Saturday, June 30, 2018

June 30: Wild Affair, Jim Jones and David Koresh and Donald Trump, Extremism

Hand in hand, ship and breeze blew on; but the breeze came faster than the ship, and soon the Pequod began to rock.

By and by, through the glass the stranger's boats and manned mast-heads proved her a whale-ship. But as she was so far to windward, and shooting by, apparently making a passage to some other ground, the Pequod could not hope to reach her. So the signal was set to see what response would be made.

Here be it said, that like the vessels of military marines, the ships of the American Whale Fleet have each a private signal; all which signals being collected in a book with the names of the respective vessels attached, every captain is provided with it. Thereby, the whale commanders are enabled to recognise each other upon the ocean, even at considerable distance, and with no small facility.

The Pequod's signal was at last responded to by the stranger's setting her own; which proved the ship to be the Jeroboam of Nantucket. Squaring her yards, she bore down, ranged abeam under the Pequod's lee, and lowered a boat; it soon drew nigh; but, as the side-ladder was being rigged by Starbuck's order to accommodate the visiting captain, the stranger in question waved his hand from his boat's stern in token of that proceeding being entirely unnecessary. It turned out that the Jeroboam had a malignant epidemic on board, and that Mayhew, her captain, was fearful of infecting the Pequod's company. For, though himself and the boat's crew remained untainted, and though his ship was half a rifle-shot off, and an incorruptible sea and air rolling and flowing between; yet conscientiously adhering to the timid quarantine of the land, he peremptorily refused to come into direct contact with the Pequod.

But this did by no means prevent all communications. Preserving an interval of some few yards between itself and the ship, the Jeroboam's boat by the occasional use of its oars contrived to keep parallel to the Pequod, as she heavily forged through the sea (for by this time it blew very fresh), with her main-topsail aback; though, indeed, at times by the sudden onset of a large rolling wave, the boat would be pushed some way ahead; but would be soon skilfully brought to her proper bearings again. Subject to this, and other the like interruptions now and then, a conversation was sustained between the two parties; but at intervals not without still another interruption of a very different sort.

Pulling an oar in the Jeroboam's boat, was a man of a singular appearance, even in that wild whaling life where individual notabilities make up all totalities. He was a small, short, youngish man, sprinkled all over his face with freckles, and wearing redundant yellow hair. A long-skirted, cabalistically-cut coat of a faded walnut tinge enveloped him; the overlapping sleeves of which were rolled up on his wrists. A deep, settled, fanatic delirium was in his eyes.

So soon as this figure had been first descried, Stubb had exclaimed- "That's he! that's he!- the long-togged scaramouch the Town-Ho's company told us of!" Stubb here alluded to a strange story told of the Jeroboam, and a certain man among her crew, some time previous when the Pequod spoke the Town-Ho. According to this account and what was subsequently learned, it seemed that the scaramouch in question had gained a wonderful ascendency over almost everybody in the Jeroboam. 
His story was this:

He had been originally nurtured among the crazy society of Neskyeuna Shakers, where he had been a great prophet; in their cracked, secret meetings having several times descended from heaven by the way of a trapdoor, announcing the speedy opening of the seventh vial, which he carried in his vest-pocket; but, which, instead of containing gunpowder, was supposed to be charged with laudanum. A strange, apostolic whim having seized him, he had left Neskyeuna for Nantucket, where, with that cunning peculiar to craziness, he assumed a steady, common sense exterior, and offered himself as a green-hand candidate for the Jeroboam's whaling voyage. They engaged him; but straightway upon the ship's getting out of sight of land, his insanity broke out in a freshet. He announced himself as the archangel Gabriel, and commanded the captain to jump overboard. He published his manifesto, whereby he set himself forth as the deliverer of the isles of the sea and vicar-general of all Oceanica. The unflinching earnestness with which he declared these things;- the dark, daring play of his sleepless, excited imagination, and all the preternatural terrors of real delirium, united to invest this Gabriel in the minds of the majority of the ignorant crew, with an atmosphere of sacredness. Moreover, they were afraid of him. As such a man, however, was not of much practical use in the ship, especially as he refused to work except when he pleased, the incredulous captain would fain have been rid of him; but apprised that that individual's intention was to land him in the first convenient port, the archangel forthwith opened all his seals and vials- devoting the ship and all hands to unconditional perdition, in case this intention was carried out. So strongly did he work upon his disciples among the crew, that at last in a body they went to the captain and told him if Gabriel was sent from the ship, not a man of them would remain. He was therefore forced to relinquish his plan. Nor would they permit Gabriel to be any way maltreated, say or do what he would; so that it came to pass that Gabriel had the complete freedom of the ship. The consequence of all this was, that the archangel cared little or nothing for the captain and mates; and since the epidemic had broken out, he carried a higher hand than ever; declaring that the plague, as he called it, was at his sole command; nor should it be stayed but according to his good pleasure. The sailors, mostly poor devils, cringed, and some of them fawned before him; in obedience to his instructions, sometimes rendering him personal homage, as to a god. Such things may seem incredible; but, however wondrous, they are true. Nor is the history of fanatics half so striking in respect to the measureless self-deception of the fanatic himself, as his measureless power of deceiving and bedevilling so many others. But it is time to return to the Pequod.

"I fear not thy epidemic, man," said Ahab from the bulwarks, to Captain Mayhew, who stood in the boat's stern; "come on board."

But now Gabriel started to his feet.

"Think, think of the fevers, yellow and bilious! Beware of the horrible plague!"

"Gabriel! Gabriel!" cried Captain Mayhew; "thou must either-" But that instant a headlong wave shot the boat far ahead, and its seethings drowned all speech.

"Hast thou seen the White Whale?" demanded Ahab, when the boat drifted back.

"Think, think of thy whale-boat, stoven and sunk! Beware of the horrible tail!"

"I tell thee again, Gabriel, that-" But again the boat tore ahead as if dragged by fiends. Nothing was said for some moments, while a succession of riotous waves rolled by which by one of those occasional caprices of the seas were tumbling, not heaving it. Meantime, the hoisted sperm whale's head jogged about very violently, and Gabriel was seen eyeing it with rather more apprehensiveness than his archangel nature seemed to warrant.

When this interlude was over, Captain Mayhew began a dark story concerning Moby Dick; not, however, without frequent interruptions from Gabriel, whenever his name was mentioned, and the crazy sea that seemed leagued with him.

It seemed that the Jeroboam had not long left home, when upon speaking a whale-ship, her people were reliably apprised of the existence of Moby Dick, and the havoc he had made. Greedily sucking in this intelligence, Gabriel solemnly warned the captain against attacking the White Whale, in case the monster should be seen; in his gibbering insanity, pronouncing the White Whale to be no less a being than the Shaker God incarnated; the Shakers receiving the Bible. But when, some year or two afterwards, Moby Dick was fairly sighted from the mast-heads, Macey, the chief mate, burned with ardor to encounter him; and the captain himself being not unwilling to let him have the opportunity, despite all the archangel's denunciations and forewarnings, Macey succeeded in persuading five men to man his boat. With them he pushed off; and, after much weary pulling, and many perilous, unsuccessful onsets, he at last succeeded in getting one iron fast. Meantime, Gabriel, ascending to the main-royal mast-head, was tossing one arm in frantic gestures, and hurling forth prophecies of speedy doom to the sacrilegious assailants of his divinity. Now, while Macey, the mate, was standing up in his boat's bow, and with all the reckless energy of his tribe was venting his wild exclamations upon the whale, and essaying to get a fair chance for his poised lance, lo! a broad white shadow rose from the sea; by its quick, fanning motion, temporarily taking the breath out of the bodies of the oarsmen. Next instant, the luckless mate, so full of furious life, was smitten bodily into the air, and making a long arc in his descent, fell into the sea at the distance of about fifty yards. Not a chip of the boat was harmed, nor a hair of any oarsman's head; but the mate for ever sank.

