Saturday, March 17, 2018

March 17: Starbuck, American Arpartheid, Youth

The chief mate of the Pequod was Starbuck, a native of Nantucket, and a Quaker by descent. He was a long, earnest man, and though born on an icy coast, seemed well adapted to endure hot latitudes, his flesh being hard as twice-baked biscuit. Transported to the Indies, his live blood would not spoil like bottled ale. He must have been born in some time of general drought and famine, or upon one of those fast days for which his state is famous. Only some thirty and summers had he seen; those summers had dried up all his physical superfluousness. But this, his thinness, so to speak, seemed no more the token of wasting anxieties and cares, than it seemed the indication of any bodily blight. It was merely the condensation of the man. He was by no means ill-looking; quite the contrary. His pure tight skin was an excellent fit; and closely wrapped up in it, and embalmed with inner health and strength, like a revivified Egyptian, this Starbuck seemed prepared to endure for long ages to come, and to endure always, as now; for be it Polar snow or torrid sun, like a patent chronometer, his interior vitality was warranted to do well in all climates. Looking into his eyes, you seemed to see there the yet lingering images of those thousand-fold perils he had calmly confronted through life. A staid, steadfast man, whose life for the most part was a telling pantomime of action, and not a tame chapter of sounds. Yet, for all his hardy sobriety and fortitude, there were certain qualities in him which at times affected, and in some cases seemed well nigh to overbalance all the rest. Uncommonly conscientious for a seaman, and endued with a deep natural reverence, the wild watery loneliness of his life did therefore strongly incline him to superstition; but to that sort of superstition, which in some organization seems rather to spring, somehow, from intelligence than from ignorance. Outward portents and inward presentiments were his. And if at times these things bent the welded iron of his soul, much more did his far-away domestic memories of his young Cape wife and child, tend to bend him still more from the original ruggedness of his nature, and open him still further to those latent influences which, in some honest-hearted men, restrain the gush of dare-devil daring, so often evinced by others in the more perilous vicissitudes of the fishery. "I will have no man in my boat," said Starbuck, "who is not afraid of a whale." By this, he seemed to mean, not only that the most reliable and useful courage was that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.
"Aye, aye," said Stubb, the second mate, "Starbuck, there, is as careful a man as you'll find anywhere in this fishery." But we shall ere long see what that word "careful" precisely means when used by a man like Stubb, or almost any other whale hunter.
Starbuck was no crusader after perils; in him courage was not a sentiment; but a thing simply useful to him, and always at hand upon all mortally practical occasions. Besides, he thought, perhaps, that in this business of whaling, courage was one of the great staple outfits of the ship, like her beef and her bread, and not to be foolishly wasted. Wherefore he had no fancy for lowering for whales after sun-down; nor for persisting in fighting a fish that too much persisted in fighting him. For, thought Starbuck, I am here in this critical ocean to kill whales for my living, and not to be killed by them for theirs; and that hundreds of men had been so killed Starbuck well knew. What doom was his own father's? Where, in the bottomless deeps, could he find the torn limbs of his brother?

This passage is the first substantial one that Melville offers about the Pequod's chief mate, Starbuck.  By this description, I think Starbuck and I would get along pretty well.  Not the whole leathery skin, survivor-of-a-famine/drought thing.  It's the cautious bravery, not taking stupid chances thing that I appreciate about his character.  Starbuck's not a coward.  He's smart, and he prefers to surround himself with careful, smart people.

I'm not a coward, either.  I teach college composition.  If I were a coward, I'd have been eaten alive years ago.  I'm also not a fool.  Don't believe in putting myself in dangerous situations for the thrill of adventure.  You won't find me skydiving on my 70th birthday.  I have no compulsion to cram myself into a submarine to see the wreckage of the Titanic at the bottom of the Atlantic.  And I certainly won't be buying tickets for a rocket ride into orbit around the planet.  Nope.

There are things I do that I think require some courage.  Getting up in front of a classroom.  Writing a blog about some of the intimate details of my life.  Being a poet.  Being the father of a teenage girl.  Playing the pipe organ for church services.  Performing in live radio shows.  All of these things take intestinal fortitude.  They're not easy.

