Monday, April 30, 2018

April 30: Requiem Eternam, Bigfoot, Hairy Messes

What the white whale was to Ahab, has been hinted; what, at times, he was to me, as yet remains unsaid.

Aside from those more obvious considerations touching Moby Dick, which could not but occasionally awaken in any man's soul some alarm, there was another thought, or rather vague, nameless horror concerning him, which at times by its intensity completely overpowered all the rest; and yet so mystical and well nigh ineffable was it, that I almost despair of putting it in a comprehensible form. It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me. But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim, random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be naught.

Though in many natural objects, whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles, japonicas, and pearls; and though various nations have in some way recognised a certain royal preeminence in this hue; even the barbaric, grand old kings of Pegu placing the title "Lord of the White Elephants" above all their other magniloquent ascriptions of dominion; and the modern kings of Siam unfurling the same snow-white quadruped in the royal standard; and the Hanoverian flag bearing the one figure of a snow-white charger; and the great Austrian Empire, Caesarian, heir to overlording Rome, having for the imperial color the same imperial hue; and though this pre-eminence in it applies to the human race itself, giving the white man ideal mastership over every dusky tribe; and though, besides, all this, whiteness has been even made significant of gladness, for among the Romans a white stone marked a joyful day; and though in other mortal sympathies and symbolizings, this same hue is made the emblem of many touching, noble things- the innocence of brides, the benignity of age; though among the Red Men of America the giving of the white belt of wampum was the deepest pledge of honor; though in many climes, whiteness typifies the majesty of Justice in the ermine of the Judge, and contributes to the daily state of kings and queens drawn by milk-white steeds; though even in the higher mysteries of the most august religions it has been made the symbol of the divine spotlessness and power; by the Persian fire worshippers, the white forked flame being held the holiest on the altar; and in the Greek mythologies, Great Jove himself being made incarnate in a snow-white bull; and though to the noble Iroquois, the midwinter sacrifice of the sacred White Dog was by far the holiest festival of their theology, that spotless, faithful creature being held the purest envoy they could send to the Great Spirit with the annual tidings of their own fidelity; and though directly from the Latin word for white, all Christian priests derive the name of one part of their sacred vesture, the alb or tunic, worn beneath the cassock; and though among the holy pomps of the Romish faith, white is specially employed in the celebration of the Passion of our Lord; though in the Vision of St. John, white robes are given to the redeemed, and the four-and-twenty elders stand clothed in white before the great-white throne, and the Holy One that sitteth there white like wool; yet for all these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and honorable, and sublime, there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood.

This elusive quality it is, which causes the thought of whiteness, when divorced from more kindly associations, and coupled with any object terrible in itself, to heighten that terror to the furthest bounds. Witness the white bear of the poles, and the white shark of the tropics; what but their smooth, flaky whiteness makes them the transcendent horrors they are? That ghastly whiteness it is which imparts such an abhorrent mildness, even more loathsome than terrific, to the dumb gloating of their aspect. So that not the fierce-fanged tiger in his heraldic coat can so stagger courage as the white-shrouded bear or shark.*

*With reference to the Polar bear, it may possibly be urged by him who would fain go still deeper into this matter, that it is not the whiteness, separately regarded, which heightens the intolerable hideousness of that brute; for, analysed, that heightened hideousness, it might be said, only rises from the circumstance, that the irresponsible ferociousness of the creature stands invested in the fleece of celestial innocence and love; and hence, by bringing together two such opposite emotions in our minds, the Polar bear frightens us with so unnatural a contrast. But even assuming all this to be true; yet, were it not for the whiteness, you would not have that intensified terror.

As for the white shark, the white gliding ghostliness of repose in that creature, when beheld in his ordinary moods, strangely tallies with the same quality in the Polar quadruped. This peculiarity is most vividly hit by the French in the name they bestow upon that fish. The Romish mass for the dead begins with "Requiem eternam" (eternal rest), whence Requiem denominating the mass itself, and any other funeral music. Now, in allusion to the white, silent stillness of death in this shark, and the mild deadliness of his habits, the French call him Requin.

So we come to one of the most famous chapters of Moby-Dick:  the chapter titled "The Whiteness of the Whale."  It is a several-pages-long meditation on the color white.  A good friend recently confessed to me his love of this book.  He loves it for all of its postmodern messiness--its digressions, mediocre narrative, and aggravating refusal to be just one thing.  It's not just a book about Ahab and his vengeance or Ishmael's introduction to whaling.  It's also about race and science and oceans and religion.  And, now, it's about the color white.

I appreciate the book's stubbornness to be categorized, sort of like the color white.  As Ishmael/Melville points out, white is the color associated with purity and holiness and beauty and refinement and royalty.  Pearls, white elephants, priestly albs--all of these things conjure up images of Meghan Markle marching down the aisle to marry Prince Harry or Pope Francis blessing a boy with cerebral palsy in Saint Peter's Square.  White is the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus Christ at the Jordan River.

However, that's not all that white is, as Melville notes.  It's also demonic Sperm Whales, ferocious polar bears, and hungry-for-blood sharks.  If you look closely at white, you can see Dante's entrance to the Inferno, with the warning "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here" cast into it's white, wrought-iron gates.  White is simple.

I've been writing Bigfoot poetry a lot these last couple years.  It's gotten to the point where I occasionally worry that I may only be known only as the Bigfoot poet.  When I give poetry readings, the poems that are received with the most excitement are the ones about my hairy friend.  That's not a bad thing.  That means that there's a market for what I'm writing.  I love the freedom that Bigfoot gives me to write just about anything weird and maybe a little taboo.

However, Bigfoot just isn't Bigfoot, just like white is not just vanilla ice cream.  Ever since I started my little project, I've found that Bigfoot is a great vehicle that allows me to talk about a whole lot of very big, very difficult topics.  My sister, who died three years ago, has her big footprints in a couple of the poems.  My dad showed up a little while ago.  And my brother, who died of complications from a stroke over four years ago, has taken a stroll down the street with Bigfoot, as well.

In a lot of ways, I think that Bigfoot is a lot smarter than me.  He's more primal and, therefore, follows his instincts more in the poems.  If there's something that hurts him, he simply kills and eats it.  If his heart gets broken, he goes to Mount Rushmore and howls from the top of Lincoln's nose.  Bigfoot teaches me how to wrestle with Loch Ness Monster-sized emotions and problems.

I know that I'm sounding a little crazy right now.  That's okay.  I think that I have to be a little crazy to do the things I do in my life--teach, poetize,  husbnadize, parentize, and Bigfootize.  All of these things are a part of me.  I'm not just pearl or white elephant.  I'm also great white shark and Yeti.  I'm every shade of Bigfoot that you can think of.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for all the hairy messes of his life.

April 30: Marge Piercy, "More Than Enough," Summer Has Arrived

More Than Enough

by:  Marge Piercy

The first lily of June opens its red mouth.
All over the sand road where we walk
multiflora rose climbs trees cascading
white or pink blossoms, simple, intense
the scene drifting like colored mist.

The arrowhead is spreading its creamy
clumps of flower and the blackberries
are blooming in the thickets. Season of
joy for the bee. The green will never
again be so green, so purely and lushly

new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads
into the wind. Rich fresh wine
of June, we stagger into you smeared
with pollen, overcome as the turtle
laying her eggs in roadside sand.


It feels like summer has finally arrived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan today.  When I got in my car this afternoon, the temperature was 75 degrees.  As I sit in my office here at the university, waiting to administer a final exam, all I really want to do is go outside, lie in the grass, and thank God that winter may finally be in the rear view mirror.

In celebration of this weather, I am going to focus on summer poems this week.  Poems that make me feel the sun on my head, the sand in my toes, and the smell of lilac in my nose.  I could shower in this day and be clean for weeks.

