Before the daylight
hints its slow return
on death bed winter nights as
brutal gusts spit flakes
upon the sheets
beneath the draft of hollow
hand hewn eaves
we stir
girded to the blast
And as the mind collects
where it left off in rest
life’s flood braces for the worst
The coastal gale is stiffening
Severe it spurts its way
through the flimsy oak tree wood
Scouring our little valley
with bitter wrath
Stiff hearts rise
gear up and
head for town

The sea coast steers our lives
as we guide old rusted
salted trucks and
anticipate the worst
Each hoary breeze whales
ships ashore
to pound
And how in distant days
as great hulks lumbered
all along this
harsh New England coast
the wrack and ruin was extreme
Broken timber bones
littered every stretch
Just as on that frigid day
in Edgartown
so many years
so many gales ago
The call went out
while dawn cracked
in the grey and silver East
From the harbor
could be seen
tall sticks heeled unnaturally
a vessel ran aground
The breeze and set had
pushed the laden beast
chock full of coal from Baltimore and
Boston bound
way past the Block
Now our south shore’s shifting shoal
had snagged her fast
Six great masts
leaned useless
pointed out the sight
across Katama’s
sprawling fields
visible from town
They marked the spot
where 400 foot of hull lay cracked
and reeling in the winter surf
A pilot on an anchored ship rang out the news
And how the crew
was stranded
high up in the doomed and
hammered rig
A woman hung there too
skirts swirling in the
freezing breeze
the captain’s wife
no doubt

Before the great ship’s name
or hailing port
was clear
a big catboat was jogging
by the harbor light
into the breeze
As those on shore huddled
with brave prayers
Pricilla proudly sailed towards history
RieDeeDieDee gripped
the helm
Ready to die
he had become
he’d rescued men before
Now with a solid
four man crew
from town
the Kelly boys
Doucette and Benefit
on board
He headed the wide sloop North East
with Chappy off the beam
around Cape Pogue
they tacked outside the stony point
her big gaff slapping
as they came round

The details are well known of
how in the frozen
winter light
they made up to the stricken ship
Mertie B Crowley
doomed and leaning
in the bursting surf
Levi steered up in the lee
the massive hull allowed
The men rowed dories
between the ships
one by one
Captain Haskell
his wife
and the 12 man crew
were safely hauled aboard
Packed and stowed
another human load
was plucked from winter’s maw
delivered to the pier
alive and sound
While all our town
when word got out
the island round
was proud
of Levi and his fearless men

This rescue stands
the greatest test
Steadfast in the face of
losing all
they point the boat into
the howling winter gale
no thought of gain
driven by the self same wind that
blew the big ship
hard and fast
they leap
off that mortal cliff that binds us
Love of life
and man

Now in this town of ours
many years ago
a rich and generous soul
saw fit to grace
us with a noble gift
A Carnegie library full of
books and built
of solid brick
peers out above
the hill that holds the harbor
in its grip
Caroline Warren owned this
Southern rise
and likewise endowed
the town her own prize
Those days when folks of means
would share their wealth
for the common good
and in the spirit of
that time
this Andrew Carnegie
the courage of the
common man
was rich
So from his heart
out into the land
he cast
a medal in his name
bestowed for acts
devoid of selfish gain
The Hero’s Prize
it was called
for those who risked
their lives
to save others
on the sea and otherwise
Captain Jackson
and in due course
Levi and the catboat crew
justly received their own
Carnegie Medal
their own
Hero’s Prize

Sandy waves of time have
shrouded crumpled wrecks
still the sea spits
splinters from our proud
and storied past
up on beaches where bathers
gawk and crudely trace
brave shadows cast
from the dark
and fearful deep
The shiny medal Levi
gained that cold and
stormy day
sailed away to another
salty port
to languish in some
forgotten dusty drawer
Just as great seas reveal
their ancient wrath
so time has shipped
this glory back
to the island where
it did proclaim the hero’s
courage and his
local fame
Now that our new library
has been filled
with all the books from
on the harbor’s hill
there is room for
memories of our past
Andrew Carnegie
has said it best
for in his old library Jackson’s
prize will soon return

(after the post office
moves back
to out of town)

Inscribed for all to learn

No greater love
has man shown
than to risk his life
for another

This was true in days
long gone
Truer still in days
we’ve yet to know

— Steve Ewing

Edgartown Town Meeting, 2016