(In which Captain Tom Cochon relates the story of how Old Coby met his fate
At the part of the Hudson known as “World’s End.”)
It surely is, like the old Patrooners said, that none other than Old Scratch
Took it upon himself to stage chariot races on this stretch of water;
Oh, the boys from the Corps of Engineers or the DEC
Or the gray-clad geniuses from West Point will tell you
That the rip currents (which have no rhyme or reason to their flow,
And shouldn’t exist this far upriver anyway) and the bellowing gales
Are attributable to the height of the cliffs and the narrowness of the channel
Or the traces of salt water that somehow found itself
Some fifty miles north of Manhattan Island,
But, if you really press them on the point, they’ll smile that sheepish grin
And admit that they really don’t have a damn clue
Why the water acts the way it does
In this little bit of old Henry Hudson’s failed route to China.
We’d always just called him Old Coby; if he had a last name,
None of us had ever heard him use it, and Lord only knows
That he wasn’t averse to offering an opinion on anything and everything
Under the sun, especially if it had to with the section of the river
Which ran by the glorified lean-to he lived in over Cold Spring way.
To say Coby had a somewhat unhealthy fascination with the river
Would be a bit of an understatement, especially given that his boat
Was a spindly old wooden eight-footer with an outboard motor
Which, on those rare occasions it saw fit to function
At something close to peak efficiency, put out all the horsepower
Of an asthmatic donkey; a craft like that was potentially in peril
On a reasonably large farm pond, and to sail that damned thing
Into the middle of the river—as Old Coby insisted on doing
On a regular basis—was just tantamount to suicide.
If that wasn’t bad enough, he prattled on endlessly
About his apparent desire to all but beg his Maker to take him now,
And, what’s more, did so with the kind of fire and fervor
You normally only see in preachers and con men.
He said—no, he swore—that he heard things when he was in that spot
On the water, though he couldn’t even begin to describe
Just what exactly it was he heard, and our suggestions that the speakers
In question were likely Jim Beam or Johny Walker simply served
To launch him into an incomprehensible stew of swearing and stuttering.
It did, of course, finally come to pass (on a calm, sunny day
When the rest of the river was clear and smooth as glass)
That he flipped his little damn dinghy
And found himself in need of rescue—and, indeed, the boys
From the Coast Guard (well prepared as the rest of us
For this eventuality) got there in record time… but Old Coby
Simply refused to be rescued. He just thrashed about
In that cold water laughing and crying and singing
In a way that you couldn’t determine where one started
And the other left off until he just slipped under the water
Before he could be subdued and restrained for his own good.
As the river is some two hundred feet deep there
In addition to possessing all the other quirks that no diver
Is particularly of a mind to deal with, there was no question
Of recovering the body. Speaking for myself,
I’ve never been of a mind to take a look-see at what drove
The crazy old bastard to head to that damned bit of river
Time and time again; matter of fact, any time I’m around
That particular spot, I take her in as close to shore
As is prudent and advisable.