Robert Peter Tristram Coffin
The Foot of Tucksport - Poem by Robert Peter Tristram Coffin
Colonel Jonathan Jethro Tuck
Was a gold-lace man,
He had lived in clover all
His ruddy threescore span.
He had a house with porticoes
Above Penobscot River,
Eleven tall and handsome sons
Had fallen from his quiver.
The forest had been beaten back
By his plow and harrow,
His cattle made a dozen hills
Groan with milk and marrow.
He had a wife whose powdered hair
Stood high as a crown,
The tortoise combs upon her head
Came from London Town.
The buckles on her slender shoes
Came from far Peru,
The roses of rich France were in
Every breath she drew.
The King's word was the colonel's word,
The colonel gave the law,
The colonel's name was on the town
And all the fields he saw.
No ship put out of Tucksport Town
Without the colonel's nod,
Upon the blue Penobscot hills
The colonel lived like God.
There was only one small cloud
In all the wide blue sky -
A bent old woman with a strange
Blue fire in her eye.
She lived where the forest reared
Its head against man's coming,
She had much to tell herself,
She filled her house with humming.
The pine boughs met above her roof,
The partridge raised her brood
By her doorstep, and the owl
On her ridgepole whooed.
The Tucksport boys walked miles around
Rather than pass her door,
At night, thin tongues of flames stood up
Along her roof, they swore.
No white man drew her latch's string,
But sons of Ishmael
Came by night with painted cheeks
Red as flames of hell.
The woman had a single son,
His arms were grown man-size,
He trailed his fingers in the dust
Beside his boy-length thighs.
When good people met the waif
On a woodland way,
They said the Lord's Prayer to themselves
And rued the ill-starred day.
The creature's eyes were like the eyes
Of moths by candle light,
His comrades were the Indians,
His daytime was the night.
But the forehead and the hair
On this misshapen man
Were the forehead and the hair
Of Colonel Jonathan.
The aged woman of the woods
Smiled horrible to see
When the colonel passed her hut
In lace and finery.
Her face had had a beauty once,
The ruins of it showed
When her blue and blazing eyes
Were bent upon the road.
No one knew the woman's name,
But she had sojourned there
From the year the colonel broke
The wild sod with his share.
When she walked the Tucksport streets,
Miserable and wan,
The children dogged her heels and cried,
'Red Whore of Babylon!'
One day when the wind was up
And whitecaps flecked the tide,
The woman stopped the colonel's coach
And spoke to the colonel's bride.
They brought the colonel's Lady home
With fingers hid with rings,
But her face was whiter than
The seagull's windy wings.
She lay and never spoke a word
But twisted at her lace,
She turned her eyes away to sea
From her husband's face.
The colonel buckled on his sword
And set his jaw Like stone,
He rode into the windy night,
And he rode alone.
What passed between the woodland crone
And Colonel Jonathan
Lay with God. 'Twas never known
To any mortal man.
But people living near heard screams
Above the wind and weather,
'I will not go! In life, in death,
We will be together!'
Some there were who swore that lights
Flickered thin and blue,
And there were some who smelled the smell
Of blazing brimstone, too.
And in the morning there were coins
Scattered on the mold
And the King's face staring up
With his eyes of gold.
Next day, the colonel sat in church,
The pastor sat beside,
And the woman sat below
With her thin hands tied.
'If there be any Christian here
To swear this dame is evil,
Let him speak, that we may judge
If she be of the Devil!'
A man with deep-set eyes arose,
'I, Jotham Merriam,
Saw this woman ride one night
On a shining tam!'
A woman rose. 'I have no child.
When I am brought to bed,
This scarlet woman taps my door,
My children are born dead.'
'I, Jared Snow, have seen a track
On this woman's roof,
It was printed on the frost
Like a deer's split hoof!'
'I, Ebenezer Scattergood,
Find my horses' tails
Full of knots, and all my joints
Are full of red-hot nails!'
'I saw this woman's son go up
And walk upon the trees,'
Another swore. 'He walked upon
His hands and twisted knees!'
'When this woman looks at me,
Spoke little Nancy South,
'I fall down on the road, and snakes
Come squirming on my mouth!'
