Wednesday, May 30, 2018

May 30: Handfuls of Biscuit, Cliff's Notes Version, Two Roads Diverged

"Steelkilt rose, and slowly retreating round the windless, steadily followed by the mate with his menacing hammer, deliberately repeated his intention not to obey. Seeing, however, that his forbearance had not the slightest effect, by an awful and unspeakable intimation with his twisted hand he warned off the foolish and infatuated man; but it was to no purpose. And in this way the two went once slowly round the windlass; when, resolved at last no longer to retreat, bethinking him that he had now forborne as much as comported with his humor, the Lakeman paused on the hatches and thus spoke to the officer:

"'Mr. Radney, I will not obey you. Take that hammer away, or look to yourself.' But the predestinated mate coming still closer to him, where the Lakeman stood fixed, now shook the heavy hammer within an inch of his teeth; meanwhile repeating a string of insufferable maledictions. Retreating not the thousandth part of an inch; stabbing him in the eye with the unflinching poniard of his glance, Steelkilt, clenching his right hand behind him and creepingly drawing it back, told his persecutor that if the hammer but grazed his cheek he (Steelkilt) would murder him. But, gentlemen, the fool had been branded for the slaughter by the gods. Immediately the hammer touched the cheek; the next instant the lower jaw of the mate was stove in his head; he fell on the hatch spouting blood like a whale.

"Ere the cry could go aft Steelkilt was shaking one of the backstays leading far aloft to where two of his comrades were standing their mastheads. They were both Canallers.

"'Canallers!' cried Don Pedro. 'We have seen many whaleships in our harbors, but never heard of your Canallers. Pardon: who and what are they?'

"'Canallers, Don, are the boatmen belonging to our grand Erie Canal. You must have heard of it.'

"'Nay, Senor; hereabouts in this dull, warm, most lazy, and hereditary land, we know but little of your vigorous North.'

"'Aye? Well then, Don, refill my cup. Your chicha's very fine; and ere proceeding further I will tell ye what our Canallers are; for such information may throw side-light upon my story.'

"For three hundred and sixty miles, gentlemen, through the entire breadth of the state of New York; through numerous populous cities and most thriving villages; through long, dismal, uninhabited swamps, and affluent, cultivated fields, unrivalled for fertility; by billiard-room and bar-room; through the holy-of-holies of great forests; on Roman arches over Indian rivers; through sun and shade; by happy hearts or broken; through all the wide contrasting scenery of those noble Mohawk counties; especially, by rows of snow-white chapels, whose spires stand almost like milestones, flows one continual stream of Venetianly corrupt and often lawless life. There's your true Ashantee, gentlemen; there howl your pagans; where you ever find them, next door to you; under the long-flung shadow, and the snug patronizing lee of churches. For by some curious fatality, as it is often noted of your metropolitan freebooters that they ever encamp around the halls of justice, so sinners, gentlemen, most abound in holiest vicinities.

"'Is that a fair passing?' said Don Pedro, looking downwards into the crowded plazza, with humorous concern.

"'Well for our northern friend, Dame Isabella's Inquisition wanes in Lima,' laughed Don Sebastian. 'Proceed, Senor.'

"'A moment! Pardon!' cried another of the company. 'In the name of all us Limeese, I but desire to express to you, sir sailor, that we have by no means overlooked your delicacy in not substituting present Lima for distant Venice in your corrupt comparison. Oh! do not bow and look surprised: you know the proverb all along this coast- "Corrupt as Lima." It but bears out your saying, too; churches more plentiful than billiard-tables, and for ever open-and "Corrupt as Lima." So, too, Venice; I have been there; the holy city of the blessed evangelist, St. Mark!- St. Dominic, purge it! Your cup! Thanks: here I refill; now, you pour out again.'

"Freely depicted in his own vocation, gentlemen, the Canaller would make a fine dramatic hero, so abundantly and picturesquely wicked he is. Like Mark Antony, for days and days along his green-turfed, flowery Nile, he indolently floats, openly toying with his red-cheeked Cleopatra, ripening his apricot thigh upon the sunny deck. But ashore, all this effeminacy is dashed. The brigandish guise which the Canaller so proudly sports; his slouched and gaily-ribboned hat betoken his grand features. A terror to the smiling innocence of the villages through which he floats; his swart visage and bold swagger are not unshunned in cities. Once a vagabond on his own canal, I have received good turns from one of these Canallers; I thank him heartily; would fain be not ungrateful; but it is often one of the prime redeeming qualities of your man of violence, that at times he has as stiff an arm to back a poor stranger in a strait, as to plunder a wealthy one. In sum, gentlemen, what the wildness of this canal life is, is emphatically evinced by this; that our wild whale-fishery contains so many of its most finished graduates, and that scarce any race of mankind, except Sydney men, are so much distrusted by our whaling captains. Nor does it at all diminish the curiousness of this matter, that to many thousands of our rural boys and young men born along its line, the probationary life of the Grand Canal furnishes the sole transition between quietly reaping in a Christian corn-field, and recklessly ploughing the waters of the most barbaric seas.

"'I see! I see!' impetuously exclaimed Don Pedro, spilling his chicha upon his silvery ruffles. 'No need to travel! The world's one Lima. I had thought, now, that at your temperate North the generations were cold and holy as the hills.- But the story.'

"I had left off, gentlemen, where the Lakeman shook the backstay. Hardly had he done so, when he was surrounded by the three junior mates and the four harpooneers, who all crowded him to the deck. But sliding down the ropes like baleful comets, the two Canallers rushed into the uproar, and sought to drag their man out of it towards the forecastle. Others of the sailors joined with them in this attempt, and a twisted turmoil ensued; while standing out of harm's way, the valiant captain danced up and down with a whale-pike, calling upon his officers to manhandle that atrocious scoundrel, and smoke him along to the quarter-deck. At intervals, he ran close up to the revolving border of the confusion, and prying into the heart of it with his pike, sought to prick out the object of his resentment. But Steelkilt and his desperadoes were too much for them all; they succeeded in gaining the forecastle deck, where, hastily slewing about three or four large casks in a line with the windlass, these sea-Parisians entrenched themselves behind the barricade.

"'Come out of that, ye pirates!' roared the captain, now menacing them with a pistol in each hand, just brought to him by the steward. 'Come out of that, ye cut-throats!'

"Steelkilt leaped on the barricade, and striding up and down there, defied the worst the pistols could do; but gave the captain to understand distinctly, that his (Steelkilt's) death would be the signal for a murderous mutiny on the part of all hands. Fearing in his heart lest this might prove but too true, the captain a little desisted, but still commanded the insurgents instantly to return to their duty.

"'Will you promise not to touch us, if we do?' demanded their ringleader.

"'Turn to! turn to!- I make no promise; to your duty! Do you want to sink the ship, by knocking off at a time like this? Turn to!' and he once more raised a pistol.

"'Sink the ship?' cried Steelkilt. 'Aye, let her sink. Not a man of us turns to, unless you swear not to raise a rope-yarn against us. What say ye, men?' turning to his comrades. A fierce cheer was their response.

"The Lakeman now patrolled the barricade, all the while keeping his eye on the Captain, and jerking out such sentences as these:- 'It's not our fault; we didn't want it; I told him to take his hammer away; it was boy's business; he might have known me before this; I told him not to prick the buffalo; I believe I have broken a finger here against his cursed jaw; ain't those mincing knives down in the forecastle there, men? look to those handspikes, my hearties. Captain, by God, look to yourself; say the word; don't be a fool; forget it all; we are ready to turn to; treat us decently, and we're your men; but we won't be flogged.'

"'Turn to! I make no promises, turn to, I say!'

"'Look ye, now,' cried the Lakeman, flinging out his arm towards him, 'there are a few of us here (and I am one of them) who have shipped for the cruise, d'ye see; now as you well know, sir, we can claim our discharge as soon as the anchor is down; so we don't want a row; it's not our interest; we want to be peaceable; we are ready to work, but we won't be flogged.'

"'Turn to!' roared the Captain.

"Steelkilt glanced round him a moment, and then said:- 'I tell you what it is now, Captain, rather than kill ye, and be hung for such a shabby rascal, we won't lift a hand against ye unless ye attack us; but till you say the word about not flogging us, we don't do a hand's turn.'

"'Down into the forecastle then, down with ye, I'll keep ye there till ye're sick of it. Down ye go.'

"'Shall we?' cried the ringleader to his men. Most of them were against it; but at length, in obedience to Steelkilt, they preceded him down into their dark den, growlingly disappearing, like bears into a cave.

"As the Lakeman's bare head was just level with the planks, the Captain and his posse leaped the barricade, and rapidly drawing over the slide of the scuttle, planted their group of hands upon it, and loudly called for the steward to bring the heavy brass padlock belonging to the companionway.

