John Perreault

Here you will find the Long Poem The Ballad of Louis Wagner of poet John Perreault

The Ballad of Louis Wagner

The fog peers in the windows, passes 'neath the lamps
Settles in the doorways and huddles from the damp 
Slips inside the houses, rooms, the sleeper's bed and dreams 
It rolls him over, turns him out into the shrouded street.

Dreamer, listen to the river, rubbing at the docks 
Through the smoky loneliness on Ceres Street we'll walk 
There's someone waiting for us, where the tugs are tied 
His name is Louis Wagner and he's waiting there tonight.

Over there by the warehouse, a shadow like a stain 
A man and around his neck, look! A silver chain-- 
He is pointing at us, fingered us, it's Wagner's laugh all right 
Shh, he's about to speak, God look at.his eyes.

"A night like this, just like this in march and it was cold
John Hontvet and Ivan Christensen had come in from the Shoals
To sell their catch and buy some bait and have themselves some rounds
Oh those crazy fools had left their wives on the isles of shoals alone.

And they wanted me to join them, to go out baiting trawls 
But in my mind flashed silver there had been some talk about 
Last summer out on Smuttynose and I was Ivan's guest 
Well I heard him whisper to his wife: 'let's hide the silver in the chest.'

So I left them in the alehouse, pulled by an undertow 
I grabbed my hatchet, shoved the dory out and I set my back to row
I rowed that dory through the night twelve miles out to sea 
Twelve miles out and twelve miles back, it seemed eternity.

I see the trees on Gerrish Island, looming from the shore 
The swell is building under me and I'm digging in the oars 
And a sickle moon comes cutting cross my shoulder from the east
Colder than the hatchet blade lying at my feet.

It's all Darkness over Appledore, darkness over Star
Darkness over Smuttynose, pounding in the heart
And those women out there waiting, Anethe, Anethe and Marie
And Karen, Ivan's sister, she was so good to me.

Lunging Island to my left, Malagar to my right
Smuttynose lies dead ahead, I can just make out the light
And the rhythm of my rowing, it is coming faster now
The halfway rocks just off the stern and death just off the bow.

Louis, Louis Wagner, rowing through the night
Louis, Louis Wagner, the noose will fit you tight
Silver chain around your neck, silver in your eyes
Silver in your Judas soul, that never, never dies.

"Well the wind now whipping from the west and the swell will not be tamed
The ocean building to a roar and the mind will not be changed
This boat will have its landing, this sea will have its flood
These hands will have their silver, and the devil will have his blood.

One lamp in the window, a beacon 'cross the ice 
Safe harbor for the weary, safe keeping for the night 
Comfort for the sailor, wrecked upon the sea 
Terror for those gentlefolk who once befriended me.

I'm gliding into Haley's Cove and there's not a soul in sight 
I grab my hatchet and I climb the bluff headed for the light 
The snow is sucking at my boots and the ice gnawing my hands 
But the blood is boiling in my veins; the blood, do you understand?

I smash into the cottage, my hatchet swinging wild 
Anethe leaps up from sleep and her eyes are like a child 
She screams 'God, John, God!' running from the room 
I grab her in the doorway, the axe glints in the moon.

Fire racing through my brain, explosions in my eyes 
Anethe lying on the floor and Karen screaming: 'Why?' 
The axe, the blood, the sky, the moon, the pounding of the sea 
the howling of the crazy wind, the wind or was it me?"

Louis, Louis Wagner, raging in the night Louis, 
Louis Wagner the noose will fit you tight 
Silver chain around your neck, silver in your eyes 
Silver in your Judas soul, that never, never dies.

"Anethe, Anethe Christensen, her lovely golden hair 
All smeared with blood, all splashed with blood oh god, it was everywhere
And Karen, gentle Karen, she just wanted to be my friend
She made me well when I was ill, her blood is on these hands.

Marie, Marie she got away, she ran barefoot through the snow 
I followed her tracks through the craggy rocks but the moon was falling low
I couldn't find her anywhere and I went back for what I came 
But in the chest I only found this piece of silver chain.

Oh this icy piece of silver chain and there was nothing more 
I threw the chest against the wall and I smashed the bedroom door 
I ripped apart the still-warm beds, I tore up every shelf 
I cursed the very universe and then I cursed myself.

I stumbled down to the dory and I flung the hatchet in 
I shoved off for the mainland fighting time and wind 
The dawn was breaking bloody red when I rowed into rye 
I threw myself down on the beach and I hung my head and cried.

And I made it to the train to Boston, but nothing was