'I saw this woman stand one night,'
Cried Noah Waitstill Phipps,
'A big black-man a-hugging her
And kissing of her lips!'
The pastor rose, pale as a sheet,
And to the judge he turned,
'Holy Writ makes plain the brood
Of Endor should be burned.
Judge Tuck got upon his feet,
He drew deep in his breath,
'I sentence thee, Ann Harraway,
To be burned to death!
'Thou shalt be bound to thine own house,
And we will burn the whole,
And may the living, gracious God
Have mercy on thy soul!'
There was a silence as between
The lightning and the thunder,
Then the mob rose up to lay
Their hands upon their plunder.
The withered woman shrieked and called
On God and Holy Writ,
'If I wear scarlet, there he stands
Who painted me with it!
'There stands the father of my son
Who swore to wed with me!'
'Out and away!' the pastor cried,
'On this foul blasphemy!'
Hands reached out and stopped her mouth,
Hands reached and tore her gown,
The people dragged her from the church
And out of Tucksport Town.
The afternoon was blue and bright,
But thunder reared its crest,
Whiter than the driven snow,
High up in the west.
They dragged the crone to her poor hut,
They tied her to her door,
They brought and heaped the withered boughs
Against the rags she wore.
The thunderhead touched on the sun,
And a shadow came,
Just as Colonel Tuck bent down
And touched the boughs with flame.
As the fire bit the wood,
The woman's voice rang clear,
And every person in the place
Her dying words could hear:
'I curse thee now, Jonathan Tuck,
With my dying breath!
I curse thee for thy days in life
And thy days in death!
'Thy life on earth shall be a hell,
And hell shall be thy grave,
Awake or sleeping, quick or dead,
Naught thy soul may save!
'The sweat that trickles from thy brow
Shall bring to thee no peace,
Thy fruit shall wither, and thy dreams
Shall bring thee no release.
'By sun, by starlight, sick or hale,
I will be with thee still,
I will go beside thy way
To turn all things to ill.
'And so long as a monument
Marks a grave of thine,
So long shall my curse inscribe
Thy tombstone with my sign!'
She finished, and a thunderclap
Rent the heavens after.
The flames leapt up and folded her,
And she burst into laughter.
Peal on peal the thunder rolled,
And every spine there tingled
To hear the woman laugh at death,
And mirth and thunder mingled.
The fire took the little things
The woman had befriended,
Mice and tiny finches screamed,
And in the red blaze ended.
A little adder, scorched and hurt,
Crept from out the coal,
'See!' the people hissed, 'there goes
To Satan her lost soul!'
The storm burst blackly overhead,
The lightning forked its tongue,
One of the woman's bony legs
In the fire swung.
At that instant from the woods
There came a mortal groan,
The old crone's son came running out
And seized the smoking bone.
He clasped the poor foot to his heart,
And lit by thunder light,
The dwarf ran to the woods and plunged
Forever from men's sight.
Then the rain came and the wind
And washed the earth like new,
And men went home and thanked the Lord
The sorry work was through.
Colonel Tuck went back to see
To oxen and to ships,
But jest or smile there never was
Again upon his lips.
The colonel's lady lingered on
Until the Autumn rains,
The colonel buried her when leaves
Lay golden in the lanes.
Colonel Tuck lived to himself
In his empty house,
People said the man was wrong
Not to take a spouse.
His cattle covered all the hills,
His grandsons spread like grass,
Every man in Tucksport touched
His forelock as he'd pass.
But the lord of Tucksport went
Like a man apart,
The memory of his wife, folks said,
Had closed and sealed his heart.
When he was old and full of years,
They bore him on their shoulders
To his grave, and set above
One of his own boulders.
But on the granite face of it,
Below his honored name,
Within a week of burial,
A strange, dark symbol came.
It was like a bony foot
No scrubbing could erase.
The family had the mason come
And cut another face.
But in a day the foot returned,
And memories were stirred,
People put their heads together,
And whisperings were heard.
The family raised a granite wall
Around their founder's tomb,
But the whisperings went on
And the word of doom.
Two hundred Winters have not washed
The Tucksport stain away,
The foot is on the colonel's grave
Till the Judgment Day.
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