Monday, June 18, 2018

June 18: Stubb's Whale, Big Dreams, Baby Steps

Stubb's whale had been killed some distance from the ship. It was a calm; so, forming a tandem of three boats, we commenced slow business of towing the trophy to the Pequod. And now, as we eighteen men with our thirty-six arms, and one hundred and eighty thumbs and fingers, slowly toiled hour after hour upon that inert, sluggish corpse in the sea; and it seemed hardly to budge at all, except at long intervals; good evidence was hereby furnished of the enormousness of the mass we moved. For, upon the great canal of Hang-Ho, or whatever they call it, in China, four or five laborers on the foot-path will draw a bulky freighted junk at the rate of a mile an hour; but this grand argosy we towed heavily forged along, as if laden with piglead in bulk.

Darkness came on; but three lights up and down in the Pequod's main-rigging dimly guided our way; till drawing nearer we saw Ahab dropping one of several more lanterns over the bulwarks. Vacantly eyeing the heaving whale for a moment, he issued the usual orders for securing it for the night, and then handing his lantern to a seaman, went his way into the cabin, and did not come forward again until morning.

Though, in overseeing the pursuit of this whale, Captain Ahab had evinced his customary activity, to call it so; yet now that the creature was dead, some vague dissatisfaction, or impatience, or despair, seemed working in him; as if the sight of that dead body reminded him that Moby Dick was yet to be slain; and though a thousand other whales were brought to his ship, all that would not one jot advance his grand, monomaniac object. Very soon you would have thought from the sound on the Pequod's decks, that all hands were preparing to cast anchor in the deep; for heavy chains are being dragged along the deck, and thrust rattling out of the port-holes. But by those clanking links, the vast corpse itself, not the ship, is to be moored. Tied by the head to the stern, and by the tall to the bows, the whale now lies with its black hull close to the vessel's, and seen through the darkness of the night, which obscured the spars and rigging aloft, the two- ship and whale, seemed yoked together like colossal bullocks, whereof one reclines while the other remains standing.*

*A little item may as well be related here. The strongest and most reliable hold which the ship has upon the whale when moored alongside, is by the flukes or tail; and as from its greater density that part is relatively heavier than any other (excepting the side-fins), its flexibility even in death, causes it to sink low beneath the surface; so that with the hand you cannot get at it from the boat, in order to put the chain round it. But this difficulty is ingeniously overcome: a small, strong line is prepared with a wooden float at its outer end, and a weight in its middle, while the other end is secured to the ship. By adroit management the wooden float is made to rise on the other side of the mass, so that now having girdled the whale, the chain is readily made to follow suit; and being slipped along the body, is at last locked fast round the smallest part of the tail, at the point of junction with its broad flukes or lobes.

If moody Ahab was now all quiescence, at least so far as could be known on deck, Stubb, his second mate, flushed with conquest, betrayed an unusual but still good-natured excitement. Such an unwonted bustle was he in that the staid Starbuck, his official superior, quietly resigned to him for the time the sole management of affairs. One small, helping cause of all this liveliness in Stubb, was soon made strangely manifest. Stubb was a high liver; he was somewhat intemperately fond of the whale as a flavorish thing to his palate.

"A steak, a steak, ere I sleep! You, Daggoo! overboard you go, and cut me one from his small!"

Here be it known, that though these wild fishermen do not, as a general thing, and according to the great military maxim, make the enemy defray the current expenses of the war (at least before realizing the proceeds of the voyage), yet now and then you find some of these Nantucketers who have a genuine relish for that particular part of the Sperm Whale designated by Stubb; comprising the tapering extremity of the body.