It is well to parenthesize here, that of the fatal accidents in the Sperm-Whale Fishery, this kind is perhaps almost as frequent as any. Sometimes, nothing is injured but the man who is thus annihilated; oftener the boat's bow is knocked off, or the thigh-board, on which the headsman stands, is torn from its place and accompanies the body. But strangest of all is the circumstance, that in more instances than one, when the body has been recovered, not a single mark of violence is discernible the man being stark dead.

The whole calamity, with the falling form of Macey, was plainly descried from the ship. Raising a piercing shriek- "The vial! the vial!" Gabriel called off the terror-stricken crew from the further hunting of the whale. This terrible event clothed the archangel with added influence; because his credulous disciples believed that he had specifically fore-announced it, instead of only making a general prophecy, which any one might have done, and so have chanced to hit one of many marks in the wide margin allowed. He became a nameless terror to the ship.

Mayhew having concluded his narration, Ahab put such questions to him, that the stranger captain could not forbear inquiring whether he intended to hunt the White Whale, if opportunity should offer. To which Ahab answered- "Aye." Straightway, then, Gabriel once more started to his feet, glaring upon the old man, and vehemently exclaimed, with downward pointed finger- "Think, think of the blasphemer- dead, and down there!- beware of the blasphemer's end!"

Ahab stolidly turned aside; then said to Mayhew, "Captain, I have just bethought me of my letter-bag; there is a letter for one of thy officers, if I mistake not. Starbuck, look over the bag."

Every whale-ship takes out a goodly number of letters for various ships, whose delivery to the persons to whom they may be addressed, depends upon the mere chance of encountering them in the four oceans. Thus, most letters never reach their mark; and many are only received after attaining an age of two or three years or more.

Soon Starbuck returned with a letter in his hand. It was sorely tumbled, damp, and covered with a dull, spotted, green mould, in consequence of being kept in a dark locker of the cabin. Of such a letter, Death himself might well have been the post-boy.

"Can'st not read it?" cried Ahab. "Give it me, man. Aye, aye, it's but a dim scrawl;- what's this?" As he was studying it out, Starbuck took a long cutting-spade pole, and with his knife slightly split the end, to insert the letter there, and in that way, hand it to the boat, without its coming any closer to the ship.

Meantime, Ahab holding the letter, muttered, "Mr. Har- yes, Mr. Harry- (a woman's pinny hand,- the man's wife, I'll wager)- Aye- Mr. Harry Macey, Ship Jeroboam; why it's Macey, and he's dead!"

"Poor fellow! poor fellow! and from his wife," sighed Mayhew; "but let me have it."

"Nay, keep it thyself," cried Gabriel to Ahab; "thou art soon going that way."

"Curses throttle thee!" yelled Ahab. "Captain Mayhew, stand by now to receive it"; and taking the fatal missive from Starbuck's hands, he caught it in the slit of the pole, and reached it over towards the boat. But as he did so, the oarsmen expectantly desisted from rowing; the boat drifted a little towards the ship's stern; so that, as if by magic, the letter suddenly ranged along with Gabriel's eager hand. He clutched it in an instant, seized the boat-knife, and impaling the letter on it, sent it thus loaded back into the ship. It fell at Ahab's feet. Then Gabriel shrieked out to his comrades to give way with their oars, and in that manner the mutinous boat rapidly shot away from the Pequod.

As, after this interlude, the seamen resumed their work upon the jacket of the whale, many strange things were hinted in reference to this wild affair.

Religious fanaticism on the high seas.  Gabriel comes across as precursor to Jim Jones or David Koresh.  It's a terrifying little chapter that highlights the destructive power of someone perverting the essential messages of any religion, whether its Shaker or Catholicism or Islam or Judaism.  A pastor friend once said to me that more people have been killed in the name of God than all the wars in the world combined.  Plus, a few of those wars and crusades were fought in God's name.

Here's the thing:  if religion is being used to justify harming people, it's not about the religion.  It's about people like Gabriel or Koresh, who were obsessed with power and control.  This stuff isn't new.  I would guess that cult leaders have existed for thousands of years.  And it's easy to condemn organized religions because of cults like this.  However, that would be like saying every President of the United States was a sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot because of Donald Trump.  You just can't make that kind of sweeping generalizations.  That's one of the first things I teach my composition students.

I understand that religion can and has been used to harm individuals.  I have friends who've abandoned church because of the actions of one or two persons, usually pastors or priests or lay leaders.  It's always human beings that cause these kinds of rifts.  Fallible, flawed human beings.  And I've had friends that have literally left the United States because of the results of the 2016 presidential election.  They now sit in other countries, criticizing Donald Trump's actions (justifiably), doing nothing to try to change the situation.

I've had my share of disagreements with people in the churches I attend--pastors and congregation members.  I've been in leadership roles in churches since I was a teenager.  Conflicts arise.  I've lived through the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush--politicians whom I firmly believe did terrible harm to the country in which I live.  I still wake up every Saturday and Sunday for church services.  I still vote in every election--local, state, and national.  I speak up against practices and policies and actions that I believe are unjust, unfair, illegal, or immoral.  Because I believe that if I'm NOT part of the solution, I'm a part of the problem.

Extremism is never a good thing.  My friends (and some family members) are Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal, religious and atheist.  I don't care.  As long as you are good, kind, and moral, I think you are following God's path (even if you don't believe in God).

Saint Marty is thankful today for all the good people in his life.

June 30: Donald Hall, "The Perfect Life," Imperfect Living

The Perfect Life

by:  Donald Hall

Unicorns envy their cousin
horses a smooth forehead.
Horses weep for lack of horns.

Hills cherish the ambition
to turn into partial
differential equations,

which want to be poems, or dogs,
of the Pacific Ocean,
or whiskey, or a gold ring.

The man wearing the noose
envies an other who fondles
a pistol in a motel room.


Every morning I get out of bed, I plan a perfect day.  Perfect breakfast and drive to work.  Perfect eight hours of labor.  Perfect drive home and dinner.  On weekends, perfect long afternoons, reading a good book.  Perfect time at church, worshiping God perfectly.  You get the idea.

We all want perfect lives.  All think that the person with 100 million dollars in the bank has a perfect life.  Or the writer who just received the Pulitzer Prize.  Or the lucky bastard who wins the 300-million-dollar lottery.  Of course, nothing can be farther from the truth.

Just remember today that somebody thinks YOU have a perfect life.

Saint Marty has already messed up five times today, and it's not even noon.

Friday, June 29, 2018

June 29: Black and Hooded Head, Truth in Poetry, Fly Buzz

It should not have been omitted that previous to completely stripping the body of the leviathan, he was beheaded. Now, the beheading of the Sperm Whale is a scientific anatomical feat, upon which experienced whale surgeons very much pride themselves: and not without reason.

Consider that the whale has nothing that can properly be called a neck; on the contrary, where his head and body seem to join, there, in that very place, is the thickest part of him. Remember, also, that the surgeon must operate from above, some eight or ten feet intervening between him and his subject, and that subject almost hidden in a discolored, rolling, and oftentimes tumultuous and bursting sea. Bear in mind, too, that under these untoward circumstances he has to cut many feet deep in the flesh; and in that subterraneous manner, without so much as getting one single peep into the ever-contracting gash thus made, he must skillfully steer clear of all adjacent, interdicted parts, and exactly divide the spine at a critical point hard by its insertion into the skull. Do you not marvel, then, at Stubb's boast, that he demanded but ten minutes to behead a sperm whale?

