The Poem

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A Little History

“The Bight Before Christmas” started as a Christmas parody of “The Night Before Christmas” and was first published in the Sitka Soup on December 19, 2002.

For the next six years, Sitkans took the poem as their own. It was read in school classrooms, posted on the walls of repair shops, sent to friends and relatives in the Lower 48 and overseas and performed in public gatherings.

After being bugged for years by Sitkans to publish the poem as a book, Swagel put a classified ad in the Soup looking for an artist “with a wry or pumpernickel sense of humor.” He was contacted by and immediately connected with Sitka artist Colin Herforth, who perfectly captured the Bight spirit in a series of watercolor paintings.

As they worked, 2008 became 2009. And the rest of the story is $15.95!

The Poem

The Bight, Before Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas –
Throughout Sitka Sound
Not a creature stirred anywhere on the fish grounds.
The hootchies were hung in the wheelhouse with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The swabbies were nestled all snug in their berths,
Dreaming of boat shares they soon would be worth.
And Mom in her Hellys and I in my Tufs
Had just set the hook where it wasn’t too rough.

When out in the spray there arose such a flapping,
Till I found what was up I wouldn’t be napping.
Athwart to the starboard I jumped with some dread,
Threw open the porthole and stuck out my head.

And what should the dark waves I visaged now feature
But a mythical skiff drawn by eight ocean creatures?
With a little old captain so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his denizens came,
And he whistled and shouted and called them by name:
“Now, Coho! now Humpy! now Ling Cod! now Orca!
On Herring! on Dolphin! on Gumboot! on Tuna!
To the top of the swell, to the top of the squall,
Now dash away, dash away, dash away, all!”

As the whitecaps that drive before a big blow,
Those fishies rose out of the waters below.
Right onto the deck of our boat up they flew,
With a skiff full of toys and St. Nicholas, too.

And then in a twinkling I heard on the deck
The slapping of tail fins in one steady “thwack!”
The scraping of metal, the screech of the latch
And there was St. Nicholas, in through the hatch.

He was dressed all in rubber, in greens and in reds,
All covered with slime and remains of fish heads.
A duffle of toys he had flung on his back
And he looked like a fishmonger opening his sack.

His eyes how they twinkled, his dimples, enchante.
His stomach the size of the ferry Le Conte.
He smiled in the shape of a boat front – the bow –
But he smelled like a section of seldom-scrubbed scow.

His gut was bleached leather, the tone of a bellyfish,
That shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jellyfish.
He was corded and gnarled, a right salty old tar
And I laughed when I saw him in spite of his scar.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his craft,
Depositing goodies for all, fore and aft.
Then, laying a finger aside of his neck,
He swept himself upward, back out on the deck.

He sprang to his boat, to his mates cried, “We’re legal!”
And if that little skiff didn’t soar like a seagull!
But I heard him exclaim as he sailed into space,
“I’ll be back! — Russian Christmas is here in 12 days!”