Saint Marty may get naked under the full moon tonight and dance.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

April 28: Daughter, National Honor Society, Out of a Job

A quick post at the end of a long day.

Tonight, I attended the induction ceremony of my daughter into the National Honor Society.  It was incredibly emotional.  I sat in the auditorium, watching this beautiful young woman grow up right before my eyes.  I don't think she really knows how proud I am of her.  How, every day, I'm astounded that I had something to do with bringing such a strong and smart person into the world.

It's pretty difficult for me to think of my daughter as a junior in high school.  That in a little over a year, she will have a graduation cap and gown up in her room.  She will be legally an adult.  And I will sort of feel as if I'm out of a job that I've had since a snowy morning in December over eighteen years before. 

If you can't tell, Saint Marty is feeling a little melancholy right now.  Proud and sad at the same time.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

April 28: Job's Whale, Being an Ahab, OCD

Nor was it his unwonted magnitude, nor his remarkable hue, nor yet his deformed lower jaw, that so much invested the whale with natural terror, as that unexampled, intelligent malignity which, according to specific accounts, he had over and over again evinced in his assaults. More than all, his treacherous retreats struck more of dismay than perhaps aught else. For, when swimming before his exulting pursuers, with every apparent symptom of alarm, he had several times been known to turn round suddenly, and, bearing down upon them, either stave their boats to splinters, or drive them back in consternation to their ship.

Already several fatalities had attended his chase. But though similar disasters, however little bruited ashore, were by no means unusual in the fishery; yet, in most instances, such seemed the White Whale's infernal aforethought of ferocity, that every dismembering or death that he caused, was not wholly regarded as having been inflicted by an unintelligent agent.

Judge, then, to what pitches of inflamed, distracted fury the minds of his more desperate hunters were impelled, when amid the chips of chewed boats, and the sinking limbs of torn comrades, they swam out of the white curds of the whale's direful wrath into the serene, exasperating sunlight, that smiled on, as if at a birth or a bridal.

His three boats stove around him, and oars and men both whirling in the eddies; one captain, seizing the line-knife from his broken prow, had dashed at the whale, as an Arkansas duellist at his foe, blindly seeking with a six inch blade to reach the fathom-deep life of the whale. That captain was Ahab. And then it was, that suddenly sweeping his sickle-shaped lower jaw beneath him, Moby Dick had reaped away Ahab's leg, as a mower a blade of grass in the field. No turbaned Turk, no hired Venetian or Malay, could have smote him with more seeming malice. Small reason was there to doubt, then, that ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations. The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil;- Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.

It is not probable that this monomania in him took its instant rise at the precise time of his bodily dismemberment. Then, in darting at the monster, knife in hand, he had but given loose to a sudden, passionate, corporal animosity; and when he received the stroke that tore him, he probably but felt the agonizing bodily laceration, but nothing more. Yet, when by this collision forced to turn towards home, and for long months of days and weeks, Ahab and anguish lay stretched together in one hammock, rounding in mid winter that dreary, howling Patagonian Cape; then it was, that his torn body and gashed soul bled into one another; and so interfusing, made him mad. That it was only then, on the homeward voyage, after the encounter, that the final monomania seized him, seems all but certain from the fact that, at intervals during the passage, he was a raving lunatic; and, though unlimbed of a leg, yet such vital strength yet lurked in his Egyptian chest, and was moreover intensified by his delirium, that his mates were forced to lace him fast, even there, as he sailed, raving in his hammock. In a strait-jacket, he swung to the mad rockings of the gales. And, when running into more sufferable latitudes, the ship, with mild stun'sails spread, floated across the tranquil tropics, and, to all appearances, the old man's delirium seemed left behind him with the Cape Horn swells, and he came forth from his dark den into the blessed light and air; even then, when he bore that firm, collected front, however pale, and issued his calm orders once again; and his mates thanked God the direful madness was now gone; even then, Ahab, in his hidden self, raved on. Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still subtler form. Ahab's full lunacy subsided not, but deepeningly contracted; like the unabated Hudson, when that noble Northman flows narrowly, but unfathomably through the Highland gorge. But, as in his narrow-flowing monomania, not one jot of Ahab's broad madness had been left behind; so in that broad madness, not one jot of his great natural intellect had perished. That before living agent, now became the living instrument. If such a furious trope may stand, his special lunacy stormed his general sanity, and carried it, and turned all its concentred cannon upon its own mad mark; so that far from having lost his strength, Ahab, to that one end, did now possess a thousand fold more potency than ever he had sanely brought to bear upon any one reasonable object.

This is much; yet Ahab's larger, darker, deeper part remains unhinted. But vain to popularize profundities, and all truth is profound. Winding far down from within the very heart of this spiked Hotel de Cluny where we here stand- however grand and wonderful, now quit it;- and take your way, ye nobler, sadder souls, to those vast Roman halls of Thermes; where far beneath the fantastic towers of man's upper earth, his root of grandeur, his whole awful essence sits in bearded state; an antique buried beneath antiquities, and throned on torsoes! So with a broken throne, the great gods mock that captive king; so like a Caryatid, he patient sits, upholding on his frozen brow the piled entablatures of ages. Wind ye down there, ye prouder, sadder souls! question that proud, sad king! A family likeness! aye, he did beget ye, ye young exiled royalties; and from your grim sire only will the old State-secret come.

Now, in his heart, Ahab had some glimpse of this, namely; all my means are sane, my motive and my object mad. Yet without power to kill, or change, or shun the fact; he likewise knew that to mankind he did long dissemble; in some sort, did still. But that thing of his dissembling was only subject to his perceptibility, not to his will determinate. Nevertheless, so well did he succeed in that dissembling, that when with ivory leg he stepped ashore at last, no Nantucketer thought him otherwise than but naturally grieved, and that to the quick, with the terrible casualty which had overtaken him.

The report of his undeniable delirium at sea was likewise popularly ascribed to a kindred cause. And so too, all the added moodiness which always afterwards, to the very day of sailing in the Pequod on the present voyage, sat brooding on his brow. Nor is it so very unlikely, that far from distrusting his fitness for another whaling voyage, on account of such dark symptoms, the calculating people of that prudent isle were inclined to harbor the conceit, that for those very reasons he was all the better qualified and set on edge, for a pursuit so full of rage and wildness as the bloody hunt of whales. Gnawed within and scorched without, with the infixed, unrelenting fangs of some incurable idea; such an one, could he be found, would seem the very man to dart his iron and lift his lance against the most appalling of all brutes. Or, if for any reason thought to be corporeally incapacitated for that, yet such an one would seem superlatively competent to cheer and howl on his underlings to the attack. But be all this as it may, certain it is, that with the mad secret of his unabated rage bolted up and keyed in him, Ahab had purposely sailed upon the present voyage with the one only and all-engrossing object of hunting the White Whale. Had any one of his old acquaintances on shore but half dreamed of what was lurking in him then, how soon would their aghast and righteous souls have wrenched the ship from such a fiendish man! They were bent on profitable cruises, the profit to be counted down in dollars from the mint. He was intent on an audacious, immitigable, and supernatural revenge.

