‘Log, Lead, Latitude, Lookout’ by Professor Stout (writing as Mr. Heustis)


by Reed Heustis

Commentary by Tark Mackintosh

The captain…the captain should With a trite, redundant, and yet undeniably true aphorism Professor Stout begins his third Sea Poem, writing again as Mister Heustis, from the unequivocally praiseworthy volume I Love Seamen (Jabs and Donner, 1937). Stout’s own biographer Ada Potter Barclay cites these lines as proof that the poet simply adored the idealized life of the ancient salt dog. ‘In private of course Professor Stout would gush until the cows came home about sea journeys,’ she scribbled in the revealing 1961 biography, ‘and plumb lines and hitches and sails, and compass points. Yet he was not a strong swimmer.’ Reportedly the great artist never made it much beyond wading depth at Dan Blocker, and certainly never stepped aboard a boat. For seafaring our would-be captain would have to wait for his final adieu, when his ashes would be scattered from the cliffs overlooking Point Fermin.

law of the sea As a ship may only have one captain, so a poem may only have one author. This is the law of the sea for lubber poets.

grim Unsmiling, not happy-go-lucky ocean code enforcers. Rhymes with him [sic] in line 4.

romped…swamped Internal rhyme meant to mimic the passing of waves beneath a boat, or the 12-hour flow and ebb of currents. The sense is clear: The captain partied hard, as only he could, before getting himself shipwrecked.

No law The captain observed no lubber’s law, though it cost him [sic] in the end.

him Changed to hymn in the 1984 edition of I Love Seaman (Simon-Upon-Simon edition) by editor and shameless textual quack Dr. Don Markenbaldi, who claimed that the sense of the line was that the figure of Captain Heustis had proceeded from the imbibing of grog to hymning, or drunken caterwauling. His emendation need not be considered.

goes down A striking image.

women… / …owner Ada Potter, acting in role of both housekeeper and biographer, maintained a notorious detestation for Professor Stout’s raging crockings, especially when he dressed up as Captain Heustis and bawled orders from his ‘poop’. She writes, ‘The bathtub grog he insisted on swilling was bad enough, but when he would hop into those tight duck pants I knew I was sleeping at mother’s.’

captain…owner Captain Heustis is contrasted with the dry dock, commercial owner of the craft he is doomed to ride to the bottom of the ocean.

bridge A trick-taking card game for four players competing for points in two teams. Both life and death were recreational endeavors to Captain Heustis, as the fates of men surely are to gods.

sank…rank The image of a sinking ship is applied to the turning fortunes of Captain Heustis, who first lost his boat, and was subsequently drummed out of the service.

grave And then he died.

seaman’s pay Yet the price of Captain Heustis’s life could not be reckoned, nor should ye count it in gold doubloons.

hold your place It sounds a lot like Captain Heustis went down the ship while saluting the flag, sober and standing, despite all rumors, from a bridge.

job…mob / …right Captain Heustis had a job he would die performing, whilst the owner of the vessel he would ride to his grave was going jogging with some friends. Noble were they, yet all mobbed up, and perhaps even jobbers, slobbering over their picnic lunches.

Whatever actually happened in this poem, it is clear that the author and true captain, hath obtained dignity from his bridge, and been vindicated in the eyes of true readers.