Then opening the slide a little, the Captain whispered something down the crack, closed it, and turned the key upon them- ten in number- leaving on deck some twenty or more, who thus far had remained neutral.

"All night a wide-awake watch was kept by all the officers, forward and aft, especially about the forecastle scuttle and fore hatchway; at which last place it was feared the insurgents might emerge, after breaking through the bulkhead below. But the hours of darkness passed in peace; the men who still remained at their duty toiling hard at the pumps, whose clinking and clanking at intervals through the dreary night dismally resounded through the ship.

"At sunrise the Captain went forward, and knocking on the deck, summoned the prisoners to work; but with a yell they refused. Water was then lowered down to them, and a couple of handfuls of biscuit were tossed after it; when again turning the key upon them and pocketing it, the Captain returned to the quarter-deck. Twice every day for three days this was repeated; but on the fourth morning a confused wrangling, and then a scuffling was heard, as the customary summons was delivered; and suddenly four men burst up from the forecastle, saying they were ready to turn to. The fetid closeness of the air, and a famishing diet, united perhaps to some fears of ultimate retribution, had constrained them to surrender at discretion. Emboldened by this, the Captain reiterated his demand to the rest, but Steelkilt shouted up to him a terrific hint to stop his babbling and betake himself where he belonged. On the fifth morning three others of the mutineers bolted up into the air from the desperate arms below that sought to restrain them. Only three were left.

"'Better turn to, now?' said the Captain with a heartless jeer.

"'Shut us up again, will ye!' cried Steelkilt.

"'Oh certainly,' the Captain, and the key clicked.

So, here we are in the middle of a story about imprisonment, forced labor, and torture.  Certainly, Steelkilt was provoked to his violence by Radney, who is simply a bully.  Steelkilt tries to retreat to avoid the conflict.  However, Radney persists.  The result is near mutiny.  The captain can't hang Steelkilt and his followers.  Nor can he agree to Steelkilt's demands because that risks complete loss of authority.  Steelkilt is then running the show.  The captain is stuck.  So is Steelkilt.

Life is like that.  Getting stuck between difficult choices.  Steelkilt could have bowed to Radney's demands and lost respect for himself.  The captain could give in to Steelkilt's demands and lost control of his ship.  Of course, Steelkilt bashes Radney's jaw.  The captain captures and starves Steelkilt and his men.  There are no right choices in this situation.  Only bad outcomes.

I want to tell you a little story about difficult choices.  When my daughter was five-years-old, my wife and I separated.  It had to do with some choices my wife had made.  She was in the throes of sexual addiction, probably brought on by a prolonged manic episode.  She decided she didn't want to be a wife or mother any more.  So, she left.

That's the Cliff's Notes version.  It leaves out a lot of details.  Crying.  Sleepless nights.  Depression.  Suicidal ideation.  Obviously, things went in the happily-ever-after direction since my wife and I are still married, and we now have a nine-year-old son, too.  However, that happily ever after was the result of difficult choices, as well.

When it came to the point of reconciling with my wife after a year, I had two choices:  1) say "no," get divorced, and raise my daughter by myself; or 2) forgiveness and love.  Either option required a LOT of work and the possibility of more pain.  I chose the second option, and I've never regretted it.  While it hasn't always been roses and unicorns, my life is better because of the choice I made almost ten years ago.

I don't think anybody's life can be boiled down to simple, easy decisions.  I don't know a single person who had to choose between being a television/movie star or a princess (except for Meghan Markle).  It just doesn't work that way.  There are crossroads--two roads diverging in a yellow wood, to paraphrase Frost.  In fact, there are a lot of those goddamn yellow crossroads.  No GPS.  No Siri.  Just paths winding through dark woods with no definite destination.

My wife still struggles some days with her addiction.  My son has ADHD and ODD--every day for him is full of difficult choices.  My daughter is a junior in high school.  She's on the verge of a lot of difficult choices--college, major, job, career.  And my days, it seems, are a series of calendar conflicts--choosing one obligation over another.

Tonight, my conflict is attending a friend's art gallery exhibition closing or working on an essay that I need to finish for my book.  At the moment, the essay is winning out.  Haven't completely decided yet.  We shall see.  As with most crossroads, there is no right or wrong answer (unless it's impeaching  Donald Trump or not). 

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for all the choices he's made in his life--except the burrito he ate yesterday for lunch.

May 30: Sharon Olds, "The Summer-Camp Bus Pulls Away from the Curb," Nostalgia

The Summer-Camp Bus Pulls Away from the Curb

by:  Sharon Olds

Whatever he needs, he has or doesn't
have by now.
Whatever the world is going to do to him
it has started to do.  With a pencil and two
Hardy Boys and a peanut butter sandwich and
grapes he is on his way, there is nothing
more we can do for him.  Whatever is
stored in his heart, he can use, now.
Whatever he has laid up in his mind
he can call on.  What he does not have
he can lack.  The bus gets smaller and smaller, as one
folds a flag at the end of a ceremony,
onto itself, and onto itself, until
only a heavy wedge remains.
Whatever his exuberant soul
can do for him, it is doing right now.
Whatever his arrogance can do
it is doing to him.  Everything
that's been done to him, he will now do.
Everything that's been placed in him
will come out, now, the contents of a trunk
unpacked and lined up on a bunk in the underpine light.


Just because I love Sharon Olds.  And I love this poem.  And summer is coming, where my daughter and son will go away to camp for a week.  And I'm feeling a little nostalgic for when my kids were kids, which is dangerous.

It seems like yesterday that I was braiding my daughter's hair on her first day of kindergarten.  Packing goldfish crackers in her Disney Princess lunchbox.  Or we were loading my son on a bus and sending him off to preschool.  I remember he looked so small climbing up the steps of that bus.  He had to take them one at a time.

We keep on packing their bags for them, with lessons and food and advice, until they look at us and say, "Geez, would you back off?  I got this!" 

Saint Marty is still stocking up on the goldfish crackers until that time.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

May 29: Radney, Pissing Contests, Plumbing Jobs

"It was not more than a day or two at the furthest after pointing her prow for her island haven, that the Town-Ho's leak seemed again increasing, but only so as to require an hour or more at the pumps every day. You must know that in a settled and civilized ocean like our Atlantic, for example, some skippers think little of pumping their whole way across it; though of a still, sleepy night, should the officer of the deck happen to forget his duty in that respect, the probability would be that he and his shipmates would never again remember it, on account of all hands gently subsiding to the bottom. Nor in the solitary and savage seas far from you to the westward, gentlemen, is it altogether unusual for ships to keep clanging at their pump-handles in full chorus even for a voyage of considerable length! that is, if it lie along a tolerably accessible coast, or if any other reasonable retreat is afforded them. It is only when a leaky vessel is in some very out of the way part of those waters, some really landless latitude, that her captain begins to feel a little anxious.

"Much this way had it been with the Town-Ho; so when her leak was found gaining once more, there was in truth some small concern manifested by several of her company; especially by Radney the mate. He commanded the upper sails to be well hoisted, sheeted home anew, and every way expanded to the breeze. Now this Radney, I suppose, was as little of a coward, and as little inclined to any sort of nervous apprehensiveness touching his own person as any fearless, unthinking creature on land or on sea that you can conveniently gentlemen. Therefore when he betrayed this imagine, solicitude about the safety of the ship, some of the seamen declared that it was only on account of his being a part owner in her. So when they were working that evening at the pumps, there was on this head no small gamesomeness slily going on among them, as they stood with their feet continually overflowed by the rippling clear water; clear as any mountain spring, gentlemen- that bubbling from the pumps ran across the deck, and poured itself out in steady spouts at the lee scupper-holes.

"Now, as you well know, it is not seldom the case in this conventional world of ours- watery or otherwise; that when a person placed in command over his fellow-men finds one of them to be very significantly his superior in general pride of manhood, straightway against that man he conceives an unconquerable dislike and bitterness; and if he had a chance he will pull down and pulverize that subaltern's tower, and make a little heap of dust of it. Be this conceit of mine as it may, gentlemen, at all events Steelkilt was a tall and noble animal with a head like a Roman, and a flowing golden beard like the tasseled housings of your last viceroy's snorting charger; and a brain, and a heart, and a soul in him, gentlemen, which had made Steelkilt Charlemagne, had he been born son to Charlemagne's father. But Radney, the mate, was ugly as a mule; yet as hardy, as stubborn, as malicious. He did not love Steelkilt, and Steelkilt knew it.

"Espying the mate drawing near as he was toiling at the pump with the rest, the Lakeman affected not to notice him, but unawed, went on with his gay banterings.