Here, then, was this grey-headed, ungodly old man, chasing with curses Job's whale round the world, at the head of a crew, too, chiefly made up of mongrel renegades, and castaways, and cannibals- morally enfeebled also, by the incompetence of mere unaided virtue or right-mindedness in Starbuck, the invunerable jollity of indifference and recklessness in Stubb, and the pervading mediocrity in Flask. Such a crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him to his monomaniac revenge. How it was that they so aboundingly responded to the old man's ire- by what evil magic their souls were possessed, that at times his hate seemed almost theirs; the White Whale as much their insufferable foe as his; how all this came to be- what the White Whale was to them, or how to their unconscious understandings, also, in some dim, unsuspected way, he might have seemed the gliding great demon of the seas of life,- all this to explain, would be to dive deeper than Ishmael can go. The subterranean miner that works in us all, how can one tell whither leads his shaft by the ever shifting, muffled sound of his pick? Who does not feel the irresistible arm drag? What skiff in tow of a seventy-four can stand still? For one, I gave myself up to the abandonment of the time and the place; but while yet all a-rush to encounter the whale, could see naught in that brute but the deadliest ill.

Here it is, all laid out for the reader--Ahab in all his monomaniacal glory.  As Ishmael/Melville notes, Ahab has learned to hide the depth of his madness.  Now, I do not use the term "madness" in a pejorative way here.  "Madness" used to describe a person who suffers from any kind of mental illness is not really appropriate.  Having a wife who lives with bipolar, I sometimes take offense at appellations like "mad" and "crazy" and "whacko."  They are demeaning and tend to diminish the serious nature of mental illness.  They are words used by people whose lives have never been touched by depression or mania or schizophrenia.  They're insulting.

My use of the word "madness" is to describe Ahab in a literary way.  Ahab's affliction is symbolic, more writer's trope than realistic depiction of a person suffering with any form of mental illness.  Ahab is monomania and ego.  He is obsession embodied.  This, Melville is saying, is the cost of revenge, of single-minded rage.  That's why people who seem truly driven toward a single goal are sometimes compared to Ahab, just as extremely cheap people are called "Scrooges."  The name "Ahab" has taken on meaning beyond the tale of the white whale.

Now, I'm not saying that all obsession is necessarily bad or the result of mental illness.  No.  I have been accused by close family members of being a little Ahab-like in my writing projects and house projects.  I've been known, when cleaning and vacuuming and folding and dusting, to swear like a Nantucket whaler.  All I'm missing at those times is an ivory peg leg.  And when my writing isn't going particularly well, I tend to pace and mutter a lot.  Get cranky.  Sit at dinner and sulk.  Make everyone around me uncomfortable.

Today, I have a few things to accomplish, so I'm going to be a little Ahabish in my demeanor.  I have to write a couple blog posts.  Advertise a poetry workshop I'm leading next Thursday.  Work on a Christmas essay.  Play the pipe organ for Mass this afternoon.  Drive to the big city of Marquette to pick up some artwork of mine that's been on display at the library for the month of April.  Get my son's bedroom ready for painting tomorrow.  I'm sure I've left off a few things.

Last night, my nine-year-old son told me that I was OCD.  I vehemently denied this characterization, to which both my wife, daughter, and daughter's boyfriend laughed uproariously.  I looked at my son and said, "I may be O-C-D, but at least I'm not a pain in the A-S-S."  My son laughed again and punched me in the arm.

Well, to all Saint Marty's fellow Ahabs out there, he wishes you well on your voyages today.  May you slay your Moby Dicks, and may you not lose your legs in the process.

April 28: Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, "When the Animals Leave This Place," Spring Floods

When the Animals Leave This Place

by:  Allison Adelle Hedge Coke

Underneath ice caps, once glacial peaks
deer, elk, vixen begin to ascend.
Free creatures camouflaged as
waves and waves receding far

from plains pulling

upward slopes and faraway snow dusted mountains.
On spotted and clear cut hills robbed of fir,
high above wheat tapestried valleys, flood plains
up where headwaters reside.

Droplets pound, listen.

Hoofed and pawed mammals
pawing and hoofing themselves up, up.
Along rivers dammed by chocolate beavers,
trailed by salamanders—mud puppies.

Plunging through currents,
          above concrete and steel man-made barriers

these populations of plains, prairies, forests flee
in such frenzy, popping splash dance,
pillaging cattail zones, lashing lily pads—
the breath of life in muddy ponds, still lakes.

Liquid beads slide on windshield glass

along cracked and shattered pane,
spider-like with webs and prisms.
“Look, there, the rainbow
touched the ground both ends down!”

Full arch seven colors showered, heed
what Indigenous know, why long ago,
they said no one belongs here, surrounding them,
that this land was meant to be wet with waters of nearby
not fertile to crops and domestic graze.

The old ones said,

“When the animals leave this place
the waters will come again.
This power is beyond the strength of man.
The river will return with its greatest force.”

No one can stop her.
          She was meant to be this way.
                         Snakes in honor, do not intrude.

The rainbow tied with red and green like
that on petal rose, though only momentarily.
Colors disappear like print photographs fade.
They mix with charcoal surrounding.

A flurry of fowl follow

like strands, maidenhair falls,
from blackened clouds above
swarming inward
covering the basin and raising sky.

Darkness hangs over

the hills appear as black water crests,
blackness varying shades.
The sun is somewhere farther than the farthest ridge .
Main gravel crossroads and back back roads

slicken to mud, clay.
          Turtles creep along rising banks, snapping jowls.

Frogs chug throaty songs.
The frogs only part of immense choir
heralding the downpour, the falling oceans.
Over the train trestle, suspension bridge with

current so slick everything slides off in sheets.

Among rotten stumps in black bass ponds,
somewhere catfish reel in fins and crawl,
walking whiskers to higher waters.
Waters above, below

the choir calling it forth.

Brightly plumed jays and dull brown-headed cowbirds
fly as if hung in one place like pinwheels.
They dance toward the rain crest,
the approaching storm

beckoning, inviting, summoning.

A single sparrow sings the stroke of rain
past the strength of sunlight.
The frog chorus sings refrain,
melody drumming thunder,

evoked by beasts and water creatures wanting their homes.
Wanting to return to clearings and streams where ash, or
white birch woods rise,    tower over,
quaking aspen stand against
storm shown veils—sheeting rains crossing

pasture, meadow, hills, mountain.
Sounds erupt.
Gathering clouds converge, push,
pull, push, pull forcing lightning

back and forth shaping
windy, sculptured swans, mallard ducks, and giants
from stratocumulus media.
As if they are a living cloud chamber,
As if they exist only in the heavens.

Air swells with dampness.
          It has begun.


One final nature poem to end Earth Day week.  This one's a little apocalyptic.  It's also a little Noah's arkish, without the ark.  Or Noah.  It leaves humankind drowning in the rain and protects the fish and birds and snakes and animals. 

It always happens this time of the year.  As the weather warms and snow begins to disappear, rivers and lakes begin to fill up.  This morning, as I was watching TV, I noticed a Flood Watch from the National Weather Service for a county to the west.  Like I said, it happens every spring.

Only once in my life have I seen the damage from a really strong flood.  It destroyed roads and camps, eroded beaches, swamped a local campground.  As I drove around a day or two afterward, I got to see firsthand the results.  It was as if Nature rolled up her sleeves and said, "Uh, let me show you something."

Now, some ten-plus years later, the campground and roads are repaired.  Dams have been strengthened.  But, of course, it only takes one strong rainstorm or a winter of incredible snows to erase these man-made things again.  We aren't the owners of this planet.  Just travelers, along with the deer and bears and salmon and wrens.

If we don't take care of this place, it's going to take care of us.

And Saint Marty isn't that good of a swimmer.

Friday, April 27, 2018

April 27: Gary Snyder, "Kyoto: March," Upper Peninsula Moon

Kyoto:  March

by:  Gary Snyder

A few light flakes of snow
Fall in the feeble sun;
Birds sing in the cold,
A warbler by the wall. The plum
Buds tight and chill soon bloom.
The moon begins first
Fourth, a faint slice west
At nightfall. Jupiter half-way
High at the end of night-
Meditation. The dove cry
Twangs like a bow.
At dawn Mt. Hiei dusted white
On top; in the clear air
Folds of all the gullied green
Hills around the town are sharp,
Breath stings. Beneath the roofs
Of frosty houses
Lovers part, from tangle warm
Of gentle bodies under quilt
And crack the icy water to the face
And wake and feed the children
And grandchildren that they love.