When first severed, the head is dropped astern and held there by a cable till the body is stripped. That done, if it belong to a small whale it is hoisted on deck to be deliberately disposed of. But, with a full grown leviathan this is impossible; for the sperm whale's head embraces nearly one third of his entire bulk, and completely to suspend such a burden as that, even by the immense tackles of a whaler, this were as vain a thing as to attempt weighing a Dutch barn in jewellers' scales.

The Pequod's whale being decapitated and the body stripped, the head was hoisted against the ship's side- about half way out of the sea, so that it might yet in great part be buoyed up by its native element. And there with the strained craft steeply leaning over it, by reason of the enormous downward drag from the lower mast-head, and every yard-arm on that side projecting like a crane over the waves; there, that blood-dripping head hung to the Pequod's waist like the giant Holofernes's from the girdle of Judith.

When this last task was accomplished it was noon, and the seamen went below to their dinner. 
Silence reigned over the before tumultuous but now deserted deck. An intense copper calm, like a universal yellow lotus, was more and more unfolding its noiseless measureless leaves upon the sea.

A short space elapsed, and up into this noiselessness came Ahab alone from his cabin. Taking a few turns on the quarter-deck, he paused to gaze over the side, then slowly getting into the main-chains he took Stubb's long spade still remaining there after the whale's decapitation and striking it into the lower part of the half-suspended mass, placed its other end crutchwise under one arm, and so stood leaning over with eyes attentively fixed on this head.

It was a black and hooded head; and hanging there in the midst of so intense a calm, it seemed the Sphynx's in the desert. "Speak, thou vast and venerable head," muttered Ahab, "which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world's foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor's side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw'st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw'st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed- while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou has seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!"

"Sail ho!" cried a triumphant voice from the main-mast-head.

"Aye? Well, now, that's cheering," cried Ahab, suddenly erecting himself, while whole thunder-clouds swept aside from his brow. "That lively cry upon this deadly calm might almost convert a better man.- Where away?"

"Three points on the starboard bow, sir, and bringing down her breeze to us!

"Better and better, man. Would now St. Paul would come along that way, and to my breezelessness bring his breeze! O Nature, and O soul of man! how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies; not the smallest atom stirs or lives on matter, but has its cunning duplicate in mind."

Another rather unpleasant chapter.  Whaling was not a profession for the weak of constitution.  It wasn't for those who had any empathy for living things, either.  As this chapter demonstrates, sailors on whaling ships did not see their quarry as anything more than a commodity.  A pod of whales swimming through the ocean was simply opportunity and money.  That was all.  There was no time to think about beauty or awe or anything spiritual.

Again, Melville lived in a different time and culture.  I don't think we can condemn him for the sheer brutality of what he writes.  That would be like criticizing Kurt Vonnegut for describing the firebombing of Dresden in detail.  Those things go hand-in-hand.  Vonnegut wrote a book about being a prisoner of war in Dresden.  Melville wrote a book about 19th-century whalers.  Violence was a part of both of those worlds.

I can say that I have written poems that I've shared with very few people, simply because of their subject matter.  It's never my goal, as a poet and essayist, to harm anyone.  Therefore, I choose to keep some of my work private, for the time being.  To protect some of the people in my life from the truth, as I see it.

That doesn't mean that I censor myself.  On the contrary, I consider very little in the way of subject matter as off limits.  There is a kind of power in giving word to painful experiences.  In the past, I've written about some very difficult things in my life--mental illness, sexual and pornography addiction, marital separation, death, abandonment, guilt.  I think that, by talking about these subjects, I have been able to retake control of my life in times of crisis.  Poetry helped me do that.

However, it's very dangerous to assume that everything I write about in my poems is taken directly from my life.  That would be engaging in the fallacy of thinking that the speaker in a poem and the poet are one and the same.  That every detail in the poem is true.

As most poets can tell you, there is truth in every single poem that is written.  Emily Dickinson's speaker DID hear a fly buzz when she died.  Robert Frost's speaker DID stand at a crossroads in a yellow wood.  My Bigfoot speaker DID skinny dip with Jim Harrison.  All of those experiences are true because they speak to a deeper, universal meaning in each and every one of us.  That is poetic truth.

So, you may ask why I choose not to share some of the poems that I've written.  That's a legitimate question.  My answer isn't simple.  The subject matter is difficult.  It cuts very close to the bone for some of the people in my life.  Therefore, I save those poems.  Go back to them every once in a while to see if they have ripened on the branch.  If they are ready to be picked and eaten.

This practice works for me.  I believe in truth, but I also believe in compassion.  I will absolutely not knowingly hurt anyone with my writing.  Above all, kindness rules my choices.  Don't get me wrong, though.  I'm not poet Bob Ross,  painting happy little poetic accidents.  Anyone who has read my work knows that I very seldomly write easy poems.  In fact, I may write a poem tonight about a decapitated whale.  Who knows?

Saint Marty is thankful this evening for truth and compassion.

June 29: Donald Hall, "The Angels," Eternity

The Angels

by:  Donald Hall

In the cold mist of a November
morning, pickups park deep
in fallen leaves while hunters
file singly into the woods,
looking for deer that browse
in abandoned apple orchards
by cellarholes.
                         God watches
them move under oak and hemlock
like fleas in a dog's pelt,
so many of them, tiny among
the trees.  The master declares:
"It makes no difference, a thousand
angels or one; there
is no number in eternity."


It has become truly summer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  It has been 90 sweltering degrees all day, punctuated by an occasional massive thunderstorm.  Even now, at nine o'clock in the evening, it has only cooled down a few degrees.

I am not going to belabor this post.  I'm too hot.  The Donald Hall poem above reminds me of cooler times, when things aren't so green and . . .  hot.  That's why I chose it.  Plus, he captures the concept of eternity so well.  It contains every number and no number.  A thousand angels and one angel.  All time and no time.

For Saint Marty, this day has seemed eternally warm.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

June 28: Believer in Ghosts, Young Self, "The Princess Bride"

Haul in the chains! Let the carcase go astern!

The vast tackles have now done their duty. The peeled white body of the beheaded whale flashes like a marble sepulchre; though changed in hue, it has not perceptibly lost anything in bulk. It is still colossal. Slowly it floats more and more away, the water round it torn and splashed by the insatiate sharks, and the air above vexed with rapacious flights of screaming fowls, whose beaks are like so many insulting poniards in the whale.The vast white headless phantom floats further and further from the ship, and every rod that it so floats, what seem square roods of sharks and cubic roods of fowls, augment the murderous din. For hours and hours from the almost stationary ship that hideous sight is seen. Beneath the unclouded and mild azure sky, upon the fair face of the pleasant sea, waited by the joyous breezes, that great mass of death floats on and on, till lost in infinite perspectives.

There's a most doleful and most mocking funeral! The sea-vultures all in pious mourning, the air-sharks all punctiliously in black or speckled. In life but few of them would have helped the whale, I ween, if peradventure he had needed it; but upon the banquet of his funeral they most piously do pounce. Oh, horrible vulturism of earth! from which not the mightiest whale is free.

Nor is this the end. Desecrated as the body is, a vengeful ghost survives and hovers over it to scare. Espied by some timid man-of-war or blundering discovery-vessel from afar, when the distance obscuring the swarming fowls, nevertheless still shows the white mass floating in the sun, and the white spray heaving high against it; straightway the whale's unharming corpse, with trembling fingers is set down in the log- shoals, rocks, and breakers hereabout: beware! And for years afterwards, perhaps, ships shun the place; leaping over it as silly sheep leap over a vacuum, because their leader originally leaped there when a stick was held. There's your law of precedents; there's your utility of traditions; there's the story of your obstinate survival of old beliefs never bottomed on the earth, and now not even hovering in the air! There's orthodoxy!

Thus, while in the life the great whale's body may have been a real terror to his foes, in his death his ghost becomes a powerless panic to a world.