"'Aye, aye, my merry lads, it's a lively leak this; hold a cannikin, one of ye, and let's have a taste. By the Lord, it's worth bottling! I tell ye what, men, old Rad's investment must go for it! he had best cut away his part of the hull and tow it home. The fact is, boys, that sword-fish only began the job; he's come back again with a gang of ship-carpenters, saw-fish, and file-fish, and what not; and the whole posse of 'em are now hard at work cutting and slashing at the bottom; making improvements, I suppose. If old Rad were here now, I'd tell him to jump overboard and scatter They're playing the devil with his estate, I can tell him. But he's a simple old soul,- Rad, and a beauty too. Boys, they say the rest of his property is invested in looking-glasses. I wonder if he'd give a poor devil like me the model of his nose.'

"'Damn your eyes! what's that pump stopping for?' roared Radney, pretending not to have heard the sailors' talk. 'Thunder away at it!'

'Aye, aye, sir,' said Steelkilt, merry as a cricket. 'Lively, boys, lively, now!' And with that the pump clanged like fifty fire-engines; the men tossed their hats off to it, and ere long that peculiar gasping of the lungs was heard which denotes the fullest tension of life's utmost energies.

"Quitting the pump at last, with the rest of his band, the Lakeman went forward all panting, and sat himself down on the windlass; his face fiery red, his eyes bloodshot, and wiping the profuse sweat from his brow. Now what cozening fiend it was, gentlemen, that possessed Radney to meddle with such a man in that corporeally exasperated state, I know not; but so it happened. Intolerably striding along the deck, the mate commanded him to get a broom and sweep down the planks, and also a shovel, and remove some offensive matters consequent upon allowing a pig to run at large.

"Now, gentlemen, sweeping a ship's deck at sea is a piece of household work which in all times but raging gales is regularly attended to every evening; it has been known to be done in the case of ships actually foundering at the time. Such, gentlemen, is the inflexibility of sea-usages and the instinctive love of neatness in seamen; some of whom would not willingly drown without first washing their faces. But in all vessels this broom business is the prescriptive province of the boys, if boys there be aboard. Besides, it was the stronger men in the Town-Ho that had been divided into gangs, taking turns at the pumps; and being the most athletic seaman of them all, Steelkilt had been regularly assigned captain of one of the gangs; consequently he should have been freed from any trivial business not connected with truly nautical duties, such being the case with his comrades. I mention all these particulars so that you may understand exactly how this affair stood between the two men.

"But there was more than this: the order about the shovel was almost as plainly meant to sting and insult Steelkilt, as though Radney had spat in his face. Any man who has gone sailor in a whale-ship will understand this; and all this and doubtless much more, the Lakeman fully comprehended when the mate uttered his command. But as he sat still for a moment, and as he steadfastly looked into the mate's malignant eye and perceived the stacks of powder-casks heaped up in him and the slow-match silently burning along towards them; as he instinctively saw all this, that strange forbearance and unwillingness to stir up the deeper passionateness in any already ireful being- a repugnance most felt, when felt at all, by really valiant men even when aggrieved- this nameless phantom feeling, gentlemen, stole over Steelkilt.

"Therefore, in his ordinary tone, only a little broken by the bodily exhaustion he was temporarily in, he answered him saying that sweeping the deck was not his business, and he would not do it. And then, without at all alluding to the shovel, he pointed to three lads, as the customary sweepers; who, not being billeted at the pumps, had done little or nothing all day. To this, Radney replied, with an oath, in a most domineering and outrageous manner unconditionally reiterating his command; meanwhile advancing upon the still seated Lakeman, with an unlifted cooper's club hammer which he had snatched from a cask near by.

"Heated and irritated as he was by his spasmodic toil at the pumps, for all his first nameless feeling of forbearance the sweating Steelkilt could but ill brook this bearing in the mate; but somehow still smothering the conflagration within him, without speaking he remained doggedly rooted to his seat, till at last the incensed Radney shook the hammer within a few inches of his face, furiously commanding him to do his bidding.

I will say that I am very familiar with the kind of pissing contest that Melville describes in this passage.  When I was a teenager, my father insisted I go on plumbing service calls with him or my older brothers.  I understood my father's motivation.  He wanted to pass along his trade to me--give me some knowledge that I could use to support myself.  I appreciated that paternal impulse.

However, being under the thumb of an older brother can sometimes lead to disagreements.  These disagreements often take on the guise of boot camp humiliations.  I was subjected to a kind of brotherly hazing that I didn't always appreciate.  I understood, as a plumber's apprentice, that I had to follow my brothers' directions.  Sometimes, as it does with Radney in the passage above, this power turned a brother into an asshole.

For example, one day when I was about fourteen or fifteen, I was working in a basement with one of my brothers.  My job was to hand him tools, light propane torches, and run out to the service truck for supplies.  As I recall, we were replacing a section of leaking waterline for the owner.  The owner was standing by my brother, having a conversation.

The brother with whom I was working was never very patient.  He sometimes enjoyed making me look stupid in front of customers.  That afternoon, he asked me to dig through a bucket of copper fittings to find a 45.  ("45" was short for a fitting that allowed two pieces of copper pipe to be joined at a 45-degree angle.)

I began rummaging through the bucket, pushing aside all the different fittings, looking for a 45.  I pushed and rummaged, dug and rummaged some more.  I couldn't find a 45, and I began to get a little panicked, because my brother had quite a short fuse.  After about two or three minutes of searching, I heard my brother snort like a bull and walk over to me.

"What are you, stupid?!" he said.  He took the bucket of fittings and spilled them out on the floor.  He kicked through the fittings with his toe for a second, reached down, and picked up a 45.  He held it up in front of my face.  "Here it is, dumbass."  And he turned back to his work.

I was young, but that afternoon, I just didn't feel like taking my brother's abuse.  So, without saying a word, I turned, walked up the stairs and out of the house.  I climbed into the service truck, closed the door, and stayed there for the rest of the job.  I didn't help my brother carry his equipment out of the basement.  Didn't help him gather up the copper fittings he had scattered across the basement floor.

At one point, as he was stowing a toolbox back in the truck, he said, "I could use some help here."

Quietly, without looking back at him, I said, "Go fuck yourself."

I was expecting a fist to slam into the back of my head.  Instead, my brother closed the door of the truck and walked back into the basement to finish getting his stuff.

For the rest of the day, job after job, I simply sat in the truck and refused to help him.  Instead, I read the book I had brought along.  If I remember correctly, it was The Catcher in the Rye.

I won the pissing contest that day.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for people who stand up to bullies.

Monday, May 28, 2018

May 28: Ancient and Unentered Forests, Memorial Day, Big Deals

(As told at the Golden Inn)

The Cape of Good Hope, and all the watery region round about there, is much like some noted four corners of a great highway, where you meet more travellers than in any other part.

It was not very long after speaking the Goney that another homeward-bound whaleman, the Town-Ho,* was encountered. She was manned almost wholly by Polynesians. In the short gam that ensued she gave us strong news of Moby Dick. To some the general interest in the White Whale was now wildly heightened by a circumstance of the Town-Ho's story, which seemed obscurely to involve with the whale a certain wondrous, inverted visitation of one of those so called judgments of God which at times are said to overtake some men. This latter circumstance, with its own particular accompaniments, forming what may be called the secret part of the tragedy about to be narrated, never reached the ears of Captain Ahab or his mates. For that secret part of the story was unknown to the captain of the Town-Ho himself. It was the private property of three confederate white seamen of that ship, one of whom, it seems, communicated it to Tashtego with Romish injunctions of secrecy, but the following night Tashtego rambled in his sleep, and revealed so much of it in that way, that when he was wakened he could not well withhold the rest. Nevertheless, so potent an influence did this thing have on those seamen in the Pequod who came to the full knowledge of it, and by such a strange delicacy, to call it so, were they governed in this matter, that they kept the secret among themselves so that it never transpired abaft the Pequod's main-mast. Interweaving in its proper place this darker thread with the story as publicly narrated on the ship, the whole of this strange affair I now proceed to put on lasting record.

*The ancient whale-cry upon first sighting a whale from the mast-head, still used by whalemen in hunting the famous Gallipagos terrapin.

For my humor's sake, I shall preserve the style in which I once narrated it at Lima, to a lounging circle of my Spanish friends, one saint's eve, smoking upon the thick-gilt tiled piazza of the Golden Inn. Of those fine cavaliers, the young Dons, Pedro and Sebastian, were on the closer terms with me; and hence the interluding questions they occasionally put, and which are duly answered at the time.

"Some two years prior to my first learning the events which I am about rehearsing to you, gentlemen, the Town-Ho, Sperm Whaler of Nantucket, was cruising in your Pacific here, not very many days' sail eastward from the eaves of this good Golden Inn. She was somewhere to the northward of the Line. One morning upon handling the pumps according to daily usage, it was observed that she made more water in her hold than common. They supposed a sword-fish had stabbed her, gentlemen. But the captain, having some unusual reason for believing that rare good luck awaited him in those latitudes; and therefore being very averse to quit them, and the leak not being then considered at all dangerous, though, indeed, they could not find it after searching the hold as low down as was possible in rather heavy weather, the ship still continued her cruisings, the mariners working at the pumps at wide and easy intervals; but no good luck came; more days went by and not only was the leak yet undiscovered, but it sensibly increased. So much so, that now taking some alarm, the captain, making all sail, stood away for the nearest harbor among the islands, there to have his hull hove out and repaired.