About midnight that steak was cut and cooked; and lighted by two lanterns of sperm oil, Stubb stoutly stood up to his spermaceti supper at the capstan-head, as if that capstan were a sideboard. Nor was Stubb the only banqueter on whale's flesh that night. Mingling their mumblings with his own mastications, thousands on thousands of sharks, swarming round the dead leviathan, smackingly feasted on its fatness. The few sleepers below in their bunks were often startled by the sharp slapping of their tails against the hull, within a few inches of the sleepers' hearts. Peering over the side you could just see them (as before you heard them) wallowing in the sullen, black waters, and turning over on their backs as they scooped out huge globular pieces of the whale of the bigness of a human head. This particular feat of the shark seems all but miraculous. How at such an apparently unassailable surface, they contrive to gouge out such symmetrical mouthfuls, remains a part of the universal problem of all things. The mark they thus leave on the whale, may best be likened to the hollow made by a carpenter in countersinking for a screw.

Though amid all the smoking horror and diabolism of a sea-fight, sharks will be seen longingly gazing up to the ship's decks, like hungry dogs round a table where red meat is being carved, ready to bolt down every killed man that is tossed to them; and though, while the valiant butchers over the deck-table are thus cannibally carving each other's live meat with carving-knives all gilded and tasselled, the sharks, also, with their jewel-hilted mouths, are quarrelsomely carving away under the table at the dead meat; and though, were you to turn the whole affair upside down, it would still be pretty much the same thing, that is to say, a shocking sharkish business enough for all parties; and though sharks also are the invariable outriders of all slave ships crossing the Atlantic, systematically trotting alongside, to be handy in case a parcel is to be carried anywhere, or a dead slave to be decently buried; and though one or two other like instances might be set down, touching the set terms, places, and occasions, when sharks do most socially congregate, and most hilariously feast; yet is there no conceivable time or occasion when you will find them in such countless numbers, and in gayer or more jovial spirits, than around a dead sperm whale, moored by night to a whaleship at sea. If you have never seen that sight, then suspend your decision about the propriety of devil-worship, and the expediency of conciliating the devil.

The aftermath of the whale's death.  Its great bulk is slowly rowed to the side of the Pequod-- a daylong task.  Then, it's chained to the ship for the night, where it becomes a feast for hungry sharks in the dark waters.  For a whaling ship, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of celebration on the part of the crew, aside from Stubb.  Ahab, himself, disappears below deck before the whale is even secured to his vessel.

It's a strange thing to get exactly what you want.  It doesn't happen very often.  Stubb gets his whale, but Ahab doesn't get Moby Dick.  Nobody is this world can say that their lives are perfect.  That they have everything they have ever wanted.  From Presidents to movie stars to Nobel-Prize-winning writers, everyone nurses disappointments, small and large.

I read somewhere recently, and you'll forgive me for not remembering the source of this wisdom, that the best way to avoid disappointment and failure is not to set huge, unreachable goals for yourself.  Don't go hunting for the albino whale.  Instead, set small, achievable tasks.  For example, instead of telling yourself that you're going to write a Pulitzer-Prize-worthy collection of poems, how about writing a 20-page chapbook about your father's vegetable garden.  Instead of saying that you're going to declutter your entire house, start by decluttering your bathroom or kitchen.  To paraphrase Richard Dreyfus in What About Bob?, it's all about taking baby steps.

So, today, I took some baby steps toward some of my goals.  I wrote a new poem.  I revised another poem.  I met with a close friend and talked about poetry.  Tonight, after these small victories, I'm going to relax.  Maybe watch some TV or go for a walk.  Try to avoid stress for a few hours.  I didn't land a whale today.  I caught a lake trout.

That's my wisdom for you this evening.  It's not earth-shattering advice. but I have to remind myself of this little rule every once in a while.  I'm a big picture person.  I want to win the Pulitzer Prize, or, better yet, the Nobel.  Like George Bailey in It's A Wonderful Life, I dream big.  Also like George, I sometimes lose sight of small, important things.  Sweet potato nachos.  A daughter's smile.  A son riding his scooter down the street.  A woman who shares your dreams.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for baby steps.