I'm making these comments because I think some people might look at my life as kind of mundane.  Unlike most men who grew up in the Upper Peninsula, I don't like fishing or hunting.  I own a Subaru, not a four-wheel-drive pickup.  My idea of a good night is reading a fine book or working on a new poem.  I'm by no means conservative in my attitudes.  Haven't ever voted for a Republican presidential candidate.  Think that certain guns should be outlawed.

That's who I am.  And I'm trying to raise compassionate, non-judgmental kids who accept people for who they are.  When I see someone outside of Walmart, begging for money or food, I will buy them a burger, French fries, and a pop.  I want my children to care about the world.  Want them to know there's more to life than having the coolest phone or nicest house.  I will count myself a successful father if my daughter and son grow up to be loving, caring citizens of this planet.

I was speaking to a friend of mine the other night.  He said something that mightily affected me.  He said that the Donald Trump presidency and Congress is the last gasp of American apartheid.  After this current mess, our kids are going to take over.  I really believe that.  This week, I think we saw the start of this change.  Young kids standing up for what they believe in, despite all of the loudmouths of my generation telling them to sit down and be quiet.

I am a Starbuck trying to raise Starbucks.  Smart, brave, compassionate children who will grow into smart, brave, compassionate adults.  As Bob Dylan sang, "The times, they are a-changin'."

Saint Marty is thankful for the youth of the United States.

March 17: Tony Hoagland, "Cause of Death: Fox News," Political Poetry

Cause of Death:  Fox News

by:  Tony Hoagland

Towards the end he sat on the back porch,
sweeping his binoculars back and forth
over the dry scrub-brush and arroyos,

certain he saw Mexicans
moving through the creosote and sage
while the TV commentators in the living room

turned up loud enough
for a deaf person to hear
kept pouring gasoline on his anxiety and rage.

In the end he preferred to think about illegal aliens,
about welfare moms and health care socialists
than the uncomfortable sensation of the disease

sneaking through his tunnels in the night,
crossing the river between his liver and his spleen.
It was just his typical bad luck

to be born in the historical period
that would eventually be known
as the twilight of the white male dinosaur,

feeling weaker and more swollen every day
with the earth gradually looking more like hell
and a strange smell rising from the kitchen sink.

In the background those big male voices
went on and on, turning the old crank
about hard work and god, waving the flag

and whipping the dread into a froth.
Then one day the old man had finally finished
his surveillance, or it finished him,

and the cable TV guy
showed up at the house apologetically,
to take back the company equipment:

the black, complicated box with the dangling cord
and the gray rectangular remote control,
like a little coffin.


You know, I don't write much political poetry.  It's so easy to lapse into anger and outrage when I think about the governmental landscape of the United States, especially these days.  Yes, in this blog, I sometimes can't help dipping my toe into the cesspool of Washington, D. C.  However, for the most part, I stick away from it.

I couldn't resist this poem, however.  It's so surprising and funny and sad, and it really reflects what's going on right now in the White House, in my opinion.  I think that the political establishment in America is threatened, and so it's hiding behind the great orange Godzilla in the Oval Office, letting him wreck Tokyo.

Don't worry.  I'm not going to start writing Trump haiku.  Won't be composing Paul Ryan rondels or Mike Pence pastorals.  That's not me.

But Saint Marty does appreciate a good poet who can.

Friday, March 16, 2018

March 16: Coronation Stuff, Week of Turmoil, Darkness and Quiet

In behalf of the dignity of whaling, I would fain advance naught but substantiated facts. But after embattling his facts, an advocate who should wholly suppress a not unreasonable surmise, which might tell eloquently upon his cause- such an advocate, would he not be blame-worthy?
It is well known that at the coronation of kings and queens, even modern ones, a certain curious process of seasoning them for their functions is gone through. There is a saltcellar of state, so called, and there may be a castor of state. How they use the salt, precisely- who knows? Certain I am, however, that a king's head is solemnly oiled at his coronation, even as a head of salad. Can it be, though, that they anoint it with a view of making its interior run well, as they anoint machinery? Much might be ruminated here, concerning the essential dignity of this regal process, because in common life we esteem but meanly and contemptibly a fellow who anoints his hair, and palpably smells of that anointing. In truth, a mature man who uses hairoil, unless medicinally, that man has probably got a quoggy spot in him somewhere. As a general rule, he can't amount to much in his totality.
But the only thing to be considered here is this- what kind of oil is used at coronations? Certainly it cannot be olive oil, nor macassar oil, nor castor oil, nor bear's oil, nor train oil, nor cod-liver oil. What then can it possibly be, but the sperm oil in its unmanufactured, unpolluted state, the sweetest of all oils?
Think of that, ye loyal Britons! we whalemen supply your kings and queens with coronation stuff!