"Though no small passage was before her, yet, if the commonest chance favoured, he did not at all fear that his ship would founder by the way, because his pumps were of the best, and being periodically relieved at them, those six-and-thirty men of his could easily keep the ship free; never mind if the leak should double on her. In truth, well nigh the whole of this passage being attended by very prosperous breezes, the Town-Ho had all but certainly arrived in perfect safety at her port without the occurrence of the least fatality, had it not been for the brutal overbearing of Radney, the mate, a Vineyarder, and the bitterly provoked vengeance of Steelkilt, a Lakeman and desperado from Buffalo.

"'Lakeman!- Buffalo! Pray, what is a Lakeman, and where is Buffalo?' said Don Sebastian, rising in his swinging mat of grass.

"On the eastern shore of our Lake Erie, Don; but- I crave your courtesy- may be, you shall soon hear further of all that. Now, gentlemen, in square-sail brigs and three-masted ships, well nigh as large and stout as any that ever sailed out of your old Callao to far Manilla; this Lakeman, in the land-locked heart of our America, had yet been nurtured by all those agrarian freebooting impressions popularly connected with the open ocean. For in their interflowing aggregate, those grand fresh-water seas of ours,- Erie, and Ontario, and Huron, and Superior, and Michigan,- possess an ocean-like expansiveness, with many of the ocean's noblest traits; with many of its rimmed varieties of races and of climes. They contain round archipelagoes of romantic isles, even as the Polynesian waters do; in large part, are shored by two great contrasting nations, as the Atlantic is; they furnish long maritime approaches to our numerous territorial colonies from the East, dotted all round their banks; here and there are frowned upon by batteries, and by the goat-like craggy guns of lofty Mackinaw; they have heard the fleet thunderings of naval victories; at intervals, they yield their beaches to wild barbarians, whose red painted faces flash from out their peltry wigwams; for leagues and leagues are flanked by ancient and unentered forests, where the gaunt pines stand like serried lines of kings in Gothic genealogies; those same woods harboring wild Afric beasts of prey, and silken creatures whose exported furs give robes to Tartar Emperors; they mirror the paved capitals of Buffalo and Cleveland, as well as Winnebago villages; they float alike the full-rigged merchant ship, the armed cruiser of the State, the steamer, and the beech canoe; they are swept by Borean and dismasting blasts as direful as any that lash the salted wave; they know what shipwrecks are, for out of sight of land, however inland, they have drowned full many a midnight ship with all its shrieking crew. Thus, gentlemen, though an inlander, Steelkilt was wild-ocean born, and wild-ocean nurtured; as much of an audacious mariner as any. And for Radney, though in his infancy he may have laid him down on the lone Nantucket beach, to nurse at his maternal sea; though in after life he had long followed our austere Atlantic and your contemplative Pacific; yet was he quite as vengeful and full of social quarrel as the backwoods seaman, fresh from the latitudes of buckhorn handled Bowie-knives. Yet was this Nantucketer a man with some good-hearted traits; and this Lakeman, a mariner, who though a sort of devil indeed, might yet by inflexible firmness, only tempered by that common decency of human recognition which is the meanest slave's right; thus treated, this Steelkilt had long been retained harmless and docile. At all events, he had proved so thus far; but Radney was doomed and made mad, and Steelkilt- but, gentlemen, you shall hear.

I really like this little passage, which deals, in part, with my little part of the world--Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.  Melville's description of the lakes and forests is pretty dead-on.  Ancient and unentered forests.  Lakes that are more like oceans.  Gaunt pines.  As a U. P. writer, I always appreciate coming across descriptions of my home.  I especially appreciate the fact that I didn't remember that the Great Lakes make a cameo appearance in Moby-Dick.

It is Memorial Day.  This morning, my kids and I went to a parade, and then we attended a service at a local cemetery in honor of war veterans.  It's what we do every year.  A tradition.  From what I understand, Memorial Day used to be a much bigger deal in my neck of the woods.  Huge celebrations.  Parades that were bigger and better than Fourth of July parades.  Community picnics.

Now, those days are long-gone.  Ever since I can recall, this day has been marked by little fanfare.  A six-minute procession downtown consisting of a fire truck, some antique cars, a couple marching bands, and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars marching almost in step.  The glory days of Memorial Day seem like passages in an old book.  They've passed from reality to the past to history to myth.

I am at my mother's house right now.  We are going to have a barbecue.  Steaks, I think.  I bought a watermelon for dessert.  Another Memorial Day tradition.  Of course, things have changed in the last few years, since the death of my brother, sister, and, now, father.  My remaining siblings sometimes seem to have lost their way.

Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Halloween, Christmas, Easter.  All of these holidays used to be big deals in my family.  Times where we all got together and told stories and ate.  Nowadays, Christmas is a quick trip to Walmart on Christmas Eve.  Halloween is an inconvenience--little kids interrupting Netflix.  And Memorial Day is a few steaks thrown on the barbecue after the latest D-grade movie is over on the television.  The holidays I remember have slipped from reality to the past to history.  Pretty soon, they will be myth.

I hope I never let that happen in my home, with my kids or wife.  I don't want them to remember our lives together like some kind of fairy tale.  Things change.  I get that.  Parades shrink.  The shores of the Great Lakes go from ancient forests to lines of condominiums.  People die.  The easy thing to do is to let these things take over.  Sit in a dark room, stare at your phone or the television.  Sleep all day.

That's not my style.  I fight to keep Christmas special.  Try to fill Halloween with candy and ghosts and trick-or-treating.  Make Memorial Day more than just a half-ass dinner when there's nothing else to watch on television.

I don't want to live the same day over-and-over, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.  There's got to be more to life than that.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for a good day with his kids.  For parades.  For remembrance.  For the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the people whom he loves.

May 28: Eric Pankey, "Three Matthew Brady Photographs," Best and Worst of Humanity

Three Matthew Brady Photographs

by:  Eric Pankey

1. Confederate Dead behind a Stone Wall at Fredericksburg, Virginia

Where the glass negative broke:
A silky, liquid black,
Like spilled scrivener’s ink,
Pools in the print’s margin.
                        : :
Mouth gone slack, eyes upward,
            Face glazed with blood, the man—
Lifeless, slumped, and tangled
            In a tarp—looks for God.
                        : :
Two leafless trees hold up
            A scratched sky’s leaden weight.
Autumn? Winter? No wind
            To sway the upright trees.
                        : :
Such a long exposure
To affix the fallen,
(Staged or happened upon,)
Abandoned to this ditch.

2. Wilderness, near Chancellorsville, Virginia

It is a slow process:
                               fallen and standing trees,
Propped, bent, a clutter of intersections—

All moss- and lichen-ridden,
                                             woodpecker pecked,
Bored by grubs, antler-scraped, bark rubbed free—

Hard to tell from the decay
                                           the living from the dead,
The dead from the almost dead—

A tree—
               horizontal across the creek,
Uprooted when a flash flood cut the cut-bank—

Still leaves, blossoms, bears fruit.
                                                    Without a buttress,
A long dead sycamore remains upright.

3. Burying the Confederate Dead at Fredericksburg, Virginia

Jesus said, Let the dead bury the dead.

Two caskets and five or six canvas-
Covered bodies wait beside a trench
Three black men have spent all day digging.

Given their druthers, they’d obey scripture.                       


A poem that I think is appropriate for Memorial Day.  It reminds me that Memorial Day is not all about parades and bugles and hot dogs.  Memorial Day is something that commemorates both what is best in humanity and what is worst.

Saint Marty thinks everyone should remember this.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

May 26: Gam, Memorial Day, Freedom

The ostensible reason why Ahab did not go on board of the whaler we had spoken was this: the wind and sea betokened storms. But even had this not been the case, he would not after all, perhaps, have boarded her- judging by his subsequent conduct on similar occasions- if so it had been that, by the process of hailing, he had obtained a negative answer to the question he put. For, as it eventually turned out, he cared not to consort, even for five minutes, with any stranger captain, except he could contribute some of that information he so absorbingly sought. But all this might remain inadequately estimated, were not something said here of the peculiar usages of whaling-vessels when meeting each other in foreign seas, and especially on a common cruising-ground.

If two strangers crossing the Pine Barrens in New York State, or the equally desolate Salisbury Plain in England; if casually encountering each other in such inhospitable wilds, these twain, for the life of them, cannot well avoid a mutual salutation; and stopping for a moment to interchange the news; and, perhaps, sitting down for a while and resting in concert: then, how much more natural that upon the illimitable Pine Barrens and Salisbury Plains of the sea, two whaling vessels descrying each other at the ends of the earth- off lone Fanning's Island, or the far away King's Mills; how much more natural, I say, that under such circumstances these ships should not only interchange hails, but come into still closer, more friendly and sociable contact. And especially would this seem to be a matter of course, in the case of vessels owned in one seaport, and whose captains, officers, and not a few of the men are personally known to each other; and consequently, have all sorts of dear domestic things to talk about.

