Wednesday, April 18, 2018

April 18: Ahab Sitting Alone, My Friend, Saint Anthony and Bigfoot Angels

The cabin; by the stern windows; Ahab sitting alone, and gazing out.

I leave a white and turbid wake; pale waters, paler cheeks, where'er I sail. The envious billows sidelong swell to whelm my track; let them; but first I pass.

Yonder, by ever-brimming goblet's rim, the warm waves blush like wine. The gold brow plumbs the blue. The diver sun- slow dived from noon- goes down; my soul mounts up! she wearies with her endless hill. Is, then, the crown too heavy that I wear? this Iron Crown of Lombardy. Yet is it bright with many a gem; I the wearer, see not its far flashings; but darkly feel that I wear that, that dazzlingly confounds. 'Tis iron- that I know- not gold. 'Tis split, too- that I feel; the jagged edge galls me so, my brain seems to beat against the solid metal; aye, steel skull, mine; the sort that needs no helmet in the most brain-battering fight!

Dry heat upon my brow? Oh! time was, when as the sunrise nobly spurred me, so the sunset soothed. No more. This lovely light, it lights not me; all loveliness is anguish to me, since I can ne'er enjoy. Gifted with the high perception, I lack the low, enjoying power; damned, most subtly and most malignantly! damned in the midst of Paradise! Good night-good night! (waving his hand, he moves from the window.)

'Twas not so hard a task. I thought to find one stubborn, at the least; but my one cogged circle fits into all their various wheels, and they revolve. Or, if you will, like so many ant-hills of powder, they all stand before me; and I their match. Oh, hard! that to fire others, the match itself must needs be wasting! What I've dared, I've willed; and what I've willed, I'll do! They think me mad- Starbuck does; but I'm demoniac, I am madness maddened! That wild madness that's only calm to comprehend itself! The prophecy was that I should be dismembered; and- Aye! I lost this leg. I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer. Now, then, be the prophet and the fulfiller one. That's more than ye, ye great gods, ever were. I laugh and hoot at ye, ye cricket-players, ye pugilists, ye deaf Burkes and blinded Bendigoes! I will not say as schoolboys do to bullies- Take some one of your own size; don't pommel me! No, ye've knocked me down, and I am up again; but ye have run and hidden. Come forth from behind your cotton bags! I have no long gun to reach ye. Come, Ahab's compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents' beds, unerringly I rush! Naught's an obstacle, naught's an angle to the iron way!

It is three o'clock in the afternoon at the moment as I sit here typing these words.  I'm almost at the end of my work day.  One class to teach.  Ahab, at the end of a long day, is sitting at the windows in his cabin, contemplating the setting sun, knowing full well that he is not just mad--he is madness maddened.  Driven to the edges of sanity by his need to dismember his dismemberer.  Ahab is on a straight path to Moby Dick, without swerving.

It's a strange little chapter.  Suddenly, Ishmael sinks into the background, and Melville, the omniscient narrator, takes over, stepping into Ahab's head.  Giving the reader a glimpse of the depth of his psychosis.  In some ways, it reads like a blog post.  Ahab is in his cabin, watching the sun sink into the ocean, tapping away at his laptop.  The name of his blog is probably something like, "My Lost Leg" or "Hunting the Spouting Satan" or "Vengeance and Grog."

My post this evening is simpler and more joyful.  My friend, who received bad news from Mayo Clinic earlier this week, spoke with her doctor in Green Bay today who told her that she had nothing to worry about.  A simple surgery to remove the problem from her body.  My friend is over the moon ecstatic.  She has gone from drawing up a bucket list to planning a trip to a Bigfoot convention.

I want to thank anybody and everybody who sent up positive thoughts/prayers/energy for my friend this past week.  Last night, as I was badgering my favorite saint, Anthony, I told him that my friend needed a miracle.  A bona fide miracle.  No messing around.  This afternoon, Saint Anthony came through.  The news was a bolt of joyful lightning in my phone.

So, while Ahab is contemplating death and dismemberment at sundown, I am sending praise and thank yous to the stars.  Life is so strange.  A seeming death sentence at the beginning of the week.  A hurricane of healing this midweek day.  I'm reminded of the story of the lepers cured by Christ in the Bible.  When they discover they are cured, they run away from Jesus, dancing and singing.  Only one of the lepers returns to thank Him.

Tonight, I am thanking Saint Anthony and the host of Bigfoot angels that I've sent pounding on heaven's doors these last few days.

Saint Marty is a believer.  Miracles do happen.

April 18: Pulitzer Prize, Frank Bidart, "Poem Ending with a Sentence by Heath Ledger"

Poem Ending with a Sentence by Heath Ledger

by:  Frank Bidart

Each grinding flattened American vowel smashed to
centerlessness, his glee that whatever long ago mutilated his

mouth, he has mastered to mutilate

you: the Joker's voice, so unlike
the bruised, withheld, wounded voice of Ennis Del Mar.