It's a cold night in the Upper Peninsula.  I'm sure there's going to be a fine layer of frost on the windows of my car tomorrow, just like there was this morning.

I'm glad that the week is over.  It has been long and tiring.  I haven't gotten a whole lot done except work and teaching.  Not a whole lot of poetry going on in my life these last five or so days.  Hoping to rectify that situation tomorrow.  Work on an essay that I started a little while ago.

Right now, however, it's all about the stars and moon and cold. 

Saint Marty is ready to let night take over.

April 27: Golden Gleamings, Masturbation, Summer Plans

One of the wild suggestions referred to, as at last coming to be linked with the White Whale in the minds of the superstitiously inclined, was the unearthly conceit that Moby Dick was ubiquitous; that he had actually been encountered in opposite latitudes at one and the same instant of time.
Nor, credulous as such minds must have been, was this conceit altogether without some faint show of superstitious probability. For as the secrets of the currents in the seas have never yet been divulged, even to the most erudite research; so the hidden ways of the Sperm Whale when beneath the surface remain, in great part, unaccountable to his pursuers; and from time to time have originated the most curious and contradictory speculations regarding them, especially concerning the mystic modes whereby, after sounding to a great depth, he transports himself with such vast swiftness to the most widely distant points.

It is a thing well known to both American and English whale-ships, and as well a thing placed upon authoritative record years ago by Scoresby, that some whales have been captured far north in the Pacific, in whose bodies have been found the barbs of harpoons darted in the Greenland seas. Nor is it to be gainsaid, that in some of these instances it has been declared that the interval of time between the two assaults could not have exceeded very many days. Hence, by inference, it has been believed by some whalemen, that the Nor' West Passage, so long a problem to man, was never a problem to the whale. So that here, in the real living experience of living men, the prodigies related in old times of the inland Strello mountain in Portugal (near whose top there was said to be a lake in which the wrecks of ships floated up to the surface); and that still more wonderful story of the Arethusa fountain near Syracuse (whose waters were believed to have come from the Holy Land by an underground passage); these fabulous narrations are almost fully equalled by the realities of the whalemen.

Forced into familiarity, then, with such prodigies as these; and knowing that after repeated, intrepid assaults, the White Whale had escaped alive; it cannot be much matter of surprise that some whalemen should go still further in their superstitions; declaring Moby Dick not only ubiquitous, but immortal (for immortality is but ubiquity in time); that though groves of spears should be planted in his flanks, he would still swim away unharmed; or if indeed he should ever be made to spout thick blood, such a sight would be but a ghastly deception; for again in unensanguined billows hundreds of leagues away, his unsullied jet would once more be seen.

But even stripped of these supernatural surmisings, there was enough in the earthly make and incontestable character of the monster to strike the imagination with unwonted power. For, it was not so much his uncommon bulk that so much distinguished him from other sperm whales, but, as was elsewhere thrown out- a peculiar snow-white wrinkled forehead, and a high, pyramidical white hump. These were his prominent features; the tokens whereby, even in the limitless, uncharted seas, he revealed his identity, at a long distance, to those who knew him.

The rest of his body was so streaked, and spotted, and marbled with the same shrouded hue, that, in the end, he had gained his distinctive appellation of the White Whale; a name, indeed, literally justified by his vivid aspect, when seen gliding at high noon through a dark blue sea, leaving a milky-way wake of creamy foam, all spangled with golden gleamings.

Moby Dick takes on supernatural powers as this chapter progresses, able almost to bilocate from hemisphere to hemisphere.  This paranormal aura is enhanced by his ghostly white hue.  He appears off the coast of Greenland in the morning and then is sighted in the tropics in the afternoon, the waterways of the world all connected in some mysterious way.  Again, superstition holds sway.

Let me reiterate in this post that I am not a particularly superstitious person in most areas of my life.  Having been raised Catholic, however, I do carry around a certain sense of divine justice.  For example, as a young man, I used to believe that masturbation was the source of all kinds of bad things in my life.  The act caused small and large disasters to occur as punishment.  Flat tires.  Flooded basements.  The death of tropical fish and my mother's mother.

As an adult, I now realize that things don't really work that way.  A boy having a few minutes of pleasure in the privacy of his bedroom will not cause North Korea to launch missiles toward Hawaii.  That is the power of irrational superstition.  It makes the ludicrous seem plausible.  As far as I know, there has been no proven scientific link between spanking the monkey and nuclear escalation.

This Friday night, I'm sitting in the relative quiet of my living room.  My life is rarely peaceful.  I always have projects to work on.  Rooms to clean.  Poems and essays to write.  Workshops and lessons to plan.  I'm nearing the end of my year of teaching.  I haven't been offered a summer course, so I'm facing four months of relative free time.  However, with the lack of a paycheck from the university, my recreational activities may be limited to an occasional trip to Dairy Queen, but I will also have more time to focus on writing.

In the past, I've always begun my summers like this--big plans to write a novel or finish a collection of poems.  I'd set myself goals, and, by the end of August, found myself in a swamp of regret because I'd accomplished very little creatively.  So, for the last couple years, I've become somewhat superstitious about summer plans.  Like New Year's resolutions, summer plans are a recipe for failure.  If I say that I'm going to write a collection of short stories based on characters from The Brady Bunch, I will only write the titles of each chapter in my journal (ten of them--"Mike," "Carol," "Marcia," "Jan," "Cindy," "Greg," "Peter," "Bobby," "Alice," and "Sam the Butcher") and do nothing else.

When I was a teenager, I futilely tried to give up masturbation.  Told myself that, as a Catholic, I should instead focus on things like the Bible and prayer.  It didn't work.  I'd start my morning with the Gospel of John and end the day with a five-page spread of Claire the Redhead in Penthouse.  Failure was inevitable.

My point this evening is that I'm going to set myself some goals this summer.  However, I'm going to keep those goals modest.  And, just for insurance, I've already enlisted the help of two close friends to keep me on track.  By doing this, I believe I stand a better chance at success come Labor Day.

If I don't reach those goals, the world is not going to riddled with mushroom clouds as a result.  God is not going to smite me if I don't write enough poems.  I'm leaving superstition out of the equation.  Instead, I've got people who are going to lovingly harass over the next few months.

And Saint Marty is thankful for those individuals.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

April 26: William Stafford, "The Well Rising," I Believe

The Well Rising

by:  William Stafford

The well rising without sound,
the spring on a hillside,
the plowshare brimming through deep ground
everywhere in the field—

The sharp swallows in their swerve
flaring and hesitating
hunting for the final curve
coming closer and closer—

The swallow heart from wingbeat to wingbeat
counseling decision, decision:
thunderous examples. I place my feet
with care in such a world.


I believe in climate change.  That the levels of the oceans are rising.  That humankind is the culprit.

I believe that fossil fuels are not good energy sources.  That the people of the world need to figure out how to live using less (or no) gasoline and oil and coal.

I believe that sulfide mining is inherently damaging.  That it destroys habitats and pollutes pure water sources.

I believe in God, and I believe in science.  I believe those two beliefs are not mutually exclusive.

And, like William Stafford, Saint Marty believes that we all need to place our feet with care in the world.