For the long absent ship, the outward-bounder, perhaps, has letters on board; at any rate, she will be sure to let her have some papers of a date a year or two later than the last one on her blurred and thumb-worn files. And in return for that courtesy, the outward-bound ship would receive the latest whaling intelligence from the cruising-ground to which she may be destined, a thing of the utmost importance to her. And in degree, all this will hold true concerning whaling vessels crossing each other's track on the cruising-ground itself, even though they are equally long absent from home. For one of them may have received a transfer of letters from some third, and now far remote vessel; and some of those letters may be for the people of the ship she now meets. Besides, they would exchange the whaling news, and have an agreeable chat. For not only would they meet with all the sympathies of sailors, but likewise with all the peculiar congenialities arising from a common pursuit and mutually shared privations and perils.

Nor would difference of country make any very essential difference; that is, so long as both parties speak one language, as is the case with Americans and English. Though, to be sure, from the small number of English whalers, such meetings do not very often occur, and when they do occur there is too apt to be a sort of shyness between them; for your Englishman is rather reserved, and your Yankee, he does not fancy that sort of thing in anybody but himself. Besides, the English whalers sometimes affect a kind of metropolitan superiority over the American whalers; regarding the long, lean Nantucketer, with his nondescript provincialisms, as a sort of sea-peasant. But where this superiority in the English whaleman does really consist, it would be hard to say, seeing that the Yankees in one day, collectively, kill more whales than all the English, collectively, in ten years. But this is a harmless little foible in the English whale-hunters, which the Nantucketer does not take much to heart; probably, because he knows that he has a few foibles himself.

So, then, we see that of all ships separately sailing the sea, the whalers have most reason to be sociable- and they are so. Whereas, some merchant ships crossing each other's wake in the mid-Atlantic, will oftentimes pass on without so much as a single word of recognition, mutually cutting each other on the high seas, like a brace of dandies in Broadway; and all the time indulging, perhaps, in finical criticism upon each other's rig. As for Men-of-War, when they chance to meet at sea, they first go through such a string of silly bowings and scrapings, such a ducking of ensigns, that there does not seem to be much right-down hearty good-will and brotherly love about it at all. As touching Slave-ships meeting, why, they are in such a prodigious hurry, they run away from each other as soon as possible. And as for Pirates, when they chance to cross each other's cross-bones, the first hail is- "How many skulls?"- the same way that whalers hail- "How many barrels?" And that question once answered, pirates straightway steer apart, for they are infernal villains on both sides, and don't like to see overmuch of each other's villanous likenesses.

But look at the godly, honest, unostentatious, hospitable, sociable, free-and-easy whaler! What does the whaler do when she meets another whaler in any sort of decent weather? She has a "Gam," a thing so utterly unknown to all other ships that they never heard of the name even; and if by chance they should hear of it, they only grin at it, and repeat gamesome stuff about "spouters" and "blubber-boilers," and such like pretty exclamations. Why it is that all Merchant-seamen, and also all Pirates and Man-of-War's men, and Slave-ship sailors, cherish such a scornful feeling towards Whale-ships; this is a question it would be hard to answer. Because, in the case of pirates, say, I should like to know whether that profession of theirs has any peculiar glory about it. It sometimes ends in uncommon elevation, indeed; but only at the gallows. And besides, when a man is elevated in that odd fashion, he has no proper foundation for his superior altitude. Hence, I conclude, that in boasting himself to be high lifted above a whaleman, in that assertion the pirate has no solid basis to stand on.

But what is a Gam? You might wear out your index-finger running up and down the columns of dictionaries, and never find the word, Dr. Johnson never attained to that erudition; Noah Webster's ark does not hold it. Nevertheless, this same expressive word has now for many years been in constant use among some fifteen thousand true born Yankees. Certainly, it needs a definition, and should be incorporated into the Lexicon. With that view, let me learnedly define it.

GAM. NOUN- A social meeting of two (or more) Whaleships, generally on a cruising-ground; when, after exchanging hails, they exchange visits by boats' crews, the two captains remaining, for the time, on board of one ship, and the two chief mates on the other.

There is another little item about Gamming which must not be forgotten here. All professions have their own little peculiarities of detail; so has the whale fishery. In a pirate, man-of-war, or slave ship, when the captain is rowed anywhere in his boat, he always sits in the stern sheets on a comfortable, sometimes cushioned seat there, and often steers himself with a pretty little milliner's tiller decorated with gay cords and ribbons. But the whale-boat has no seat astern, no sofa of that sort whatever, and no tiller at all. High times indeed, if whaling captains were wheeled about the water on castors like gouty old aldermen in patent chairs. And as for a tiller, the whale-boat never admits of any such effeminacy; and therefore as in gamming a complete boat's crew must leave the ship, and hence as the boat steerer or harpooneer is of the number, that subordinate is the steersman upon the occasion, and the captain, having no place to sit in, is pulled off to his visit all standing like a pine tree. And often you will notice that being conscious of the eyes of the whole visible world resting on him from the sides of the two ships, this standing captain is all alive to the importance of sustaining his dignity by maintaining his legs. Nor is this any very easy matter; for in his rear is the immense projecting steering oar hitting him now and then in the small of his back, the after-oar reciprocating by rapping his knees in front. He is thus completely wedged before and behind, and can only expand himself sideways by settling down on his stretched legs; but a sudden, violent pitch of the boat will often go far to topple him, because length of foundation is nothing without corresponding breadth. Merely make a spread angle of two poles, and you cannot stand them up. Then, again, it would never do in plain sight of the world's riveted eyes, it would never do, I say, for this straddling captain to be seen steadying himself the slightest particle by catching hold of anything with his hands; indeed, as token of his entire, buoyant self-command, he generally carries his hands in his trowsers' pockets; but perhaps being generally very large, heavy hands, he carries them there for ballast. Nevertheless there have occurred instances, well authenticated ones too, where the captain has been known for an uncommonly critical moment or two, in a sudden squall say- to seize hold of the nearest oarsman's hair, and hold on there like grim death.

Ahab is not feeling all the sociable.  There is no gam between the crews of the Pequod and Albatross.  Unless the captain of the Albatross has news of the white whale, Ahab is uninterested, even hostile.  I think he sees such an interaction as a distraction from his mission of revenge.  I cringe every time I type a phrase like "mission of revenge."  It is bad writing, but an apt description of Ahab's motivation.  He only has one thing on his mind, to the detriment of ship, crew, health, and happiness.

It is Memorial Day weekend.  For my non-American readers, Memorial Day (which happens on the last Monday in May) celebrates members of the American armed forces who have been killed in battle--in the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf Wars, and Afghanistan.  Typing out that list of conflicts really drives home how much war has shaped recent history.  It's a little sobering.

However, most people in the United States don't really spend a whole lot of time honoring these fallen soldiers this weekend.  Instead, Memorial Day is simply an excuse not to work, to travel and have family barbecues.  In a way, these three days are the equivalent of what Melville describes as a gam.  Family and friends going out of their way to see each other, eating and drinking and telling stories.  It's become the unofficial launch of the summer.

I don't mind the gam nature of this weekend.  I like seeing friends and family.  I like eating barbecued hot dogs and watermelon and corn on the cob.  Enjoy the celebration of summer freedom.  As a kid, I remember this weekend as a time to run under sprinklers in the afternoon, play outside with friends until dusk, catch frogs and fireflies in the night.  Campfires.  My parents sitting in lawn chairs, drinking from long-necked beer bottles.

On Monday, I will take my kids to a Memorial Day parade.  Then, we will drive out to the cemetery for a Veterans of Foreign Wars ceremony.  There will be a 21-gun salute.  Taps will be played.  My daughter and son have been attending these events since they were babies.  I like to remind them that it's not all about getting a day off from school, that it's not all gam.  Afterward, it will be family and barbecue, as required.

I believe in honoring veterans.  They paid a lot so that I can sit here in McDonald's with my son and sister, eat, and write this blog post without fear of some government agent rushing in to arrest me.  I can criticize the President of the United States.  Disagree with Congress.  Point out that it's just as patriotic to stand for the national anthem as it is to kneel.  Because that's what my country should be.  It's what those men and women died for.  Freedom.

Saint Marty is thankful today for all fighters for democracy and freedom.

May 26: Gina Myers, "Memorial," Life and Death Lessons


by:  Gina Myers

          for J

In my life so much happens
that I would like to write about,
but then something else happens
& things are always happening.
You, my friend, are underground
& will always be there. I did not
help you, but you always helped me.
When I was an atheist, I believed
in people. Now as a nihilist, my grief
has no hope. And I could say
there is no reason to keep going,
but then I think of, I think of you.