June 18: Nikki Giovanni, "Dreams, " Fairy Godmother


by:  Nikki Giovanni

in my younger years
before i learned
black people aren’t
suppose to dream
i wanted to be
a raelet
and say “dr o wn d in my youn tears”
or “tal kin bout tal kin bout”
or marjorie hendricks and grind   
all up against the mic
and scream
“baaaaaby nightandday   
baaaaaby nightandday”
then as i grew and matured
i became more sensible   
and decided i would   
settle down
and just become
a sweet inspiration


Been thinking a lot about dreams today.  How they can bolster hopes.  Make your life better.  Give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  They can also be destructive.  Make you miserable.  Focus on what you lack instead of what you have.

I would say that I'm a dreamer.  Always have been.  However, I'm realistic, as well.  I know that dreams aren't things that a Fairy Godmother gives you in a pumpkin patch.  Dreams come true through hard work.  Dedication.  And gratitude.  Lots of gratitude.

Saint Marty is grateful tonight for the life he's living right now and the people who make his dreams come true every day.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

June 17: Happy Father's Day, Holding on to Poem, "To My Father's Ashes"

Happy Father's Day.

It's been a quietly difficult day for me.  I've been writing for a good portion of it.  Stuff I've been meaning to do for a while.  Tonight, I'm going to relax.  Watch an episode of Better Call Saul on Netflix with my daughter and her boyfriend.

I do have a poem to share.  Something I wrote a while ago.  I've been holding onto it, unsure if I wanted to share it.

Saint Marty offers it tonight in honor of his father.

To My Father's Ashes

by:  Martin Achatz

Staring at your dust
in this black vase,
I wonder what of you
I possess.  The cinder
that was your hands. watered
tomato plants every summer
until they swelled into fists
of starfish.  Grains of your
crooked spine that kept
you from the missiles and grenades
of Pork Chop Hill and Pusan.
Or the pollen of your lips, tongue
that sipped Seven and Seven
all night until you didn’t remember
stoking the furnace with so much
wood that it roared, turned brick
red, almost reduced the house to char.
It could be the soot that was your testes,
scrotum, vesicles, the place
where the Y of me first swam
in white brine the night
you reached out, atlased
my mother’s body with yours.
Perhaps the ember of calf, shoulder.
Powder of ulna, incisor, humerus.
Or maybe it’s a part of you
I don’t know.  The finger
that traced the arc of a neighbor
girl’s breast under a haystack moon.
Your grey eyes, the ones the cried
for two days when your daughter
was born with an extra chromosome
swimming in the pools of her nuclei.
An eardrum that heard Louis Armstrong
coax “La Vie En Rose” from his trumpet
one August night at the Paradise
on Woodward when the Detroit River
was a black tendon of water.
Or a mole on your chest that your bride
kissed over and over on your wedding
night until it blossomed to the color
of lupin.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

June 16: The Crotch, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, REAL Followers

Out of the trunk, the branches grow; out of them, the twigs. So, in productive subjects, grow the chapters.

The crotch alluded to on a previous page deserves independent mention. It is a notched stick of a peculiar form, some two feet in length, which is perpendicularly inserted into the starboard gunwale near the bow, for the purpose of furnishing a rest for the wooden extremity of the harpoons, whose other naked, barbed end sloping projects from the prow. Thereby the weapon is instantly at hand to its hurler, who snatches it up as readily from its rest as a backwoodsman swings his rifle from the wall. It is customary to have two harpoons reposing in the crotch, respectively called the first and second irons.

But these two harpoons, each by its own cord, are both connected with the line; the object being this: to dart them both, if possible, one instantly after the other into the same whale; so that if, in the coming drag, one should draw out, the other may still retain a hold. It is a doubling of the chances. But it very often happens that owing to the instantaneous, violent, convulsive running of the whale upon receiving the first iron, it becomes impossible for the harpooneer, however lightning-like in his movements, to pitch the second iron into him. Nevertheless, as the second iron is already connected with the line, and the line is running, hence that weapon must, at all events, be anticipatingly tossed out of the boat, somehow and somewhere; else the most terrible jeopardy would involve all hands. Tumbled into the water, it accordingly is in such cases; the spare coils of box line (mentioned in a preceding chapter) making this feat, in most instances, prudently practicable. But this critical act is not always unattended with the saddest and most fatal casualties.