April 26: The Most Lively Terrors, Writing Superstitions, Fountain Pens and Moleskines

Nor did wild rumors of all sorts fail to exaggerate, and still the more horrify the true histories of these deadly encounters. For not only do fabulous rumors naturally grow out of the very body of all surprising terrible events,- as the smitten tree gives birth to its fungi; but, in maritime life, far more than in that of terra firma, wild rumors abound, wherever there is any adequate reality for them to cling to. And as the sea surpasses the land in this matter, so the whale fishery surpasses every other sort of maritime life, in the wonderfulness and fearfulness of the rumors which sometimes circulate there. For not only are whalemen as a body unexempt from that ignorance and superstitiousness hereditary to all sailors; but of all sailors, they are by all odds the most directly brought into contact with whatever is appallingly astonishing in the sea; face to face they not only eye its greatest marvels, but, hand to jaw, give battle to them. Alone, in such remotest waters, that though you sailed a thousand miles, and passed a thousand shores, you would not come to any chiselled hearth-stone, or aught hospitable beneath that part of the sun; in such latitudes and longitudes, pursuing too such a calling as he does, the whaleman is wrapped by influences all tending to make his fancy pregnant with many a mighty birth. No wonder, then, that ever gathering volume from the mere transit over the wildest watery spaces, the outblown rumors of the White Whale did in the end incorporate with themselves all manner of morbid hints, and half-formed foetal suggestions of supernatural agencies, which eventually invested Moby Dick with new terrors unborrowed from anything that visibly appears. So that in many cases such a panic did he finally strike, that few who by those rumors, at least, had heard of the White Whale, few of those hunters were willing to encounter the perils of his jaw.

But there were still other and more vital practical influences at work. Nor even at the present day has the original prestige of the Sperm Whale, as fearfully distinguished from all other species of the leviathan, died out of the minds of the whalemen as a body. There are those this day among them, who, though intelligent and courageous enough in offering battle to the Greenland or Right whale, would perhaps- either from professional inexperience, or incompetency, or timidity, decline a contest with the Sperm Whale; at any rate, there are plenty of whalemen, especially among those whaling nations not sailing under the American flag, who have never hostilely encountered the Sperm Whale, but whose sole knowledge of the leviathan is restricted to the ignoble monster primitively pursued in the North; seated on their hatches, these men will hearken with a childish fireside interest and awe, to the wild, strange tales of Southern whaling. Nor is the preeminent tremendousness of the great Sperm Whale anywhere more feelingly comprehended, than on board of those prows which stem him.

And as if the now tested reality of his might had in former legendary times thrown its shadow before it; we find some book naturalists- Olassen and Povelson- declaring the Sperm Whale not only to be a consternation to every other creature in the sea, but also to be so incredibly ferocious as continually to be athirst for human blood. Nor even down to so late a time as Cuvier's, were these or almost similar impressions effaced. For in his Natural History, the Baron himself affirms that at sight of the Sperm Whale, all fish (sharks included) are "struck with the most lively terrors," and "often in the precipitancy of their flight dash themselves against the rocks with such violence as to cause instantaneous death." And however the general experiences in the fishery may amend such reports as these; yet in their full terribleness, even to the bloodthirsty item of Povelson, the superstitious belief in them is, in some vicissitudes of their vocation, revived in the minds of the hunters.

So that overawed by the rumors and portents concerning him, not a few of the fishermen recalled, in reference to Moby Dick, the earlier days of the Sperm Whale fishery, when it was oftentimes hard to induce long practised Right whalemen to embark in the perils of this new and daring warfare; such men protesting that although other leviathans might be hopefully pursued, yet to chase and point lances at such an apparition as the Sperm Whale was not for mortal man. That to attempt it, would be inevitably to be torn into a quick eternity. On this head, there are some remarkable documents that may be consulted.

Nevertheless, some there were, who even in the face of these things were ready to give chase to Moby Dick; and a still greater number who, chancing only to hear of him distantly and vaguely, without the specific details of any certain calamity, and without superstitious accompaniments were sufficiently hardy not to flee from the battle if offered.

Continuing with the theme of gossip and rumors, Melville adds on a healthy dose of superstition, as well.  Fishermen, especially fishers of whales, seem to put a lot of store in these things.  Thus, the "Sperm Whale" becomes a ferocious monster, hungry for human blood.  Moby Dick is so terrifying that other sea creatures, including sharks, would rather commit salty seppuku than face his crooked jaw.

And that is the power of superstition.  It transforms a whale into a sea monster.  Godzilla with a blowhole.  Of course, as a Christian, I'm not supposed to put much store in superstition, because it calls into question your trust in God.  God doesn't care whether you break a mirror or walk under a ladder.  He doesn't punish you for going outside on Friday the 13th, and He certainly doesn't worry about spilling table salt.  Those things are holdovers from the older times, when people were drowned or burned at the stake for witchcraft.  Last time I looked at the newspaper, I didn't see any advertisements for a good, old-fashioned witch barbecue.

As I writer, however, I do have some superstitions that I hold firmly.  For example, I write with a fountain pen.  I have since before I published my first poem.  There's something about the weight and heft of a good Waterman in my hand that allows me to feel more inspired.  Fountain pens also flow more easily as I lay ink down on a page.  This superstition has gotten so ingrained in my mind that I have difficulty writing a poem with any other kind of utensil.

I also write in lined, Moleskine journals, with a hard cover in black.  I always have at least one or two of these on hand.  I have been writing in a Moleskine for so long that I have difficulty putting lines down in any other kind of journal.  In fact, even if I write something on other paper or inside a spiral notebook, I transfer it into my Moleskine as soon as I can.  With a fountain pen, of course.

First lines are very important to me--in poems, short stories, or essays.  If I don't have a good first line, I can't proceed with my writing.  It's that serious of a superstition.  What the first line does for me is provide a compass that points me where I want to go in whatever I'm writing.  Without that compass, I don't even want to set sail.  I have been known to work on a first line for days until it clicks, sort of like a lid on a paint can.

I usually write and rewrite poems and whatnot about ten or eleven times in my Moleskine before I type it up on my laptop.  And I read and reread these revisions countless times.  It has to sound good to my ear before I will make it more electronically permanent.  Typing up an essay or poem is sort of like stepping in wet cement.  It leaves something behind that can't be fixed or erased.

These are just a few of my writing superstitions.  I've developed them over the course of my writing life, and they work for me.  I don't think that they will work for everybody.  Superstitions are personal things.  They provide a brand of psychic security.  A warm blanket around my poetic shoulders.  I think every writer has her own set of superstitions, because writers, on the whole, are highly superstitious people.  At least, a lot of the ones I know are.

I'm not going to give up fountain pens because I'm Christian.  I refuse to discard my Moleskine as though it were some golden calf.  I won't go to hell or burst into flames because of these things.  They work for me.  When they stop working for me, I will change my superstitions.

Until that time, Saint Marty is an avowed Molskine/fountain pen snob.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

April 25: The White Whale, Gossip, Golden Showers, Small Penis

I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul. A wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab's quenchless feud seemed mine. With greedy ears I learned the history of that murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken our oaths of violence and revenge.