Are you a believer in ghosts, my friend? There are other ghosts than the Cock-Lane one, and far deeper men than Doctor Johnson who believe in them.

The final question in this chapter sticks with me:  "Are you a believer in ghosts, my friend?"  Of course, Melville is talking about the corpse of the sperm whale, how it drifts away from the Pequod toward the horizon, vultured by seagulls and sharks.  Its floating carcass will haunt the seas for quite some time.

I have to say that I do believe in spirits or ghosts or lost souls.  Whatever term you want to use.  Today, I went to see The Princess Bride with my kids at the movie theater.  It's called Throwback Thursday.  Sitting there, eating popcorn, I was sort of haunted by the memory of the first time I saw it.

September, 1987.  Two years out of high school.  I was still a teenager, majoring in computer science and math, taking English courses covertly.  The Butler Theater in my home town.  One of the places they premiered Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder back in 1959.  I was so full of hopes and dreams.  Thought I was going to conquer the world, like any stupid kid.  I didn't worry about money or bills.  I had a full-ride scholarship, so I wasn't stressing about paying tuition.

That ghost of myself was sitting next to me this afternoon, watching, eating popcorn.  He was only two years older than my daughter is now.  He wasn't a poet or a teacher then.  He was just one of the guys from Dead Poets Society, sucking the marrow out of life.

I haven't really shaken this ghost off yet.  When I got home this evening, I got on my laptop and submitted some poems for publication.  Took me a couple hours.  As I was combing through the files on my computer, I sort of felt like that kid again.  A little hopeful.  A little dreamy.

Then, I hit the submit button, and my poems shuttled away from me, like a freighter on Lake Superior.  For the last couple hours, I've been second-guessing my choices.  Wondering why I even submitted.  Convincing myself that it was a useless endeavor.  All that adult angst and doubt, banishing my youthful ghost self from the room.

I'm still haunted.  That kid is still wondering when he's going to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.  I don't have the heart to tell him that it's been canceled this year.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for old movies that make him feel young.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

June 27: Great Dome of St. Peter's, Product of Fear, Wade into the Fray

I have given no small attention to that not unvexed subject, the skin of the whale. I have had controversies about it with experienced whalemen afloat, and learned naturalists ashore. My original opinion remains unchanged; but it is only an opinion.

The question is, what and where is the skin of the whale. Already you know what his blubber is. That blubber is something of the consistence of firm, close-grained beef, but tougher, more elastic and compact, and ranges from eight or ten to twelve and fifteen inches in thickness.

Now, however preposterous it may at first seem to talk of any creature's skin as being of that sort of consistence and thickness, yet in point of fact these are no arguments against such a presumption; because you cannot raise any other dense enveloping layer from the whale's body but that same blubber; and the outermost enveloping layer of any animal, if reasonably dense, what can that be but the skin? True, from the unmarred dead body of the whale, you may scrape off with your hand an infinitely thin, transparent substance, somewhat resembling the thinnest shreds of isinglass, only it is almost as flexible and soft as satin; that is, previous to being dried, when it not only contracts and thickens, but becomes rather hard and brittle. I have several such dried bits, which I use for marks in my whale-books. It is transparent, as I said before; and being laid upon the printed page, I have sometimes pleased myself with fancying it exerted a magnifying influence. At any rate, it is pleasant to read about whales through their own spectacles, as you may say. But what I am driving at here is this. That same infinitely thin, isinglass substance, which, I admit, invests the entire body of the whale, is not so much to be regarded as the skin of the creature, as the skin of the skin, so to speak; for it were simply ridiculous to say, that the proper skin of the tremendous whale is thinner and more tender than the skin of a new-born child. But no more of this.

Assuming the blubber to be the skin of the whale; then, when this skin, as in the case of a very large Sperm Whale, will yield the bulk of one hundred barrels of oil; and, when it is considered that, in quantity, or rather weight, that oil, in its expressed state, is only three fourths, and not the entire substance of the coat; some idea may hence be had of the enormousness of that animated mass, a mere part of whose mere integument yields such a lake of liquid as that. Reckoning ten barrels to the ton, you have ten tons for the net weight of only three quarters of the stuff of the whale's skin.

In life, the visible surface of the Sperm Whale is not the least among the many marvels he presents. 
Almost invariably it is all over obliquely crossed and re-crossed with numberless straight marks in thick array, something like those in the finest Italian line engravings. But these marks do not seem to be impressed upon the isinglass substance above mentioned, but seem to be seen through it, as if they were engraved upon the body itself. Nor is this all. In some instances, to the quick, observant eye, those linear marks, as in a veritable engraving, but afford the ground for far other delineations. These are hieroglyphical; that is, if you call those mysterious cyphers on the walls of pyramids hieroglyphics, then that is the proper word to use in the present connexion. By my retentive memory of the hieroglyphics upon one Sperm Whale in particular, I was much struck with a plate representing the old Indian characters chiselled on the famous hieroglyphic palisades on the banks of the Upper Mississippi. Like those mystic rocks, too, the mystic-marked whale remains undecipherable. This allusion to the Indian rocks reminds me of another thing. Besides all the other phenomena which the exterior of the Sperm Whale presents, he not seldom displays the back, and more especially his flanks, effaced in great part of the regular linear appearance, by reason of numerous rude scratches, altogether of an irregular, random aspect. I should say that those New England rocks on the seacoast, which Agassiz imagines to bear the marks of violent scraping contact with vast floating icebergs- I should say, that those rocks must not a little resemble the Sperm Whale in this particular. It also seems to me that such scratches in the whale are probably made by hostile contact with other whales; for I have most remarked them in the large, full-grown bulls of the species.

A word or two more concerning this matter of the skin or blubber of the whale. It has already been said, that it is stript from him in long pieces, called blanket-pieces. Like most sea-terms, this one is very happy and significant. For the whale is indeed wrapt up in his blubber as in a real blanket or counterpane; or, still better, an Indian poncho slipt over his head, and skirting his extremity. It is by reason of this cosy blanketing of his body, that the whale is enabled to keep himself comfortable in all weathers, in all seas, times, and tides. What would become of a Greenland whale, say, in those shuddering, icy seas of the North, if unsupplied with his cosy surtout? True, other fish are found exceedingly brisk in those Hyperborean waters; but these, be it observed, are your cold-blooded, lungless fish, whose very bellies are refrigerators; creatures, that warm themselves under the lee of an iceberg, as a traveller in winter would bask before an inn fire; whereas, like man, the whale has lungs and warm blood. Freeze his blood, and he dies. How wonderful is it then- except after explanation- that this great monster, to whom corporeal warmth is as indispensable as it is to man; how wonderful that he should be found at home, immersed to his lips for life in those Arctic waters! where, when seamen fall overboard, they are sometimes found, months afterwards, perpendicularly frozen into the hearts of fields of ice, as a fly is found glued in amber. But more surprising is it to know, as has been proved by experiment, that the blood of a Polar whale is warmer than that of a Borneo negro in summer.

It does seem to me, that herein we see the rare virtue of a strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter's, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.

But how easy and how hopeless to teach these fine things! Of erections, how few are domed like St. Peter's! of creatures, how few vast as the whale!

Often, after I read a chapter of Moby-Dick for my daily blog post, I ask myself, "What is this all about?  What does it boil down to?"  Is it about loss?  Or obsession?  Of the natural world?  Whale science or the science of whaling?  Sometimes, the answer comes to me easily.  Other times, it's more elusive, like the white whale.

Tonight, it's all about skin and blood, how the warm-blooded sperm whale can survive in arctic waters.  And how the whale and human beings are somehow connected.  But the whale is something to be admired, even emulated.  As Melville writes, the whale lives "in the world without being of it."