Furthermore: you must know that when the second iron is thrown overboard, it thenceforth becomes a dangling, sharp-edged terror, skittishly curvetting about both boat and whale, entangling the lines, or cutting them, and making a prodigious sensation in all directions. Nor, in general, is it possible to secure it again until the whale is fairly captured and a corpse.

Consider, now, how it must be in the case of four boats all engaging one unusually strong, active, and knowing whale; when owing to these qualities in him, as well as to the thousand concurring accidents of such an audacious enterprise, eight or ten loose second irons may be simultaneously dangling about him. For, of course, each boat is supplied with several harpoons to bend on to the line should the first one be ineffectually darted without recovery. All these particulars are faithfully narrated here, as they will not fail to elucidate several most important however intricate passages, in scenes hereafter to be painted.

The title of this chapter is "The Crotch."  I mention this fact because it is kind of impossible to miss the sexual imagery in these paragraphs.  The barbed harpoons resting in the crotch, waiting to be plunged into the flesh of the unsuspecting whale.  I'm hoping that I don't have to go much further with my explication.  If I do, this blog may have to be listed as having adult content.  Of course, Melville is writing a book about whaling.  There aren't a whole lot of women in it.  Plus, nineteenth-century America wasn't a particularly enlightened time when it comes to gender issues.  Patriarchy, patriarchy, patriarchy.

This morning, I heard a report on National Public Radio about the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School going on a bus tour of the United States to mobilize young voters for the 2018 midterm elections.  Of course, the focus of these students is gun legislation.  During the report, an "expert" on elections was interviewed.  He (of course) was skeptical about these young people making that much of an impact on the outcome this November.  I believe one of his final statements was, "It's still five months away.  It's hard to sustain any kind of momentum that long."  It was almost like he was patting these kids on the head, saying, "Nice try.  Now, go back to Snapping on your cell phones."

It was more than a little dismissive.  Sadly, the government of my country has been dominated for so long by gun-toting, harpoon-wielding men that this guy's prediction may be accurate.  If I may use an analogy, it takes a lot of effort to turn the Titanic away from the iceberg.  And right now, it feels like I'm living on the Titanic and all the people in Washington, D. C., are trying to rearrange the deck chairs instead of steering the ship.  All those white guys are protecting their bank accounts and prescriptions for Viagra instead of keeping our kids safe.

You know that I try to stay away from too much political discussion on this blog, but that news report really bothered me.  Plus, I'm getting tired of politicians who call themselves Christians cutting social programs for the underprivileged and uninsured, proclaiming that they're doing what's right for the country.  Last time I checked, the job of the leaders of this country was to look out for everyone living here, not just those with bank accounts that rival the GDP of third world countries.

Christians don't witness a school shooting and think that the way to solve problem is with more guns.  Christians don't take refugee children away from their parents and lock them up in warehouses.  Christians don't take food assistance away from the poor and elderly.  Christians don't let sick people die because they don't have health insurance.  Christians don't complain about all the homeless people ruining their communities.  Christianity is NOT about zero tolerance.  Christianity is ALL about tolerance.

If you call yourself a Christian and disagree with me about any of the statements I made in the previous paragraph, then you are NOT a real Christian.  You are just a person who goes to church one day a week.  That's it.

My intent here is not to upset anyone.  It's to call out hypocrites.  I'm a Christian.  I'm a white male.  I don't want to be part of the problem.  So I speak my mind.  Raise money for homeless shelters.  Donate to can drives.  Refuse to vote for candidates who take money from gun lobbies (Republican or Democrat).  Support public education and teachers, universal health care, and free college tuition.  Care about refugees and immigrants.  That doesn't make me a liberal or bleeding heart.  That's makes me a REAL follower of Jesus.

Saint Marty is thankful today for all the REAL followers out there.