For some time past, though at intervals only, the unaccompanied, secluded White Whale had haunted those uncivilized seas mostly frequented by the Sperm Whale fishermen. But not all of them knew of his existence; a few of them, comparatively, had knowingly seen him; while the number who as yet had actually and knowingly given battle to him, was small indeed. For, owing to the large number of whale-cruisers; the disorderly way they were sprinkled over the entire watery circumference, many of them adventurously pushing their quest along solitary latitudes, so as seldom or never for a whole twelvemonth or more on a stretch, to encounter a single news-telling sail of any sort; the inordinate length of each separate voyage; the irregularity of the times of sailing from home; all these, with other circumstances, direct and indirect, long obstructed the spread through the whole world-wide whaling-fleet of the special individualizing tidings concerning Moby Dick. It was hardly to be doubted, that several vessels reported to have encountered, at such or such a time, or on such or such a meridian, a Sperm Whale of uncommon magnitude and malignity, which whale, after doing great mischief to his assailants, has completely escaped them; to some minds it was not an unfair presumption, I say, that the whale in question must have been no other than Moby Dick. Yet as of late the Sperm Whale fishery had been marked by various and not unfrequent instances of great ferocity, cunning, and malice in the monster attacked; therefore it was, that those who by accident ignorantly gave battle to Moby Dick; such hunters, perhaps, for the most part, were content to ascribe the peculiar terror he bred, more, as it were, to the perils of the Sperm Whale fishery at large, than to the individual cause. In that way, mostly, the disastrous encounter between Ahab and the whale had hitherto been popularly regarded.

And as for those who, previously hearing of the White Whale, by chance caught sight of him; in the beginning of the thing they had every one of them, almost, as boldly and fearlessly lowered for him, as for any other whale of that species. But at length, such calamities did ensue in these assaults- not restricted to sprained wrists and ankles, broken limbs, or devouring amputations- but fatal to the last degree of fatality; those repeated disastrous repulses, all accumulating and piling their terrors upon Moby Dick; those things had gone far to shake the fortitude of many brave hunters, to whom the story of the White Whale had eventually come.

Ah, the power of rumors and tall tales.  An albino sperm whale can be transformed into a ferocious demon, chewing on the boats (and legs) of innocent sailors.  Ishmael falls under the spell of Ahab's epic yarn of revenge, as well.  I don't think I exaggerate if I refer to it as blood thirst.  It's primal.  Ancient.  It's the story of Cain and Abel.  Odysseus when he returns to Ithaca.  Jehovah when he drowns the world.

This post is not going to be about the evil of gossiping.  I'm just as bad as the next person when it comes to a juicy tall tale.  I don't buy The National Enquirer, but I have been know to pick it up and page through it at the checkout at Walmart.  Yes, my ape mind tells me, I DO need to know the secret sex dungeon kept at Buckingham Palace by Prince Charles.  And, OH YES!, I have to find out in which South American country Adolf Hitler lived in after he fled the bunker in Germany with Eva.

Rumor and gossip feed a certain aspect of the human psyche.  It's not a high level aspect.  No.  This aspect dwells in the lower reaches of the brain, along with addictions to porn or prescription pain medication.  Everyone knows these things are bad for a person.  Yet, it feels so GOOD to indulge these impulses.

I'm sure that I've started some unfounded gossip in my lifetime, intentionally and unintentionally.  I'm human.  For example, I'm not above using the story of Donald Trump and the peeing Russian prostitutes as evidence to impeach him.  I have not seen photographic or video evidence of this encounter.  I have no real proof that it actually happened.  Yet, it gives me undue pleasure to initiate a Trump supporter into the details of the narrative.

I don't think spreading this gossip makes me a horrible person.  Certainly, it makes me catty.  Maybe it diminishes my credibility.  However, right around the end of the 2016 Presidential Election, there were rumors about Hillary Clinton running a sex slave trade of young children.  That gossip prompted a man to bring an assault rifle into a Washington pizzeria and start shooting.  Nobody was hurt, thank God.

The rumors I prefer (like Mr. Trump's golden shower fetish) have never driven anybody to commit a violent felony.  Not yet, at least.  I certainly don't spread rumors with malicious intent.  It's more for entertainment . . . at another person's expense.

Okay, I guess I'm not helping my case here.  I think I better cut my losses with this post and end it before I start talking about Donald Trump's small penis or penchant for underage girls.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for self restraint (of which he obviously has very little).

April 25: William Matthews, "The Bear at the Dump," Hibernation

The Bear at the Dump

by:  William Matthews

Amidst the too much that we buy and throw   
away and the far too much we wrap it in,   
the bear found a few items of special
interest—a honeydew rind, a used tampon,   
the bone from a leg of lamb. He’d rock back   
lightly onto his rear paws and slash
open a plastic bag, and then his nose—
jammed almost with a surfeit of rank
and likely information, for he would pause—
and then his whole dowsing snout would   
insinuate itself a little way
inside. By now he’d have hunched his weight   
forward slightly, and then he’d snatch it back,   
trailed by some tidbit in his teeth. He’d look   
around. What a good boy am he.
The guardian of the dump was used
to this and not amused. “He’ll drag that shit   
every which damn way,” he grumbled
who’d dozed and scraped a pit to keep that shit   
where the town paid to contain it.
The others of us looked and looked. “City   
folks like you don’t get to see this often,”   
one year-round resident accused me.
Some winter I’ll bring him down to learn   
to love a rat working a length of subway   
track. “Nope,” I replied. Just then the bear   
decamped for the woods with a marl of grease   
and slather in his mouth and on his snout,   
picking up speed, not cute (nor had he been   
cute before, slavering with greed, his weight   
all sunk to his seated rump and his nose stuck   
up to sift the rich and fetid air, shaped   
like a huge, furry pear), but richly
fed on the slow-simmering dump, and gone   
into the bug-thick woods and anecdote.


It's starting to feel like spring has finally arrived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  A week ago, we were digging out from a winter storm that dumped over two feet of snow on some places.  That new snow is almost all gone now.  With seventy-degree weather in the forecast for next week, I'm thinking that a lot more of the snow is going to be gone by next Wednesday.

A friend was walking a week or so ago, and she encountered a black bear stumbling through the woods.  She videoed the creature, who looked like my son when he wakes up in the morning, shaking his head, bumping into things.  Obviously, the bear had just crawled out of hibernation.

Saint Marty's friend didn't hang around long enough to find out if the bear was hungry.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

April 24: No Bowels to Feel Fear, Weirdness, Jazz and Bigfoot

FRENCH SAILOR Hist, boys! let's have a jig or two before we ride to anchor in Blanket Bay. What say ye? There comes the other watch. Stand by all legs! Pip! little Pip! hurrah with your tambourine!

PIP (Sulky and sleepy) Don't know where it is.

FRENCH SAILOR Beat thy belly, then, and wag thy ears. Jig it, men, I say; merry's the word; hurrah! Damn me, won't you dance? Form, now, Indian-file, and gallop into the double-shuffle? Throw yourselves! Legs! legs!

ICELAND SAILOR I don't like your floor, maty; it's too springy to my taste. I'm used to ice-floors. I'm sorry to throw cold water on the subject; but excuse me.

MALTESE SAILOR Me too; where's your girls? Who but a fool would take his left hand by his right, and say to himself, how d'ye do? Partners! I must have partners!

SICILIAN SAILOR Aye; girls and a green!- then I'll hop with ye; yea, turn grasshopper!

LONG-ISLAND SAILOR Well, well, ye sulkies, there's plenty more of us. Hoe corn when you may, say I. All legs go to harvest soon. Ah! here comes the music; now for it!

AZORE SAILOR (Ascending, and pitching the tambourine up the scuttle.) Here you are, Pip; and there's the windlass-bits; up you mount! Now, boys! (The half of them dance to the tambourine; some go below; some sleep or lie among the coils of rigging. Oaths a-plenty.)

AZORE SAILOR (Dancing) Go it, Pip! Bang it, bell-boy! Rig it, dig it, stig it, quig it, bell-boy! Make fire-flies; break the jinglers!

PIP Jinglers, you say?- there goes another, dropped off; I pound it so.

CHINA SAILOR Rattle thy teeth, then, and pound away; make a pagoda of thyself.

FRENCH SAILOR Merry-mad! Hold up thy hoop, Pip, till I jump through it! Split jibs! tear yourself!

TASHTEGO (Quietly smoking) That's a white man; he calls that fun: humph! I save my sweat.