It has been a heck of a year so far, with my father passing in February.  My mother still asks about him, talks about him as if he's out on a plumbing job.  Some days, she doesn't remember what her last name is.  She wants to sign her maiden name instead.  Since my dad's been gone, time has sort of taken a few steps back for her.

I know that death is a part of life, just as much as births and baptisms and weddings and graduations.  Believe me, I know this.  I have been lucky to have family members who taught me what living a good life is all about.  My sister, who's been gone almost three years now, taught me about selfless love and generosity.  My father taught me about devotion and hard work and family sacrifice. 

My mother, I think, is teaching me how to live out the end of life gracefully, with love and humor.

Saint Marty is thankful for these lessons.

Friday, May 25, 2018

May 25: The Goney, Flying Dutchman, Memorial Day Weekend

South-eastward from the Cape, off the distant Crozetts, a good cruising ground for Right Whalemen, a sail loomed ahead, the Goney (Albatross) by name. As she slowly drew nigh, from my lofty perch at the fore-mast-head, I had a good view of that sight so remarkable to a tyro in the far ocean fisheries- a whaler at sea, and long absent from home.

As if the waves had been fullers, this craft was bleached like the skeleton of a stranded walrus. All down her sides, this spectral appearance was traced with long channels of reddened rust, while all her spars and her rigging were like the thick branches of trees furred over with hoar-frost. Only her lower sails were set. A wild sight it was to see her long-bearded look-outs at those three mast-heads. They seemed clad in the skins of beasts, so torn and bepatched the raiment that had survived nearly four years of cruising. Standing in iron hoops nailed to the mast, they swayed and swung over a fathomless sea; and though, when the ship slowly glided close under our stern, we six men in the air came so nigh to each other that we might almost have leaped from the mast-heads of one ship to those of the other; yet, those forlorn-looking fishermen, mildly eyeing us as they passed, said not one word to our own look-outs, while the quarter-deck hail was being heard from below.

"Ship ahoy! Have ye seen the White Whale?"

But as the strange captain, leaning over the pallid bulwarks, was in the act of putting his trumpet to his mouth, it somehow fell from his hand into the sea; and the wind now rising amain, he in vain strove to make himself heard without it. Meantime his ship was still increasing the distance between us. While in various silent ways the seamen of the Pequod were evincing their observance of this ominous incident at the first mere mention of the White Whale's name to another ship, Ahab for a moment paused; it almost seemed as though he would have lowered a boat to board the stranger, had not the threatening wind forbade. But taking advantage of his windward position, he again seized his trumpet, and knowing by her aspect that the stranger vessel was a Nantucketer and shortly bound home, he loudly hailed- "Ahoy there! This is the Pequod, bound round the world! Tell them to address all future letters to the Pacific ocean! and this time three years, if I am not at home, tell them to address them to-"

At that moment the two wakes were fairly crossed, and instantly, then, in accordance with their singular ways, shoals of small harmless fish, that for some days before had been placidly swimming by our side, darted away with what seemed shuddering fins, and ranged themselves fore and aft with the stranger's flanks. Though in the course of his continual voyagings Ahab must often before have noticed a similar sight, yet, to any monomaniac man, the veriest trifles capriciously carry meanings.

"Swim away from me, do ye?" murmured Ahab, gazing over into the water. There seemed but little in the words, but the tone conveyed more of deep helpless sadness than the insane old man had ever before evinced. But turning to the steersman, who thus far had been holding the ship in the wind to diminish her headway, he cried out in his old lion voice,- "Up helm! Keep her off round the world!"

Round the world! There is much in that sound to inspire proud feelings; but whereto does all that circumnavigation conduct? Only through numberless perils to the very point whence we started, where those that we left behind secure, were all the time before us.

Were this world an endless plain, and by sailing eastward we could for ever reach new distances, and discover sights more sweet and strange than any Cyclades or Islands of King Solomon, then there were promise in the voyage. But in pursuit of those far mysteries we dream of, or in tormented chase of the demon phantom that, some time or other, swims before all human hearts; while chasing such over this round globe, they either lead us on in barren mazes or midway leave us whelmed.

There is not much that is pleasant in this little chapter.  The Pequod pulls abreast of the Albatross, and the Pequod crew observes the sailors of the other ship.  The Albatross is wild and rusting, barnacled and pounded by its long voyage.  Its crew is in pretty much the same state--more ghosts than men, bound for their distant home.  It's as if the Flying Dutchman is gliding by in warning.  To bring in another writer's words:  Abandon hope all ye who enter here!  Of course, Melville is doing a lot of stage setting,  Building up the sense of dread and doom for Ishmael and his companions.  It's all foreshadowing of what is to come.

It is Friday night, the beginning of Memorial Day weekend.  The school year is almost over.  Summer is upon the Upper Peninsula, finally.  Seventy-five degrees today.  The lilacs aren't is full bloom yet, but they are starting to bud.  In another week or so, weather permitting, my house will be surrounded by the scent of lilac.  Ever since I was small, that smell always signaled the beginning of the long days and short nights of June, July, and August.

Since this chapter from Moby-Dick is all about the future, in a way, I will make a few predictions for what is to come for me this weekend.  Tomorrow, breakfast at McDonald's with my family, as usual.  Church tomorrow night.  Sunday morning, I am filling in for the organist at my wife's church.  Therefore, I have to practice some music tomorrow afternoon in preparation.  Sunday morning, church again.  Then, getting ready for my book club meeting in the evening.  Monday morning, sleeping in a little.  Then, a parade and cemetery service.  In the afternoon, a barbecue at my mother's house.  Somewhere in those days, I hope to squeeze in the new Star Wars movie.

That's right, I have my whole weekend already planned out.  I like it that way.  Of course, things won't go as planned,  The crew members of the Pequod, when they boarded in Nantucket, certainly didn't anticipate chasing a white whale around the world.  Nor did they bargain for a half-crazed commander.  Yet, that is where the crew seems to be headed.  They are on a direct collision course with Moby Dick.

Most of you know that I am a creature of habit.  Don't like surprises.  Never have.  I know that there are good kinds of surprises, although, for the life of me, I can't think of any at the moment.  I suppose a nice surprise would be a hundred dollar bill arriving in my mailbox.  Or a literary agent discovering my blog and contacting me.  Or Donald Trump resigning tomorrow morning.  All of those would be wonderful surprises this weekend.

Unfortunately, the surprises that I'm accustomed to involve major car problems, illness, and death.  Sometimes all three at the same time.  Hence, my aversion to surprise.  That's why I have my entire weekend already planned out.  While I can't completely eradicate surprises from my life, I can certainly steer my Pequod in the direction I want it to go and hope for empty seas.  No ghostly whale spouts or ships.

Tonight, I will be going out for dinner with my family.  I already know what I'm going to get to drink and for dinner.   That is a perfect way to start the holiday weekend.  No Flying Dutchman on the horizon.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the luxury of a quiet, uneventful night.

May 25: Bob Hicok, "The semantics of flowers on Memorial Day," Taking a Knee

The semantics of flowers on Memorial Day

by:  Bob Hicok

Historians will tell you my uncle
wouldn't have called it World War II
or the Great War plus One or Tombstone

over My Head. All of this language
came later. He and his buddies
knew it as get my ass outta here

or fucking trench foot and of course
sex please now. Petunias are an apology
for ignorance, my confidence

that saying high-density bombing
or chunks of brain in cold coffee
even suggests the athleticism

of his flinch or how casually
he picked the pieces out.
Geraniums symbolize the secrets

life kept from him, the wonder
of variable-speed drill and how
the sky would have changed had he lived

to shout it’s a girl. My hands
enter dirt easily, a premonition.
I sit back on my uncle’s stomach

exactly like I never did, he was
a picture to me, was my father
looking across a field at wheat

laying down to wind. For a while,
Tyrants’ War and War of World Freedom
and Anti-Nazi War skirmished

for linguistic domination. If
my uncle called it anything
but too many holes in too many bodies

no flower can say. I plant marigolds
because they came cheap and who knows
what the earth’s in the mood to eat.


A lot is being said about patriotism today, since the owners in the NFL decided to force their players to stand for the national anthem or else be fined.  This decision, and the reaction from the people in Washington, D. C., make me a little sick.

People just don't get it.  Taking a knee during the national anthem is not disrespecting the brave men and women who have fought and died for the United States.  What it is about is calling attention to the inherent racism that still exists in this country.  (If you don't believe there is racism in the United States, try Googling ALL the verses of "The Star Spangled Banner."  You may be a little surprised.)  This protest is about trying to make America a better place for EVERYONE who lives here.

Don't worry.  If I'm sitting next to you at an event this weekend, I will stand up and put my hand over my heart when the band plays the national anthem.  That is my choice, not my duty.