That's a difficult thing to do.  Every day, I find myself being sucked into the daily grind of worry that plagues humanity.  I worry about money and food and mental illness.  Today, I'm worrying about the retirement of a Supreme Court Justice in the United States.  Which leads me to worrying about the Republicans in Congress and the person currently sitting in the Oval Office.  I worry that my kids are going to be perpetually chained to struggle and debt and poverty.

Now, I know that worry is a product of fear, and I know fear is the exact opposite of faith.  As a Christian, I'm supposed to rely on faith, or, as Melville puts it, being in this world without being of it.  Being a part of life without being swallowed by it.  I DO have faith.  I believe that God isn't going to let intolerance and hate and bigotry win this battle, but it's difficult to see children torn away from parents, lawmakers solving gun violence with thoughts and prayers, and not wade into the fray swinging fists.

I'm not saying that I'm just going to sit back and watch my country be transformed into a fascist state.  There is power in prayer.  But sometimes prayer needs to be coupled with action.  I'm not swords and guns.  Gandhi toppled the British Empire by marching to the sea for salt.  Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and simply spoke about a dream he had.  Jesus Christ told his followers to love their enemies.

All of those people I just named were in this world, but not of it.  Their visions were vast, like the body of a whale in the Pacific.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for love and resistance.

June 27: Donald Hall, "We Bring Democracy to the Fish," Purpose

We Bring Democracy to the Fish

by:  Donald Hall

It is unacceptable that fish prey on each other. 
For their comfort and safety, we will liberate them
into fishfarms with secure, durable boundaries
that exclude predators.  Our care will provide
for their liberty, health, happiness, and nutrition.
Of course all creatures need to feel useful.
At maturity the fish will discover their purposes.


Donald Hall--former Poet Laureate of the United States, octogenarian, National Medal of Arts recipient, lover, husband, father, grandfather--died Saturday, June 23, 2018.

It was Donald Hall's voice that announced my name as Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula.  As I've said before, I felt like Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments, hearing God's voice on the mountain.

Donald Hall believed in democracy.  Believed in the experiment of the United States of America.  He valued the world and nature and love and cigarettes.  Everything for Hall had beauty and purpose, even grief.

Saint Marty is still looking for his purpose.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

June 26: General Friction, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Racism

It was a Saturday night, and such a Sabbath as followed! Ex officio professors of Sabbath breaking are all whalemen. The ivory Pequod was turned into what seemed a shamble; every sailor a butcher. You would have thought we were offering up ten thousand red oxen to the sea gods.

In the first place, the enormous cutting tackles, among other ponderous things comprising a cluster of blocks generally painted green, and which no single man can possibly lift- this vast bunch of grapes was swayed up to the main-top and firmly lashed to the lower mast-head, the strongest point anywhere above a ship's deck. The end of the hawser-like rope winding through these intricacies, was then conducted to the windlass, and the huge lower block of the tackles was swung over the whale; to this block the great blubber hook, weighing some one hundred pounds, was attached. And now suspended in stages over the side, Starbuck and Stubb, the mates, armed with their long spades, began cutting a hole in the body for the insertion of the hook just above the nearest of the two side-fins. This done, a broad, semicircular line is cut round the hole, the hook is inserted, and the main body of the crew striking up a wild chorus, now commence heaving in one dense crowd at the windlass. When instantly, the entire ship careens over on her side; every bolt in her starts like the nailheads of an old house in frosty weather; she trembles, quivers, and nods her frighted mast-heads to the sky. More and more she leans over to the whale, while every gasping heave of the windlass is answered by a helping heave from the billows; till at last, a swift, startling snap is heard; with a great swash the ship rolls upwards and backwards from the whale, and the triumphant tackle rises into sight dragging after it the disengaged semicircular end of the first strip of blubber. Now as the blubber envelopes the whale precisely as the rind does an orange, so is it stripped off from the body precisely as an orange is sometimes stripped by spiralizing it. For the strain constantly kept up by the windlass continually keeps the whale rolling over and over in the water, and as the blubber in one strip uniformly peels off along the line called the "scarf," simultaneously cut by the spades of Starbuck and Stubb, the mates; and just as fast as it is thus peeled off, and indeed by that very act itself, it is all the time being hoisted higher and higher aloft till its upper end grazes the main-top; the men at the windlass then cease heaving, for a moment or two the prodigious blood-dripping mass sways to and fro as if let down from the sky, and every one present must take good heed to dodge it when it swings, else it may box his ears and pitch him headlong overboard.

One of the attending harpooneers now advances with a long, keen weapon called a boarding-sword, and watching his chance he dexterously slices out a considerable hole in the lower part of the swaying mass. Into this hole, the end of the second alternating great tackle is then hooked so as to retain a hold upon the blubber, in order to prepare for what follows. Whereupon, this accomplished swordsman, warning all hands to stand off, once more makes a scientific dash at the mass, and with a few sidelong, desperate, lunging, slicings, severs it completely in twain; so that while the short lower part is still fast, the long upper strip, called a blanket-piece, swings clear, and is all ready for lowering. The heavers forward now resume their song, and while the one tackle is peeling and hoisting a second strip from the whale, the other is slowly slackened away, and down goes the first strip through the main hatchway right beneath, into an unfurnished parlor called the blubber-room. Into this twilight apartment sundry nimble hands keep coiling away the long blanket-piece as if it were a great live mass of plaited serpents. And thus the work proceeds; the two tackles hoisting and lowering simultaneously; both whale and windlass heaving, the heavers singing, the blubber-room gentlemen coiling, the mates scarfing, the ship straining, and all hands swearing occasionally, by way of assuaging the general friction.

Sorry for my absence the last day or so.  I wasn't on the open sea, stripping blubber from a dead whale.  (I get seasick in the rain.)  I find the description of this process a little disgusting and horrifying.  However, I have to place it within historical context.  There was a time and place where the blubber of whales was used for many necessary items, like oil lamps, soap, leather and cosmetics.  Of course, things have changed a great deal.

I say these things because I read a little news excerpt about the American Library Association changing the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children's Literature Legacy Award because of Ingalls' depictions and racial stereotypes in her books.  For example, in Little House on the Prairie, she described one place like this: "there were no people.  Only Indians lived there."  Because of passages like that, the ALA decided to strip away Ingalls' name. 

Now, I'm not going to weigh into the fray on whether this decision was right or not.  There is celebration and consternation.  I understand both sides.  I grew up with Ingalls' books.  Of course, being a white male, I didn't experience any kind of shaming in what I read.  I read them to my daughter when she was young.  And, as an adult, I was sort of appalled by some of the passages.  Even my daughter, who was nine at the time, noticed these moments.  I remember her saying one night, "I can't believe she said that."

I used Ingalls' books as a teaching tool at times.  Explained to my daughter the terrible kinds of racism that riddle American history.  It was better than me simply saying to her, "Racism is bad."  She witnessed it sort of firsthand through Ingalls.  I think, for that reason, it was a really good reading experience.

We can't expunge racism or homophobia or sexism that runs through some of the greatest works of literature, including Moby-Dick.  It exists.  It's a part of history.  Now, the question is whether we should celebrate it.  Certainly, it's present in the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  That can't be ignored.  And we all need to be sensitive to it.  It's a matter of putting things into context, as I did above.

I don't think the name change for this award is a terrible thing.  We all need to be sensitive to these issues if we are going to get better as people.  I don't think Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her books to dehumanize Native Americans or African Americans.  She was a product of her upbringing and time.  That doesn't excuse any of the racism that exists in her work.  But I think it's more of an indictment of who we are as people.

So, there it is.  Nobody is perfect.  I'm not.  Laura Ingalls Wilder was not.  Whether it's the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award or the Children's Literature Legacy Award, it still represents the same thing:  someone who has made a lasting impact with his or her writing.