OLD MANX SAILOR I wonder whether those jolly lads bethink them of what they are dancing over. I'll dance over your grave, I will- that's the bitterest threat of your night-women, that beat head-winds round corners. O Christ! to think of the green navies and the green-skulled crews! Well, well; belike the whole world's a ball, as you scholars have it; and so 'tis right to make one ballroom of it. Dance on, lads, you're young; I was once.

3D NANTUCKET SAILOR Spell oh!- whew! this is worse than pulling after whales in a calm- give a whiff, Tash. (They cease dancing, and gather in clusters. Meantime the sky darkens- the wind rises.)

LASCAR SAILOR By Brahma! boys, it'll be douse sail soon. The sky-born, high-tide Ganges turned to wind! Thou showest thy black brow, Seeva!

MALTESE SAILOR (Reclining and shaking his cap) It's the waves- the snow's caps turn to jig it now. They'll shake their tassels soon. Now would all the waves were women, then I'd go drown, and chassee with them evermore! There's naught so sweet on earth- heaven may not match it!- as those swift glances of warm, wild bosoms in the dance, when the over-arboring arms hide such ripe, bursting grapes.

SICILIAN SAILOR (Reclining) Tell me not of it! Hark ye, lad- fleet interlacings of the limbs- lithe swayings- coyings- flutterings! lip! heart! hip! all graze: unceasing touch and go! not taste, observe ye, else come satiety. Eh, Pagan? (Nudging.)

TAHITAN SAILOR (Reclining on a mat) Hail, holy nakedness of our dancing girls!- the Heeva-Heeva! Ah! low veiled, high palmed Tahiti! I still rest me on thy mat, but the soft soil has slid! I saw thee woven in the wood, my mat! green the first day I brought ye thence; now worn and wilted quite. Ah me!- not thou nor I can bear the change! How then, if so be transplanted to yon sky? Hear I the roaring streams from Pirohitee's peak of spears, when they leap down the crags and drown the villages?- The blast, the blast! Up, spine, and meet it! (Leaps to his feet.)

PORTUGUESE SAILOR How the sea rolls swashing 'gainst the side! Stand by for reefing, hearties! the winds are just crossing swords, pell-mell they'll go lunging presently.

DANISH SAILOR Crack, crack, old ship! so long as thou crackest, thou holdest! Well done! The mate there holds ye to it stiffly. He's no more afraid than the isle fort at Cattegat, put there to fight the Baltic with storm-lashed guns, on which the sea-salt cakes!

4TH NANTUCKET SAILOR He has his orders, mind ye that. I heard old Ahab tell him he must always kill a squall, something as they burst a waterspout with a pistol- fire your ship right into it!

ENGLISH SAILOR Blood! but that old man's a grand old cove! We are the lads to hunt him up his whale!

ALL Aye! aye!

OLD MANX SAILOR How the three pines shake! Pines are the hardest sort of tree to live when shifted to any other soil, and here there's none but the crew's cursed clay. Steady, helmsman! steady. This is the sort of weather when brave hearts snap ashore, and keeled hulls split at sea. Our captain has his birthmark; look yonder, boys, there's another in the sky lurid- like, ye see, all else pitch black.

DAGGOO What of that? Who's afraid of black's afraid of me! I'm quarried out of it!

SPANISH SAILOR (Aside.) He wants to bully, ah!- the old grudge makes me touchy (Advancing.) Aye, harpooneer, thy race is the undeniable dark side of mankind- devilish dark at that. No offence.

DAGGOO (Grimly) None.

ST. JAGO'S SAILOR That Spaniard's mad or drunk. But that can't be, or else in his one case our old Mogul's fire-waters are somewhat long in working.

5TH NANTUCKET SAILOR What's that I saw- lightning? Yes.

SPANISH SAILOR No; Daggoo showing his teeth.

DAGGOO (Springing) Swallow thine, mannikin! White skin, white liver!

SPANISH SAILOR (Meeting him) Knife thee heartily! big frame, small spirit!

ALL A row! a row! a row!

TASHTEGO (With a whiff) A row a'low, and a row aloft- Gods and men- both brawlers! Humph!

BELFAST SAILOR A row! arrah a row! The Virgin be blessed, a row! Plunge in with ye!

ENGLISH SAILOR Fair play! Snatch the Spaniard's knife! A ring, a ring!

OLD MANX SAILOR Ready formed. There! the ringed horizon. In that ring Cain struck Abel. Sweet work, right work! No? Why then, God, mad'st thou the ring?

MATE'S VOICE FROM THE QUARTER-DECK Hands by the halyards! in top-gallant sails! Stand by to reef topsails!

ALL The squall! the squall! jump, my jollies! (They scatter.)

PIP (Shrinking under the windlass) Jollies? Lord help such jollies! Crish, crash! there goes the jib-stay! Blang-whang! God! Duck lower, Pip, here comes the royal yard! It's worse than being in the whirled woods, the last day of the year! Who'd go climbing after chestnuts now? But there they go, all cursing, and here I don't. Fine prospects to 'em; they're on the road to heaven. Hold on hard! Jimmini, what a squall! But those chaps there are worse yet- they are your white squalls, they. White squalls? white whale, shirr! shirr! Here have I heard all their chat just now, and the white whale- shirr! shirr!- but spoken of once! and only this evening- it makes me ingle all over like my tambourine- that anaconda of an old man swore 'em in to hunt him! Oh! thou big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness, have mercy on this small black boy down here; preserve him from all men that have no bowels to feel fear!

One of Melville's digressions, this little scene between the crew of the Pequod.  Written like a script from a play--all dialogue and stage direction.  Riddled with superstition and drunkenness.  The men dance and sing and curse and call each other names.  Then a fight breaks out over a racial slur thrown out by the Spanish Sailor.  It turns into a Donald Trump campaign rally, people lining up to witness fists flying--dark-skinned against white-skinned.  All that's missing are the swastikas and white hoods.

Moby-Dick is a flawed book in many ways.  At times, it's engaging and humorous.  At others, perplexing and culturally insensitive.  Beautifully poetic.  Mind-numbingly boring.  It's a so-so story couched in a postmodern meditation on obsession and color and whales and oceans and sailing.  It kind of defies categorization.  I don't really think of it as a novel.  It's not completely lyric essay, although it has elements of that, as well.  My wife calls it "that stupid book."  She's right, too.  Plus, for me, it always calls to mind the film Jaws, with actor Robert Shaw chasing the great white shark.

I don't know what I'm trying to say tonight.  In this chapter, Melville transforms his tale into a one act play with a dozen or so characters.  He does it without warning, and he leaves me, as a reader, a little bit puzzled and, if you'll pardon the pun, at sea.  I'm not sure what the hell is going on, even though I can appreciate the diversity of voices that Melville is working with.

I don't think Melville is worried about his readers, though.  He doesn't seem to care that he's changing his style and approach from chapter to chapter, page to page, sentence to sentence.  His only concern, it seems to me, is that he's telling his whale tale exactly the way he wants to, audience be damned.  He's doing what I tell writers in workshops to do--write for themselves first, without concern of who's going to read what they produce.  Write something that's alive.

I recently had a conversation with a musician friend.  She just started working with a jazz musician.  She's really excited about it because it's challenging her.  Pushing her to be better.  But she's running into a problem.  She told me, "People think jazz is too intellectual, like you have to be part of some secret society to appreciate it."

I understand what she's saying.  It's the same thing that happens when I say that I'm a poet.  The response from most people:  glazed eyes, facial tics, PTSD from high school English class.  People think poetry is only for deep thinkers.  Intellectuals.  Just like jazz.  Maybe that's why poetry and jazz have been so connected in American culture since the Beat generation.