The soldiers who fought and died did so in defense of the values of the United States.  One of the greatest values of this country is freedom of expression.  It is one of the core principles of a free society.  Unfortunately, people seem to be forgetting that principle a lot these days.

Players in the NFL have the right to kneel during the playing of the national anthem.  Just like Donald Trump had the right to avoid being drafted--FIVE TIMES--and he's President of the United States.  I would argue that the players who take a knee are being more patriotic than Donald Trump has ever been.  They really are trying to make America great.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the First Amendment.  Read it while you still can.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

May 24: Terrible Old Man, Walk Along Lake Superior, Hunted Rocks

Days, weeks passed, and under easy sail, the ivory Pequod had slowly swept across four several cruising-grounds; off the Azores; off the Cape de Verdes; on the Plate (so called), being off the mouth of the Rio de la Plata; and the Carrol Ground, an unstaked, watery locality, southerly from St. Helena.

It was while gliding through these latter waters that one serene and moonlight night, when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver; and, by their soft, suffusing seethings, made what seemed a silvery silence, not a solitude; on such a silent night a silvery jet was seen far in advance of the white bubbles at the bow. Lit up by the moon, it looked celestial; seemed some plumed and glittering god uprising from the sea. Fedallah first descried this jet. For of these moonlight nights, it was his wont to mount to the main-mast head, and stand a look-out there, with the same precision as if it had been day. And yet, though herds of whales were seen by night, not one whaleman in a hundred would venture a lowering for them. You may think with what emotions, then, the seamen beheld this old Oriental perched aloft at such unusual hours; his turban and the moon, companions in one sky. But when, after spending his uniform interval there for several successive nights without uttering a single sound; when, after all this silence, his unearthly voice was heard announcing that silvery, moon-lit jet, every reclining mariner started to his feet as if some winged spirit had lighted in the rigging, and hailed the mortal crew. "There she blows!" Had the trump of judgment blown, they could not have quivered more; yet still they felt no terror; rather pleasure. For though it was a most unwonted hour, yet so impressive was the cry, and so deliriously exciting, that almost every soul on board instinctively desired a lowering.

Walking the deck with quick, side-lunging strides, Ahab commanded the t'gallant sails and royals to be set, and every stunsail spread. The best man in the ship must take the helm. Then, with every mast-head manned, the piled-up craft rolled down before the wind. The strange, upheaving, lifting tendency of the taffrail breeze filling the hollows of so many sails, made the buoyant, hovering deck to feel like air beneath the feet; while still she rushed along, as if two antagonistic influences were struggling in her- one to mount direct to heaven, the other to drive yawingly to some horizontal goal. And had you watched Ahab's face that night, you would have thought that in him also two different things were warring. While his one live leg made lively echoes along the deck, every stroke of his dead limb sounded like a coffin-tap. On life and death this old man walked. But though the ship so swiftly sped, and though from every eye, like arrows, the eager glances shot, yet the silvery jet was no more seen that night. Every sailor swore he saw it once, but not a second time.

This midnight-spout had almost grown a forgotten thing, when, some days after, lo! at the same silent hour, it was again announced: again it was descried by all; but upon making sail to overtake it, once more it disappeared as if it had never been. And so it served us night after night, till no one heeded it but to wonder at it. Mysteriously jetted into the clear moonlight, or starlight, as the case might be; disappearing again for one whole day, or two days, or three; and somehow seeming at every distinct repetition to be advancing still further and further in our van, this solitary jet seemed for ever alluring us on.

Nor with the immemorial superstition of their race, and in accordance with the preternaturalness, as it seemed, which in many things invested the Pequod, were there wanting some of the seamen who swore that whenever and wherever descried; at however remote times, or in however far apart latitudes and longitudes, that unnearable spout was cast by one selfsame whale; and that whale, Moby Dick. For a time, there reigned, too, a sense of peculiar dread at this flitting apparition, as if it were treacherously beckoning us on and on, in order that the monster might turn round upon us, and rend us at last in the remotest and most savage seas.

These temporary apprehensions, so vague but so awful, derived a wondrous potency from the contrasting serenity of the weather, in which, beneath all its blue blandness, some thought there lurked a devilish charm, as for days and days we voyaged along, through seas so wearily, lonesomely mild, that all space, in repugnance to our vengeful errand, seemed vacating itself of life before our urn-like prow.

But, at last, when turning to the eastward, the Cape winds began howling around us, and we rose and fell upon the long, troubled seas that are there; when the ivory-tusked Pequod sharply bowed to the blast, and gored the dark waves in her madness, till, like showers of silver chips, the foamflakes flew over her bulwarks; then all this desolate vacuity of life went away, but gave place to sights more dismal than before.

Close to our bows, strange forms in the water darted hither and thither before us; while thick in our rear flew the inscrutable sea-ravens. And every morning, perched on our stays, rows of these birds were seen; and spite of our hootings, for a long time obstinately clung to the hemp, as though they deemed our ship some drifting, uninhabited craft; a thing appointed to desolation, and therefore fit roosting-place for their homeless selves. And heaved and heaved, still unrestingly heaved the black sea, as if its vast tides were a conscience; and the great mundane soul were in anguish and remorse for the long sin and suffering it had bred.

Cape of Good Hope, do they call ye? Rather Cape Tormentoto, as called of yore; for long allured by the perfidious silences that before had attended us, we found ourselves launched into this tormented sea, where guilty beings transformed into those fowls and these fish, seemed condemned to swim on everlastingly without any haven in store, or beat that black air without any horizon. But calm, snow-white, and unvarying; still directing its fountain of feathers to the sky; still beckoning us on from before, the solitary jet would at times be descried.

During all this blackness of the elements, Ahab, though assuming for the time the almost continual command of the drenched and dangerous deck, manifested the gloomiest reserve; and more seldom than ever addressed his mates. In tempestuous times like these, after everything above and aloft has been secured, nothing more can be done but passively to await the issue of the gale. Then Captain and crew become practical fatalists. So, with his ivory leg inserted into its accustomed hole, and with one hand firmly grasping a shroud, Ahab for hours and hours would stand gazing dead to windward, while an occasional squall of sleet or snow would all but congeal his very eyelashes together.  Meantime, the crew driven from the forward part of the ship by the perilous seas that burstingly broke over its bows, stood in a line along the bulwarks in the waist; and the better to guard against the leaping waves, each man had slipped himself into a sort of bowline secured to the rail, in which he swung as in a loosened belt. Few or no words were spoken; and the silent ship, as if manned by painted sailors in wax, day after day tore on through all the swift madness and gladness of the demoniac waves. By night the same muteness of humanity before the shrieks of the ocean prevailed; still in silence the men swung in the bowlines; still wordless Ahab stood up to the blast. Even when wearied nature seemed demanding repose he would not seek that respose in his hammock. Never could Starbuck forget the old man's aspect, when one night going down into the cabin to mark how the barometer stood, he saw him with closed eyes sitting straight in his floor-screwed chair; the rain and half-melted sleet of the storm from which he had some time before emerged, still slowly dripping from the unremoved hat and coat. On the table beside him lay unrolled one of those charts of tides and currents which have previously been spoken of. His lantern swung from his tightly clenched hand. Though the body was erect, the head was thrown back so that the closed eves were pointed towards the needle of the tell-tale that swung from a beam in the ceiling.*

*The cabin-compass is called the tell-tale, because without going to the compass at the helm, the Captain, while below, can inform himself of the course of the ship.

Terrible old man! thought Starbuck with a shudder, sleeping in this gale, still thou steadfastly eyest thy purpose.

On and on the Pequod sails, chasing the ghostly spout of the white whale.  Through calm and storm.  Tropics and arctics.  Ahab spurs on the chase, barely sleeping.  Of course, the crew fears for its life.  Each man ropes himself to the deck so as not to be washed overboard.  Starbuck, who seems to be the only right-thinking person, correctly assesses his captain's state of mind, senses Ahab's dark purpose.

This evening, I went for a walk along Lake Superior with my daughter and her boyfriend.  We were killing time before my daughter's dance lesson.  My two young companions climbed up and down steep terrains, hunted rocks, skipped stones along the surface of the water, while I stumped along like some one-legged Ahab.  I didn't have any kind of aim or purpose other than entertaining two young minds.

I'm sitting in my university office now, again killing time.  In a few minutes, I will have to pack up my laptop and drive to the dance studio to retrieve my daughter and her boyfriend.  I've barely gotten three paragraphs written.  I was hoping to have at least one blog post finished before the alarm sounded on my phone.  I don't think that's going to happen.