Once I have the voice

the line

and at

the end
of the line

is a hook

and attached
to that

is the soul.


Frank Bidart won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry a couple days ago for his collection Half-Light:  Collected Poems 1965 - 2016.  I have always admired Bidart's work, although I have not always fully understood it.  But you don't have to completely understand a poem to fall under its spell.  That's what I would say Bidart does with his poems:  he casts spells, gives voice to the voiceless (as he does for Heath Ledger above).

Tonight, I celebrate Frank Bidart is all his confoundingness.  Yes, I made up that word to describe his poems.  It's a good word.  A word, I think, Bidart would appreciate.  He is amazing and beautiful, the way a complex math problem is amazing and beautiful, with all it's variables and logarithms and sines. 

Saint Marty minored in math, in case you didn't know.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

April 17: Nancy DeCaire, Julius Babarinsa, "In Praise of Teachers"

Nancy DeCaire was my high school English teacher.  A woman of grace and good humor, she always took such pride in the successes of her students.  She was one of the first people who told me that I was a writer, reading countless bad short stories and poems and essays of mine.  Ms. DeCaire is the reason that I became a teacher.

Just before I was named Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula, I ran into Ms. DeCaire at a local restaurant.  She was having lunch with a friend.  She started the conversation like this, "So, what's new, kiddo?"  I told her about my nomination for Poet Laureate.  She asked me how she could vote for me, and I scribbled the Web address on a napkin and gave it to her.  She looked at her friend and said, "You're going to vote for him, too."  She hugged me then and said, "I'm so proud of you."

Nancy DeCaire died this morning, and I have to say that my universe is a little less bright knowing that her star is no longer shining in it.

Saint Marty's heart is a little broken tonight.

In Praise of Teachers

by:  Julius Babarinsa

We are all indebted to our teachers
These are the teachers who taught us
all the things we know and do today
Now you ask – who are these teachers?
Teachers are the instructors, trainers,
tutors, coaches, lecturers and professors
from the kindergarten to the university

Teachers taught us how to read and write
They explained how to search for the logic
behind every statement and argument
Teachers demonstrated to us in many ways
how to approach problems and solve them

Whenever we make mistakes and commit errors
Teachers always remind us that there is
nothing to be ashamed of because
we are still apprentices and not yet masters
Sometimes, when we are depressed
our teachers are always there to motivate
us with sweet words of encouragement

They taught us that the world we live in
is a planet which rotates and revolves
That on this planet there are two-legged,
four-legged and multi-legged creatures
That human beings belong to the two-legged
species and have many colors and languages

Our teachers taught us that one man can
make a difference in the world we live in
Men like Abraham Lincoln, Mao Tsetung,
Lenin, Mandela, Mohammad Ali and Bill Gates
Our teachers are sources of inspiration
Can we live without teachers? You decide!                         

April 17: The Brimming Pewter, Some Kind of Meaning, Lemon Cookies

But in his joy at the enchanted, tacit acquiescence of the mate, Ahab did not hear his foreboding invocation; nor yet the low laugh from the hold; nor yet the presaging vibrations of the winds in the cordage; nor yet the hollow flap of the sails against the masts, as for a moment their hearts sank in. For again Starbuck's downcast eyes lighted up with the stubbornness of life; the subterranean laugh died away; the winds blew on; the sails filled out; the ship heaved and rolled as before. Ah, ye admonitions and warnings! why stay ye not when ye come? But rather are ye predictions than warnings, ye shadows! Yet not so much predictions from without, as verifications of the fore-going things within. For with little external to constrain us, the innermost necessities in our being, these still drive us on.

"The measure! the measure!" cried Ahab.

Receiving the brimming pewter, and turning to the harpooneers, he ordered them to produce their weapons. Then ranging them before him near the capstan, with their harpoons in their hands, while his three mates stood at his side with their lances, and the rest of the ship's company formed a circle round the group; he stood for an instant searchingly eyeing every man of his crew. But those wild eyes met his, as the bloodshot eves of the prairie wolves meet the eye of their leader, ere he rushes on at their head in the trail of the bison; but, alas! only to fall into the hidden snare of the Indian.

"Drink and pass!" he cried, handing the heavy charged flagon to the nearest seaman. "The crew alone now drink. Round with it, round! Short draughts- long swallows, men; 'tis hot as Satan's hoof. So, so; it goes round excellently. It spiralizes in ye; forks out at the serpent-snapping eye. Well done; almost drained. That way it went, this way it comes. Hand it me- here's a hollow! Men, ye seem the years; so brimming life is gulped and gone. Steward, refill!

