Oct 312013
 
Night came creeping, the wildlife sleeping
Beneath the quiet laurel;
Bird and squirrel, young boy, young girl
Lay down without a quarrel.
 
No thunder clattered, it was utter still
By Batsto stream, by needled loam;
The wind swept chill through my window sill
In my dry Pine Barrens home.
 
Who knows what flood the Devil stirs in the blood,
Or what the Devil might bleed out?
"Pray," father said, "to be good, be good,
With prayer most devout."
 
"Clasp hands together in sacred prayer,"
He'd clamber to his knees;
"You hold unawares your holy soul there,
Do the Devil what he please."

"Sing your prayers soon, my son, my son,
Sing them fast and loud and strong;
To Kingdom Come your words must run, must run,
We tarry here not long."
 
Then a shadow strange on the window panes
Fell as I fell to my knees;
A ragged coat flapped from the silent lane
And stopped up the evening breeze.
 
I raced to greet with naked feet
The apparition in the breeze;
Once through the door, no more, no more
Of the stranger did I see.
 
I slid through the brake where the snakes do glide;
The moon was new and blushing shy,
Sharp pines brushed my shirtless side
And stars had deserted the sky. 

I did not want to meet that man, that man;
I could not let him go;
That man in the black coat turning, turning,
His shadow following low.

Through midnight sweat and swamp we went, we went,
And heard no bell grieve but the tinkling leaves--
In our swift descent, with heads down-bent,
Running past green graves of trees. 
 
O, father dead, my head was hurting, hurting!
I prayed but no one came;
And the dark stranger kept on running,
Running just the same.
 
I'll see if he crosses the tossing waters,
The waters of Batsto stream;
That's a devil-test that will his race arrest,
Or so my father deemed.
 
He passed the mark so lightly, lightly,
I began to doubt my heart;
With his crooked step unsightly
Did he but play a devil's part?

Like a July rocket, my lead step he mocked;
He ran like crooked lightning;
He ran to the roar of the Jersey Shore,
The waves rose black and frightening.

Then the man in the black coat turned once more,
Leaping hill and hollow running;
His strange face glowed like a shadow's hole,
And he stopped his turning.
 
I stood forlorn on the moonless shore,
The windy pines were tragic;
The wanton moon waned and hid her face for shame, 
And the Devil did his magic.
 
"For you I have a place prepared."
Old hoofprints circled the fire;
Burnt logs arranged with symbols strange,
And strange birds sang in choir.
 
My knees in the Devil's sand hit hard, hit hard,
But prayer I had none;
Just these words my numb ears heard,
Spoken by someone:
 
"Man spends his little life running, running,
He tarries here not long;
Midnight comes, and comes a turning,
And comes an end to song."

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