Saint Marty is thankful for great writing, with all its flaws, because it reminds us all who we are.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

June 24: Force of Nature, Classic Saint Marty, Adult Reponsibilities

I find myself in the middle of craziness.  Lots of poetry things going on.  The kickoff of Art Week in a neighboring city.  A Sidewalk Chalk Poetry Contest that I'm helping to judge.  A concert to attend this evening.  And then, if I'm not brain dead after all that, I'm going to see the new Jurassic World movie with my wife and kids.

I don't mind days like this.  It's all part of being a parent and a poet and a teacher.  You can add a few other hats onto that list if you want.  Last night, I was able to write a draft of a new poem.  That makes me very happy.  Like I've accomplished a lot. 

It's difficult sometimes to maintain my energy.  Just met with a poet friend of mine for a little while.  She said to me, "I don't know how you do it.  You're a force of nature."  My response was something like, "I just take things one at a time.  That's how I survive."

A few years ago, I was sort of thinking about the same issues.  How to maintain youthful enthusiasm in the face of adult responsibilities . . .

June 24, 2015:  London, Youthful Passion, Louise Gluck, "The Open Window"

It had been a lovely trip, London everything they had wanted and imagined--for Annie, reading selections from several Dickens novels at the time, it was an enchantment; they took strolls through the Queen's gardens, fed the swans in Regents Park; tried to envision the shantytowns that Dickens had once written about, along the Thames, the city's architecture sometimes suspending their notion of modern time.  In fact, out of their usual context for a glorious period of several weeks, the veil of grief had somehow lifted from their hearts, Ives regaining a sense of childhood wonderment about many things.  Walking about the city with a black-bound sketchbook, Ives drew madly, as he once had as a kid . . . 

Ives' trip to Great Britain does something to him.  As a kid, he used to sit for hours with his sketchbook, drawing cartoons, people, buildings.  He was obsessed with art.  Everything he saw inspired him.  He sent samples of his work to Walt Disney, and Disney himself wrote back, encouraging him to continue drawing.  That's what Ives recaptures in London.  Passion.  Curiosity.  The love of life.

I used to have the same kind of youthful passion that Ives rediscovers in London.  Everything made me want to write.  I'd read a Stephen King novel, and it made me want to write about vampires in a sleepy Upper Peninsula town.  I'd go swimming, and it made me want to write about the moon climbing over Lake Superior.  I saw the original Star Wars (before the episodes and director's cuts), and I wanted to be Isaac Asimov.  I had that much enthusiasm and drive.

I still write every day.  During the course of my 14 or 15 waking hours, I still sometimes find inspiration.  Not as often as when I was a kid, though.  Life gets in the way.  Sick kids.  Broken windows.  Car troubles.  These things tend to stifle my passion.

Right now, I'm sitting in my office at the university.  I rode with my sister to work, and I have a couple hours before I have to punch the time clock.  So, I'm typing my blog post.  I did the same thing last Wednesday.  I find my mind much clearer at this time of the day.  The worries of job and home intrude less on my thoughts.  In the space of a half hour or 45 minutes, I'm done, and I've written something that I'm not ashamed to publish.

It makes me wish I had a life that allowed me to follow this writing practice every day.  I would be able to produce so much more work.  However, rising at four every morning, writing for three hours, and then driving to the medical office to work for eight hours is not a schedule I could maintain forever.  By 8 p.m. today, I know I will be exhausted.  Falling asleep on the couch.  I don't even know how I'm going to answer phones and deal with patients for the next nine hours.

I'm not complaining.  I'm just wishing I could somehow reclaim some of my youthful enthusiasm for writing.  I feel a little too old and too tired at the moment.

Maybe Saint Marty needs to take a trip to London.  It worked for Ives.

The Open Window

by:  Louise Gluck

An elderly writer had formed the habit of writing the words THE END on a piece of paper before he began his stories, after which he would gather a stack of pages, typically thin in winter when the daylight was brief, and comparatively dense in summer when his thought became again loose and associative, expansive like the thought of a young man.  Regardless of their number, he would place these blank pages over the last, thus obscuring it.  Only then would the story come to him, chaste and refined in winter, more free in summer.  By these means, he had become an acknowledged master.

He worked by preference in a room without clocks, trusting the light to tell him when the day was finished.  In summer, he liked the window open.  How then, in summer, did the winter wind enter the room?  You are right, he cried out to the wind, this is what I have lacked, this decisiveness and abruptness, this surprise--O, if I could do this I would be a god!  And he lay on the cold floor of the study watching the wind stirring the pages, mixing the written and unwritten, the end among them.

Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations at this desk

Saturday, June 23, 2018

June 23: One Dam Ingin, Social Media, Cat Videos

When in the Southern Fishery a captured Sperm Whale, after long and weary toil, is brought alongside late at night, it is not, as a general thing at least, customary to proceed at once to the business of cutting him in. For that business is an exceedingly laborious one; is not very soon completed; and requires all hands to set about it. Therefore, the common usage is to take in all sail; lash the helm a'lee; and then send every one below to his hammock till daylight, with the reservation that, until that time, anchor-watches shall be kept; that is, two and two for an hour, each couple, the crew in rotation shall mount the deck to see that all goes well.

But sometimes, especially upon the Line in the Pacific, this plan will not answer at all; because such incalculable hosts of sharks gather round the moored carcase, that were he left so for six hours, say, on a stretch, little more than the skeleton would be visible by morning. In most other parts of the ocean, however, where these fish do not so largely abound, their wondrous voracity can be at times considerably diminished, by vigorously stirring them up with sharp whaling-spades, a procedure notwithstanding, which, in some instances, only seems to tickle them into still greater activity. But it was not thus in the present case with the Pequod's sharks; though, to be sure, any man unaccustomed to such sights, to have looked over her side that night, would have almost thought the whole round sea was one huge cheese, and those sharks the maggots in it.

Nevertheless, upon Stubb setting the anchor-watch after his supper was concluded; and when, accordingly Queequeg and a forecastle seaman came on deck, no small excitement was created among the sharks; for immediately suspending the cutting stages over the side, and lowering three lanterns, so that they cast long gleams of light over the turbid sea, these two mariners, darting their long whaling-spades,* kept up an incessant murdering of the sharks, by striking the keen steel deep into their skulls, seemingly their only vital part. But in the foamy confusion of their mixed and struggling hosts, the marksmen could not always hit their mark; and this brought about new revelations of the incredible ferocity of the foe. They viciously snapped, not only at each other's disembowelments, but like flexible bows, bent round, and bit their own; till those entrails seemed swallowed over and over again by the same mouth, to be oppositely voided by the gaping wound. Nor was this all. It was unsafe to meddle with the corpses and ghosts of these creatures. A sort of generic or Pantheistic vitality seemed to lurk in their very joints and bones, after what might be called the individual life had departed. Killed and hoisted on deck for the sake of his skin, one of these sharks almost took poor Queequeg's hand off, when he tried to shut down the dead lid of his murderous jaw.

*The whaling-spade used for cutting-in is made of the very best steel; is about the bigness of a man's spread hand; and in general shape, corresponds to the garden implement after which it is named; only its sides are perfectly flat, and its upper end considerably narrower than the lower. This weapon is always kept as sharp as possible; and when being used is occasionally honed, just like a razor. In its socket, a stiff pole, from twenty to thirty feet long, is inserted for a handle.

"Queequeg no care what god made him shark," said the savage, agonizingly lifting his hand up and down; "wedder Fejee god or Nantucket god; but de god wat made shark must be one dam Ingin."

Again, Melville lapses into stereotype with Queequeg, making him talk pidgin English--the same kind of dialogue used by actors playing Native Americans on Bonanza and Rawhide.  It reduces Queequeg from a fully realized character to the "savage" Melville's readers would expect.  It's not surprising.  No character with skin of any shade darker than white fares well in the book.  This little chapter is simply a reflection of a larger social issue, one that has been a part of the United States since its inception.