"Attend now, my braves. I have mustered ye all round this capstan; and ye mates, flank me with your lances; and ye harpooneers, stand there with your irons; and ye, stout mariners, ring me in, that I may in some sort revive a noble custom of my fishermen fathers before me. O men, you will yet see that- Ha! boy, come back? bad pennies come not sooner. Hand it me. Why, now, this pewter had run brimming again, wert not thou St. Vitus' imp- away, thou ague!

"Advance, ye mates! Cross your lances full before me. Well done! Let me touch the axis." So saying, with extended arm, he grasped the three level, radiating lances at their crossed centre; while so doing, suddenly and nervously twitched them; meanwhile glancing intently from Starbuck to Stubb; from Stubb to Flask. It seemed as though, by some nameless, interior volition, he would fain have shocked into them the same fiery emotion accumulated within the Leyden jar of his own magnetic life. The three mates quailed before his strong, sustained, and mystic aspect. Stubb and Flask looked sideways from him; the honest eye of Starbuck fell downright.

"In vain!" cried Ahab; "but, maybe, 'tis well. For did ye three but once take the full-forced shock, then mine own electric thing, that had perhaps expired from out me. Perchance, too, it would have dropped ye dead. Perchance ye need it not. Down lances! And now, ye mates, I do appoint ye three cupbearers to my three pagan kinsmen there- yon three most honorable gentlemen and noblemen, my valiant harpooneers. Disdain the task? What, when the great Pope washes the feet of beggars, using his tiara for ewer? Oh, my sweet cardinals! your own condescension, that shall bend ye to it. I do not order ye; ye will it. Cut your seizings and draw the poles, ye harpooneers!"

Silently obeying the order, the three harpooneers now stood with the detached iron part of their harpoons, some three feet long, held, barbs up, before him.

"Stab me not with that keen steel! Cant them; cant them over! know ye not the goblet end? Turn up the socket! So, so; now, ye cup-bearers, advance. The irons! take them; hold them while I fill!" Forthwith, slowly going from one officer to the other, he brimmed the harpoon sockets with the fiery waters from the pewter.

"Now, three to three, ye stand. Commend the murderous chalices! Bestow them, ye who are now made parties to this indissoluble league. Ha! Starbuck! but the deed is done! Yon ratifying sun now waits to sit upon it. Drink, ye harpooneers! drink and swear, ye men that man the deathful whaleboat's bow- Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!" The long, barbed steel goblets were lifted; and to cries and maledictions against the white whale, the spirits were simultaneously quaffed down with a hiss. Starbuck paled, and turned, and shivered. Once more, and finally, the replenished pewter went the rounds among the frantic crew; when, waving his free hand to them, they all dispersed; and Ahab retired within his cabin.

Starbuck does not get swept up in Ahab's speech to the crew.  Doesn't buy into the drinking or backslapping.  The name Moby Dick seems to plant in Starbuck seeds of discomfort.  He seems to know something that the other men don't.  Perhaps he recognizes the spark of madness in Ahab's eyes.  Or maybe he's had an encounter with the white whale before.  It could simply be a sense of unease, a premonition of what is to come.

The snow has finally stopped falling.  The university where I teach has finally reopened.  It has been closed since Sunday morning.  Slowly, the Upper Peninsula is returning to business as usual.  Tomorrow, all the kids will return to school.  I hear a snowblower coughing down the street.  One of my neighbors digging out from last night's/today's snowfall.  Everyone is trying to return to normal.

I'm a little at sea right now.  Both of my children are gone--my daughter at her boyfriend's house, my son on yet another trip with his aunt.  My house is absolutely silent, except for tapping bursts of my fingers on the keyboard and the steady cracking of the clock on the wall.  This makes me uneasy.  I'm not used to unstructured time in the middle of the week.  My week days and nights are usually very regimented. 

And now, without the driving force of teaching and work and children this evening, I am overcome with a kind of exhaustion.  In the last three sentences, I have drifted off into a twilight doze four or five times.  Like Ahab, I've had to take a few turns around the decks of my home, to shake off this torpor.  Stuffed a lemon cookie into my mouth.  Stared out the kitchen window.  Eaten a chocolate egg.  Gone to the bathroom.  Peed.  Washed a dirty glass that was in the sink. 

I'm searching for some kind of meaning this evening, I guess.  A Bigfoot to chase.  A poem or essay to write.  Words of hope for a friend who's struggling with hopelessness at the moment.  Eggs and toast for my wife when she wakes up from her nap.

It's easy to go a little crazy, become obsessed with loss and pain and misfortune and loneliness.  Just now, in the middle of my tiredness, I found myself profoundly sad and angry at the universe,  My swampy brain started cataloging the Moby Dicks of my life--my dad's death, my friend's illness, my financial struggles . . . So many white whales out there.

I think I need to take a page out of Starbuck's book.  Recognize that I've contracted a little Ahab fever.  Dial it back a notch.  Go easy on myself.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for lemon cookies, chocolate eggs, a clean glass, and the end of snow.