If I were completely selfish, I would just keep typing this post until I was finished, ignoring alarm and conscience.  The greatest writers have this tendency toward self-absorption.  Robert Frost.  Charles Dickens.  J. D. Salinger.  Emily Dickinson.  To a greater or lesser extent, all of these authors sacrificed a great deal for their art.  Robert Frost and Charles Dickens neglected spouse and children.  Salinger and Dickinson were pathological hermits; yet, they wrote and wrote.  (It is rumored that upon Salinger's death, a vault of unpublished manuscripts was discovered.  No new books have been forthcoming yet.)

It is certainly not a secret that most great writers were not very easy people to be around.  Hemingway was married four times, I think.  Faulkner was a raging alcoholic.  Sylvie Plath suffered from mental illness and a bad marriage.  Dylan Thomas--alcoholic and serial adulterer.  It's almost as if, in order to produce exceptional work, an artist must suffer some kind of affliction of mind, body, or spirit.

The one thing that all of these writers also share is a singular devotion to their art, regardless of its personal cost.  Out of personal tragedy and struggle comes the remarkable--pressure begets diamonds.  I'm not sure about Melville, but I'm sure he wasn't easy to live with while composing his little whale tale.

There's something in my personal makeup that doesn't allow me to pursue my art to the exclusion of everything else.  For instance, tonight, instead of going to my office at the university to write, I took my daughter and her boyfriend for a walk by Lake Superior.  We hunted for stones and climbed some pretty steep hills.  It was important for me to do this.

I will never be an Ahab or a Faulkner or a Hemingway.  I can't neglect my family and friends in order to land my white whale.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for quality time with his family.

May 24: Joe Mills, "How You Know," Little Girl

How You Know

by:  Joe Mills

How do you know if it’s love? she asks,
and I think if you have to ask, it’s not,
but I know this won’t help. I want to say
you’re too young to worry about it,
as if she has questions about Medicare
or social security, but this won’t help either.
“You’ll just know” is a lie, and one truth,
“when you still want to be with them
the next morning,” would involve too
many follow-up questions. The difficulty
with love, I want to say, is sometimes
you only know afterwards that it’s arrived
or left. Love is the elephant and we
are the blind mice unable to understand
the whole. I want to say love is this
desire to help even when I know I can’t,
just as I couldn’t explain electricity, stars,
the color of the sky, baldness, tornadoes,
fingernails, coconuts, or the other things
she has asked about over the years, all
those phenomena whose daily existence
seems miraculous. Instead I shake my head.
I don’t even know how to match my socks.
Go ask your mother. She laughs and says,
I did. Mom told me to come and ask you.


Spent some time with my daughter tonight, walking in the woods and along the shore of Lake Superior.  She was beautiful, walking along the edge of the water, picking up stones.  Her hair was so red in the dusking sun.  I couldn't help but feel a little sad at how grownup she looked.  In a year, she'll be an almost high school graduate.

When did this happen?

The good thing is that, before she goes to bed every night, she comes to me for a kiss goodnight.  She still calls me "daddy."  And, every once in a while, she comes to me with life questions.  That means she still thinks that I'm smart.  For now.

Saint Marty isn't ready for his little girl to be a big girl.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

May 23: Whale-Wise People, Second Half of My Day, Two Manuscripts

"Who would have thought it, Flask!" cried Stubb; "if I had but one leg you would not catch me in a boat, unless maybe to stop the plug-hole with my timber toe. Oh! he's a wonderful old man!"

"I don't think it so strange, after all, on that account," said Flask. "If his leg were off at the hip, now, it would be a different thing. That would disable him; but he has one knee, and good part of the other left, you know."

"I don't know that, my little man; I never yet saw him kneel."

Among whale-wise people it has often been argued whether, considering the paramount importance of his life to the success of the voyage, it is right for a whaling captain to jeopardize that life in the active perils of the chase. So Tamerlane's soldiers often argued with tears in their eyes, whether that invaluable life of his ought to be carried into the thickest of the fight.

But with Ahab the question assumed a modified aspect. Considering that with two legs man is but a hobbling wight in all times of dancer; considering that the pursuit of whales is always under great and extraordinary difficulties; that every individual moment, indeed, then comprises a peril; under these circumstances is it wise for any maimed man to enter a whale-boat in the hunt? As a general thing, the joint-owners of the Pequod must have plainly thought not.

Ahab well knew that although his friends at home would think little of his entering a boat in certain comparatively harmless vicissitudes of the chase, for the sake of being near the scene of action and giving his orders in person, yet for Captain Ahab to have a boat actually apportioned to him as a regular headsman in the hunt- above all for Ahab to be supplied with five extra men, as that same boat's crew, he well knew that such generous conceits never entered the heads of the owners of the Pequod. Therefore he had not solicited a boat's crew from them, nor had he in any way hinted his desires on that head. Nevertheless he had taken private measures of his own touching all that matter.  Until Cabaco's published discovery, the sailors had little foreseen it, though to be sure when, after being a little while out of port, all hands had concluded the customary business of fitting the whaleboats for service; when some time after this Ahab was now and then found bestirring himself in the matter of making thole-pins with his own hands for what was thought to be one of the spare boats, and even solicitously cutting the small wooden skewers, which when the line is running out are pinned over the groove in the bow: when all this was observed in him, and particularly his solicitude in having an extra coat of sheathing in the bottom of the boat, as if to make it better withstand the pointed pressure of his ivory limb; and also the anxiety he evinced in exactly shaping the thigh board, or clumsy cleat, as it is sometimes called, the horizontal piece in the boat's bow for bracing the knee against in darting or stabbing at the whale; when it was observed how often he stood up in that boat with his solitary knee fixed in the semi-circular depression in the cleat, and with the carpenter's chisel gouged out a little here and straightened it a little there; all these things, I say, had awakened much interest and curiosity at the time. But almost everybody supposed that this particular preparative heedfulness in Ahab must only be with a view to the ultimate chase of Moby Dick; for he had already revealed his intention to hunt that mortal monster in person. But such a supposition did by no means involve the remotest suspicion as to any boat's crew being assigned to that boat.

Now, with the subordinate phantoms, what wonder remained soon waned away; for in a whaler wonders soon wane. Besides, now and then such unaccountable odds and ends of strange nations come up from the unknown nooks and ash-holes of the earth to man these floating outlaws of whalers; and the ships themselves often pick up such queer castaway creatures found tossing about the open sea on planks, bits of wreck, oars, whaleboats, canoes, blown-off Japanese junks, and what not; that Beelzebub himself might climb up the side and step down into the cabin to chat with the captain, and it would not create any unsubduable excitement in the forecastle.

But be all this as it may, certain it is that while the subordinate phantoms soon found their place among the crew, though still as it were somehow distinct from them, yet that hair-turbaned Fedallah remained a muffled mystery to the last. Whence he came in a mannerly world like this, by what sort of unaccountable tie he soon evinced himself to be linked with Ahab's peculiar fortunes; nay, so far as to have some sort of a half-hinted influence; Heaven knows, but it might have been even authority over him; all this none knew, but one cannot sustain an indifferent air concerning Fedallah. He was such a creature as civilized, domestic people in the temperate zone only see in their dreams, and that but dimly; but the like of whom now and then glide among the unchanging Asiatic communities, especially the Oriental isles to the east of the continent- those insulated, immemorial, unalterable countries, which even in these modern days still preserve much of the ghostly aboriginalness of earth's primal generations, when the memory of the first man was a distinct recollection, and all men his descendants, unknowing whence he came, eyed each other as real phantoms, and asked of the sun and the moon why they were created and to what end; when though, according to Genesis, the angels indeed consorted with the daughters of men, the devils also, add the uncanonical Robbins, indulged in mundane amours.

Ahab is crazy.  The crew is coming to realize this fact.  After this first whale encounter, Stubb and Starbuck and Flask discuss their captain's soundness of mind.  They already know that he is obsessed with the hunt for the white whale.  However, the appearance of Ahab's hidden boat crew has thrown into stark light the evidence:  Ahab is more than a little unhinged.

I've had a long day already, and it's only half over.  Got up at 4:45 a.m.  Started work at 6 am.  Eight hours.  When I got home, I went for a run.  Now, I'm getting ready to head out to family night at my son's school.  Then I'm driving my daughter to her dance lesson, maybe.  I'll probably get home a little after 8 p.m., brain dead and exhausted.

A lot of people wonder how I'm able to maintain this kind of schedule, especially during the school year.  I will admit that I become a little crazy about time during the fall and winter.  Obsessed even.  I have to. or else I wouldn't be able to work and teach and write and blog and do Poet Laureate stuff.  On the flip side, I don't get a whole lot of sleep, though.

This evening, I'm also attempting to finish a writing project that I've been working on for almost two months.  I need to get it done, so that I can move on to my second project of the summer.  That's my white whale.  Two manuscripts done and submitted to publishers by summer's end.  That is crazy, I know.  However, I'm tired of getting to the middle of August and feeling like a failure.

Anyhow, it's almost time for me to leave.  Second half of my day about to begin.  White whales on the horizon.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for his wife who puts up with his insanity.