I'm not going to spend this entire post ranting about racism or ageism or sexism or homophobia or Islamophobia.  We can all agree--hopefully--that those problems are blights on the American landscape.  What is on my mind this morning is the danger of social media in propagating these kinds of beliefs.  For a computer savvy racist out there, it's not too difficult to splash offensive subject matter all across Facebook or Twitter.  Stuff that flashes across the screens of smart phones and laptops, right into the minds of young people who are only beginning to understand the adult world.

I suppose that's the point.  Get 'em while they're young.  For example, when I was a kid, my exposure to pornography was limited to the magazines I would find under the mattresses of my brothers' beds.  And it was pretty tame stuff, comparatively speaking.  Now, hard core porn is only a computer click away.  If a young boy can operate a mouse or has access to an iPhone, he can find just about anything he wants to see.

I know it's ironic that I'm writing about this subject in a blog post.  I use social media a lot to connect to people, speak my mind, share poems I like.  Yet, I can get sucked into the cesspool as much as anyone else.  On Facebook, I will stop and read anything that is critical of Donald Trump and his cronies, because it validates feelings that already exist in me.  (It doesn't help that the Trump administration has an agenda that is completely antithetical to my Christian faith and my values as a human being on this planet.)

Social media has always been a part of the human experience.  First there were cave drawings.  Stone tablets.  Then bards wandering around, singing songs and telling stories.  Papyrus.  Theatrical plays.  Pamphlets.  Posters.  Books.  The Information Age has just made it a lot easier to spread messages (good and bad) across the globe.  Social media can be useful (fundraisers for flood victims) or damaging (gatherings of Neo-Nazis).  It all depends on who's using it.

I don't think Herman Melville was trying to further the cause of racism and colonialism with Moby-Dick.  He was trying to write a book, and he was a product of his culture and time.  As a parent in the 21st century, I find that I have to be really vigilant about what my kids see and watch on social media.  Point out the flaws and mistakes in political posts.  Discuss the harmful images of women and sex in pornography.  Try to raise my children to be responsible citizens in the Digital Age.  And, maybe, pass along a funny cat video every once in a while.

Saint Marty is thankful today for his kids, who usually think he's pretty cool.

June 23: April Halprin Wayland, "Big Dreams," Sidewalk Poetry Contest

Big Dreams

by:  April Halprin Wayland

The scruffy house cat
aches to fly—
she dreams all day of
wings and sky!

So tonight
she climbs the ladder,
mounts a platform,
nothing matters

except to catch
a thin trapeze
then hold on tight
with grace and ease.

She swings herself
by both front paws
then somersaults
to wild applause

of kitchen mice,
who, though dizzy,
encourage Cat,
to keep her busy.


Tomorrow, I'm going to be one of the judges in a Sidewalk Poetry contest in Marquette, Michigan.  The theme is "All Things BIG."  Since I'm working on a book of Bigfoot poems, I'm more than a little excited to see the entries for the contest. 

In honor of this event tomorrow, I thought I'd share a poem about a BIG thing. 

Saint Marty is going to work on a new Bigfoot poem tonight.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

June 21: Barbecued Porpoises, Summer Solstice, Poetry Blessings

That mortal man should feed upon the creature that feeds his lamp, and, like Stubb, eat him by his own light, as you may say; this seems so outlandish a thing that one must needs go a little into the history and philosophy of it.

It is upon record, that three centuries ago the tongue of the Right Whale was esteemed a great delicacy in France, and commanded large prices there. Also, that in Henry VIIIth's time, a certain cook of the court obtained a handsome reward for inventing an admirable sauce to be eaten with barbacued porpoises, which, you remember, are a species of whale. Porpoises, indeed, are to this day considered fine eating. The meat is made into balls about the size of billiard balls, and being well seasoned and spiced might be taken for turtle-balls or veal balls. The old monks of Dunfermline were very fond of them. They had a great porpoise grant from the crown.

The fact is, that among his hunters at least, the whale would by all hands be considered a noble dish, were there not so much of him; but when you come to sit down before a meat-pie nearly one hundred feet long, it takes away your appetite. Only the most unprejudiced of men like Stubb, nowadays partake of cooked whales; but the Esquimaux are not so fastidious. We all know how they live upon whales, and have rare old vintages of prime old train oil. Zogranda, one of their most famous doctors, recommends strips of blubber for infants, as being exceedingly juicy and nourishing. And this reminds me that certain Englishmen, who long ago were accidentally left in Greenland by a whaling vessel- that these men actually lived for several months on the mouldy scraps of whales which had been left ashore after trying out the blubber. Among the Dutch whalemen these scraps are called "fritters"; which, indeed, they greatly resemble, being brown and crisp, and smelling something like old Amsterdam housewives' dough-nuts or oly-cooks, when fresh. They have such an eatable look that the most self-denying stranger can hardly keep his hands off.

But what further depreciates the whale as a civilized dish, is his exceeding richness. He is the great prize ox of the sea, too fat to be delicately good. Look at his hump, which would be as fine eating as the buffalo's (which is esteemed a rare dish), were it not such a solid pyramid of fat. But the spermaceti itself, how bland and creamy that is; like the transparent, half jellied, white meat of a cocoanut in the third month of its growth, yet far too rich to supply a substitute for butter. Nevertheless, many whalemen have a method of absorbing it into some other substance, and then partaking of it. In the long try watches of the night it is a common thing for the seamen to dip their ship-biscuit into the huge oil-pots and let them fry there awhile. Many a good supper have I thus made.

In the case of a small Sperm Whale the brains are accounted a fine dish. The casket of the skull is broken into with an axe, and the two plump, whitish lobes being withdrawn (precisely resembling two large puddings), they are then mixed with flour, and cooked into a most delectable mess, in flavor somewhat resembling calves' head, which is quite a dish among some epicures; and every one knows that some young bucks among the epicures, by continually dining upon calves' brains, by and by get to have a little brains of their own, so as to be able to tell a calf's head from their own heads; which, indeed, requires uncommon discrimination. And that is the reason why a young buck with an intelligent looking calf's head before him, is somehow one of the saddest sights you can see. The head looks a sort of reproachfully at him, with an "Et tu Brute!" expression.

It is not, perhaps, entirely because the whale is so excessively unctuous that landsmen seem to regard the eating of him with abhorrence; that appears to result, in some way, from the consideration before mentioned: i.e. that a man should eat a newly murdered thing of the sea, and eat it too by its own light. But no doubt the first man that ever murdered an ox was regarded as a murderer; perhaps he was hung; and if he had been put on his trial by oxen, he certainly would have been; and he certainly deserved it if any murderer does. Go to the meat-market of a Saturday night and see the crowds of live bipeds staring up at the long rows of dead quadrupeds. Does not that sight take a tooth out of the cannibal's jaw? Cannibals? who is not a cannibal? I tell you it will be more tolerable for the Fejee that salted down a lean missionary in his cellar against a coming famine; it will be more tolerable for that provident Fejee, I say, in the day of judgment, than for thee, civilized and enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in thy pate-de-foie-gras.

But Stubb, he eats the whale by its own light, does he? and that is adding insult to injury, is it? Look at your knife-handle, there, my civilized and enlightened gourmand, dining off that roast beef, what is that handle made of?- what but the bones of the brother of the very ox you are eating? And what do you pick your teeth with, after devouring that fat goose? With a feather of the same fowl. And with what quill did the Secretary of the Society for the Suppression of Cruelty of Ganders formally indite his circulars? It is only within the last month or two that the society passed a resolution to patronize nothing but steel pens.

