow,
     Where'n hell dja think Hell was,
       Anyhow?

"Git on back to de yearth,
  Cause I got de fear,
You'se a leetle too dumb,
  Fo' to stay up here. . ."


- More about Brown’s “Slim Greer” poems from the Department of English at the University of Illinois>>
- Sterling A. Brown>>
- Poets.org>>

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