It has been a week of turmoil in my household.  I wish I could be like Ishmael this evening, who doesn't seem to have trouble finding the silver lining in any whale spout and fluke.  Kings and queens, oiled for the throne with the "sweetest of all oils."

I am glad that it is Friday, and I don't have to interact with people that much for the next three days.  I'm not sure I'd be able to maintain any semblance of positivity.  Yesterday, I was absolutely drained by five o'clock.  Hated everything and everyone.

Tonight, I've had a few drinks.  Spent three hours cleaning my house, taking down my Christmas trees.  (That's right.  I said Christmas trees.  Don't judge me.  My home has been under construction for about two full months.  I couldn't put anything away.)  Then I vacuumed and swept and mopped.  Then dinner with my wife and kids, accompanied by some gin and wine.

I'm looking forward to bed this evening,  A long sleep.  I may not be a whaler or a king, but I think that I've earned some rest.

Saint Marty is thankful for darkness and quiet.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

March 14: Pamela Sutton, "Afraid to Pray," Prayer Life

Afraid to Pray

by:  Pamela Sutton

Dear God I'm afraid if I pray for my daughter's safety you'll blithely
allow her to get raped or abducted or crash on a highway
on a perfect summer day.  Forget I mentioned my daughter.  What daughter?

I remember how Anne Frank believed in the goodness of mankind.
I wonder how she felt the moment her diary was knocked from her hands
because that's how I'm feeling these days:  like Job with post-traumatic

stress disorder.  Don't worry, God.  I know you exist; but I'm having some
serious trust issues.  Maybe it began with that nightmare about my
mother shoving my grandmother into a swift-running river.

I jumped in to save her, and I saved her all right, but O the branches
and Kentucky mud stuck in our hair and mouths--the disbelief
in her eyes--and me having to tell her the truth.

Dear God if you made us in your likeness because you were
lonely then uh-oh.  I'm so tired of Nazis marching to the rhythms of my
I prayed that the love of my life would survive his cancer then he died on my

And for thirty years I prayed my ex-husband would survive his insanity, but
finally blew his brains out.  I know there's a heaven because
I walked along a tightrope of Atlantic foam after Joel died and

a rainbow lassoed the sun.  The sky was timorous and thin
as an eardrum and I knew if I pushed with all of my rage
that the sky would burst and we would touch hands one last time.

I's so tired of praying and getting punched in the gut.  I prayed that
my parents would not sell my sister's black Morgan horse with the star
on it's forehead, but they sold it all right and now she's afraid to love her own

I prayed that my parents would not sell the hand-built cabin on the
Indian reservation, but when they knew they could die without selling it,
     they sold
it all right and the new owners bulldozed it down along with everything in it

including a Bible my mother had placed just so.  And they chopped down the
and threw my canoe in dumpster.  Now all I do is scour real estate ads for
     log cabins
on the Indian reservation.  I've found a few places but they're just not the
     same.  Still,

I'd like to move back to the northwoods and live in a cabin and pray to the
and the woods and the wolves.  Like God the wolves would not answer my
but unlike God, by God they would listen for once and look me straight in
     the eye.


I absolutely love this poem, because it is so true to my own prayer life experiences recently.  This past week, I've been praying for someone who is really hurting.  Today, my prayer was answered, but not in the way that I wanted or intended.

That's the problem with God.  He doesn't do exactly what you want Him to do.  He doesn't follow directions well.  He's like my nine-year-old son when I tell him to take a bath.  My son just sits there, playing on his computer, running his online world, ignoring me as I get more and more angry and frustrated.

That's the way things work.  I know this.  God doesn't always answer prayers the way I want.  God knows what's best, even if what is best absolutely sucks.

Saint Marty has always struggled with answered prayers.