"Black Cross" was published in 1948 by Joseph S. Newman in a collection of poems entitled It Could Be Verse. The poet was Paul Newman's uncle, not his grandfather. He ran a sporting goods store in Cleveland, and wrote and published as a poet and as a local journalist. His collection included an appreciative introduction by the critic Louis Untermeyer, so it was hardly unrecognized in its time, though it is hard to find today.
Buckley probably met Newman at some time. He recorded two of the other poems in his collection, "Jehova and Finnegan" and "Leviathan" as well as one, "Shah's Embroidered Pants," that does not appear in the book. I have included both the published version and the poem as Buckley recorded it, though the differences are minor.
"Black Cross" was also performed by Bob Dylan and has been preserved in bootleg recordings.
It's a beautiful thing.
It was written by Paul Newman's beloved grandfather, in Cleveland, a Cleveland poet. It's "Black Cross."
There was Old Hezekiah Jones, of Hogback County.
He lived on a hill in a weather beaten hovel.
And all that he owned was a two-acre plot
with a bed and some books and a hoe and a shovel.
Old Hezekiah, black as the soil he was hoeing,
Worked pretty hard to make both ends meet.
Raised what he ate, with a few cents over
To buy corn liquor that he drank down neat,
And a few cents more that he put in the cupboard
Against what he called "the rainy season,"
But he never got to save more'n two or three dollars
Till he spent it for this or that reason.
The white folks around knew old Hezekiah...
Said, "Well, he’s harmless enough, but the way that I figure
He better put down them goddamn books,
'Cause reading ain't no good for an ignorant nigger."
Reverend Green, of the white man's church,
Finally got around to "comin' over
To talk with you-all about the Pearly Kingdom
An' to save your soul for the Lord Jehovah!"
"Do you believe in the Lord?" said the white man's preacher.
Ol’ Hezekiah puckered his frosty brow,
Say, "I can't say 'yes,' so I ain't gonna say it,
‘Cause I’ve never seen de Lord....nowhere....no-how."
Do you believe in the church?" said the white man's preacher,
Ol’ Heziakiah said, “Well, er, ah, the church is divided,
If they can’t make up their minds, I can’t either.
So, I’m just like them,” say, “I ain’t decided.”
“Do you believe in Heaven?” said the white man’s preacher.
"Where you go, if’n you're good, for your last reward?"
"I'm good," said Hezikiah, "good as I'm able,
But I don't expect nothing from Heaven OR the Lord."
"You don't believe nothin'," said the white man's preacher.
"Oh yes I do," said Hezikiah,
"I believe that a man should be beholding to his neighbor
Without the reward of Heaven or the fear of hell fire."
“Well, there's a lot of good ways for a man to be wicked!”
And they hung Hezikiah as high as a pigeon,
And the nice folks around said, "well, he had it comin'
'Cause the son-of-a-bitch didn't have no religion!"
from "Lord Buckley In Concert"
transcribed by Michael Monteleone