My friend and I decided that we are simply going to do what makes us happy with our arts.  She's going to do jazz.  I'm going to write Bigfoot poems.  If people like it, fine.  If people don't like it, that's okay, too.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for jazz and poetry and Bigfoot and weirdness.

April 24: Earth Day Poems, Gregory Orr, "The Pond"

The Pond

by:  Gregory Orr

Snapping turtles in the pond eat bass, sunfish,
and frogs. They do us no harm when we swim.
But early this spring two Canada geese
lingered, then built a nest. What I’d
heard of, our neighbor feared: goslings,
as they paddle about, grabbed from below
by a snapper, pulled down to drown.
                                                                   So he stuck
hunks of fat on huge, wire-leadered hooks
attached to plastic milk-bottle buoys.
The first week he caught three turtles
and still there are more: sometimes he finds
the bottles dragged ashore, the wire
wrapped several times around a pine trunk
and the steel hook wrenched straight as a pin.


This week, in honor of Earth Day, I've decided to feature some of my favorite poems about nature.

I've been sitting in my living room this evening, helping my son with his homework.  It was all about ecosystems and taproots and fibrous roots.  My son is actually a lot more environmentally conscious than when I was nine years old.  Of course, I was born three years before the first Earth Day.

My son gets upset when he sees a homeless person begging on the street.  He once yelled at a kid on the playground for dropping a candy wrapper on the ground.  He lectured the boy on how birds and animals would die because of the candy wrapper.  My son harangued the kid until he picked up the garbage, walked over to the trash can, and threw it away.

Saint Marty's son is a John Muir in the making.

Monday, April 23, 2018

April 23: Tumble Up, Fighting Lethargy, Ibuprofen

HARPOONEERS AND SAILORS (Foresail rises and discovers the watch standing, lounging, leaning, and lying in various attitudes, all singing in chorus.)

Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies! Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain! Our captain's commanded.-

1ST NANTUCKET SAILOR Oh, boys, don't be sentimental. it's bad for the digestion! Take a tonic, follow me! (Sings, and all follow) Our captain stood upon the deck, A spy-glass in his hand, A viewing of those gallant whales That blew at every strand. Oh, your tubs in your boats, my boys, And by your braces stand, And we'll have one of those fine whales, Hand, boys, over hand! So, be cheery, my lads! may your hearts never fail! While the bold harpooneer is striking the whale!

MATE'S VOICE FROM THE QUARTER-DECK Eight bells there, forward!

2ND NANTUCKET SAILOR Avast the chorus! Eight bells there! d'ye hear, bell-boy? Strike the bell eight, thou Pip! thou blackling! and let me call the watch. I've the sort of mouth for that- the hogshead mouth. So, so, (thrusts his head down the scuttle,) Star-bo-l-e-e-n-s, a-h-o-y! Eight bells there below! Tumble up!

DUTCH SAILOR Grand snoozing to-night, maty; fat night for that. I mark this in our old Mogul's wine; it's quite as deadening to some as filliping to others. We sing; they sleep- aye, lie down there, like ground-tier butts. At 'em again! There, take this copper-pump, and hail 'em through it. Tell 'em to avast dreaming of their lassies. Tell 'em it's the resurrection; they must kiss their last, and come to judgment. That's the way- that's it; thy throat ain't spoiled with eating Amsterdam butter.

Strange that I find myself in the same predicament as the sailors in this chapter--being forced out of sleep to keep watch through the rest of the night.  They are stirred from their dreams of home and mothers and girls.  Called to ascend into the salt air of ocean and stars.  And they come, grumbling, the dream bodies of their loves still pressing against them in the dark.

I, myself, have been fighting this lethargy for most of the day.  This afternoon and tonight, I taught.  Won't be getting home until almost sundown, most likely.  The weekend's festivities are catching up with me today.  The emotion of my daughter going to prom.  Book Club and The Bell Jar last night.  It seems like I accomplished a lot and very little at the same time.

The most I have to show for my weekend efforts is a sore neck and a headache that won't go away.  I thinks it's linked to stress.  I could barely turn my head when I woke up on Sunday.  I've been popping ibuprofen ever since.  These are the last two weeks of the semester, so I'm in the throes of impending final exams.  Students are panicking.  Just this afternoon, I had three students come in during my office hours.  That's a 300% increase from all of last month.

Right now, the ibuprofen is kicking in.  My headache is abating.  My neck ache has disappeared.  After I'm done typing this blog post, I may simply go to bed.  Or I may fall asleep on the couch.  Or I may have to drive my daughter's boyfriend home, THEN snooze on the couch, and THEN go to bed.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for good medication.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

April 21: Laugh's the Wisest, Hair and Makeup and Pictures, Heartbreak and Disappointment and Failure

(Stubb solus,and mending a brace.)

Ha! ha! ha! ha! hem! clear my throat!- I've been thinking over it ever since, and that ha, ha's the final consequence. Why so? Because a laugh's the wisest, easiest answer to all that's queer; and come what will, one comfort's always left- that unfailing comfort is, it's all predestinated. I heard not all his talk with Starbuck; but to my poor eye Starbuck then looked something as I the other evening felt. Be sure the old Mogul has fixed him, too. I twigged it, knew it; had the gift, might readily have prophesied it- for when I clapped my eye upon his skull I saw it. Well, Stubb, wise Stubb- that's my title- well, Stubb, what of it, Stubb? Here's a carcase. I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing. Such a waggish leering as lurks in all your horribles! I feel funny. Fa, la! lirra, skirra! What's my juicy little pear at home doing now? Crying its eyes out?- Giving a party to the last arrived harpooneers, I dare say, gay as a frigate's pennant, and so am I- fa, la! lirra, skirra! Oh-

We'll drink to-night with hearts as light, To love, as gay and fleeting As bubbles that swim, on the beaker's brim, And break on the lips while meeting.

A brave stave that- who calls? Mr. Starbuck? Aye, aye, sir- (Aside) he's my superior, he has his too, if I'm not mistaken.- Aye, aye, sir, just through with this job- coming.

Stubb is good-natured.  His response to Ahab's unhinging and Starbuck's attempt at defiance is laughter.  Stubb can't do anything to change his situation.  He believes what will happen is predestined.  So, instead of wringing his hands, gnashing his teeth, losing sleep, Stubb laughs, because "a laugh's the wisest . . ."

I like to think that I'm good-natured.  I try not to let things get under my skin.  Not always successful at this, but I try.  Today is going to be a day of stress.  My daughter and her boyfriend are going to the prom this evening.  So, it's all about hair and makeup and pictures and dinner and grand marches.  Me?  I have to wash and vacuum out my car.  Chauffeur them around to various photo ops.

It's a difficult thing for me--to think that my little girl is a junior in high school, one year away from graduation.  That I'm no longer the most important male in her life.  That colleges are trying to court her.  She's driving now, talking about getting a job this summer.  Before my eyes, she has become her own person with her own ideas.  Thank God one of those ideas is that Donald Trump is a friggin' moron.

No matter how much I want to protect my daughter from heartbreak and disappointment and failure, I know she will experience all of those things in the years to come.  I can't do anything about that.  I'm not saying my daughter is predestined for disasters of the heart and soul.  I'm saying that the world and people are imperfect.  Because of that imperfection, my daughter will be hurt and disappointed at times in her life.  Can't get around it.

This day, however, is all about celebration of youth and love and accomplishment.  Like Stubb, I'm taking it one day (sometimes one minute or second) at a time.  I'm going to laugh and enjoy all that happens today--the ridiculous and sublime.  She's my little girl still.  At least for another year.  She's beautiful and sweet and smart.

Saint Marty is thankful today for his daughter.