This is not a chapter for the vegan reader.  It isn't for the animal lover, either.  The details of different animals being killed and consumed are not pleasant, especially when Melville discusses creatures that are endangered and protected.  I know that I probably wouldn't order a plate of deep-fried sperm whale brain at Red Lobster, and I wouldn't be tempted by porpoise balls at a Super Bowl party.

I am in the Copper Country right now.  Have been since last night.  I'll be performing at the Calumet Theatre this evening at 7 p.m. as part of the Red Jacket Jamboree radio show.  It has been one of the highlights of this past year being a part of this group of artists.  Love the music.  Love reading my poems and essays in front of a live audience.  It has stretched me as a performer and writer.

I know I make a big deal out of not being comfortable with change.  That I prefer routine.  That's the writer part of me, I think.  I can't plan my day or week or month of writing if I don't know when I'm going to be able to sit down with pen and journal.  However, since being named Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula, I have been pushed outside my normal comfort zones, and I've really enjoyed the experiences.  Enjoyed the people I've met, the things I've done.

That doesn't mean that I'm ready to sit down to a sperm whale meal after a poetry reading.  Don't think I'd go that far.  However, I have grown in the least year-and-a-half, as a person and poet.  I've been able to raise money for causes that I hold dear, like the local homeless shelter and warming center.  I've been invited to be a part of things (like the RJJ) that have enriched my life a great deal.

Being in the Copper Country at this time has reinforced to me how really lucky of a guy I am.  This past week, the Keweenaw Peninsula was devastated by floods.  Roads collapsed.  Houses were destroyed.  Entire towns isolated by washed-out thoroughfares.  It's incredibly sad.  On my way to Calumet yesterday, I saw firsthand some of the damage.  It humbled me.  A lot.

Poetry has provided me with a lot of blessings over the last year.  I think that I take these blessings for granted sometimes.  I need to stop doing that.  I'm sitting in a hotel room right now.  In a few hours, I'll be at a theater with a group of really talented performers, and they'll be treating me like I belong with them.  That's amazing.

Blessings come in many forms.  I guess they considered sperm whale pudding a blessing back in the day.  In the face of great challenges, people rise up and fight back.  That's a blessing, too.

On this summer solstice day, Saint Marty is thankful today for all of the blessings poetry has brought into his life.

June 21: Stacie Cassarino, "Summer Solstice," Long Day of Light

Summer Solstice

by:  Stacie Cassarino

I wanted to see where beauty comes from
without you in the world, hauling my heart
across sixty acres of northeast meadow,
my pockets filling with flowers.
Then I remembered,
it’s you I miss in the brightness
and body of every living name:
rattlebox, yarrow, wild vetch.
You are the green wonder of June,
root and quasar, the thirst for salt.
When I finally understand that people fail
at love, what is left but cinquefoil, thistle,
the paper wings of the dragonfly
aeroplaning the soul with a sudden blue hilarity?
If I get the story right, desire is continuous,
equatorial. There is still so much
I want to know: what you believe
can never be removed from us,
what you dreamed on Walnut Street
in the unanswerable dark of your childhood,
learning pleasure on your own.
Tell me our story: are we impetuous,
are we kind to each other, do we surrender
to what the mind cannot think past?
Where is the evidence I will learn
to be good at loving?
The black dog orbits the horseshoe pond
for treefrogs in their plangent emergencies.
There are violet hills,
there is the covenant of duskbirds.
The moon comes over the mountain
like a big peach, and I want to tell you
what I couldn’t say the night we rushed
North, how I love the seriousness of your fingers
and the way you go into yourself,
calling my half-name like a secret.
I stand between taproot and treespire.
Here is the compass rose
to help me live through this.
Here are twelve ways of knowing
what blooms even in the blindness
of such longing. Yellow oxeye,
viper’s bugloss with its set of pink arms
pleading do not forget me.
We hunger for eloquence.
We measure the isopleths.
I am visiting my life with reckless plenitude.
The air is fragrant with tiny strawberries.
Fireflies turn on their electric wills:
an effulgence. Let me come back
whole, let me remember how to touch you
before it is too late.


Welcome to the Summer Solstice.  Only seven hours of darkness tonight.  The sun has been up since a little after five this morning, and it isn't going to completely disappear until well past ten o'clock tonight. 

I find myself really happy today.  Perhaps it's all the sun.  The prospect of this long, long day day of light.  I'm not sure.  But, I will take this happiness without fretting about its genesis.

Saint Marty is ready to dance naked under the setting sun.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

June 20: Sage Ejaculation, Infest the Country, Children

But, as yet, Stubb heeded not the mumblings of the banquet that was going on so nigh him, no more than the sharks heeded the smacking of his own epicurean lips.

"Cook, cook!- where's that old Fleece?" he cried at length, widening his legs still further, as if to form a more secure base for his supper; and, at the same time darting his fork into the dish, as if stabbing with his lance; "cook, you cook!- sail this way, cook!"

The old black, not in any very high glee at having been previously roused from his warm hammock at a most unseasonable hour, came shambling along from his galley, for, like many old blacks, there was something the matter with his knee-pans, which he did not keep well scoured like his other pans; this old Fleece, as they called him, came shuffling and limping along, assisting his step with his tongs, which, after a clumsy fashion, were made of straightened iron hoops; this old Ebony floundered along, and in obedience to the word of command, came to a dead stop on the opposite side of Stubb's sideboard; when, with both hands folded before him, and resting on his two-legged cane, he bowed his arched back still further over, at the same time sideways inclining his head, so as to bring his best ear into play.

"Cook," said Stubb, rapidly lifting a rather reddish morsel to his mouth, "don't you think this steak is rather overdone? You've been beating this steak too much, cook; it's too tender. Don't I always say that to be good, a whale-steak must be tough? There are those sharks now over the side, don't you see they prefer it tough and rare? What a shindy they are kicking up! Cook, go and talk to 'em; tell 'em they are welcome to help themselves civilly, and in moderation, but they must keep quiet. Blast me, if I can hear my own voice. Away, cook, and deliver my message. Here, take this lantern," snatching one from his sideboard; "now then, go and preach to them!"

Sullenly taking the offered lantern, old Fleece limped across the deck to the bulwarks; and then, with one hand drooping his light low over the sea, so as to get a good view of his congregation, with the other hand he solemnly flourished his tongs, and leaning far over the side in a mumbling voice began addressing the sharks, while Stubb, softly crawling behind, overheard all that was said.

"Fellow-critters: I'se ordered here to say dat you must stop dat dam noise dare. You hear? Stop dat dam smackin' ob de lips! Massa Stubb say dat you can fill your dam bellies up to de hatchings, but by Gor! you must stop dat dam racket!"

"Cook," here interposed Stubb, accompanying the word with a sudden slap on the shoulder,- "cook! why, damn your eyes, you mustn't swear that way when you're preaching. That's no way to convert sinners, cook!"

"Who dat? Den preach to him yourself," sullenly turning to go.

"No, cook; go on, go on."

"Well, den, Belubed fellow-critters:"-

"Right!" exclaimed Stubb, approvingly, "coax 'em to it, try that," and Fleece continued.
"Do you is all sharks, and by natur wery woracious, yet I zay to you, fellow-critters, dat dat woraciousness- 'top dat dam slappin' ob de tail! How you tink to hear, 'spose you keep up such a dam slapping and bitin' dare?"

"Cook," cried Stubb, collaring him, "I won't have that swearing. Talk to 'em gentlemanly."

Once more the sermon proceeded.

"Your woraciousness, fellow-critters. I don't blame ye so much for; dat is natur, and can't be helped; but to gobern dat wicked natur, dat is de pint. You is sharks, sartin; but if you gobern de shark in you, why den you be angel; for all angel is not'ing more dan de shark well goberned. Now, look here, bred'ren, just try wonst to be cibil, a helping yourselbs from dat whale. Don't be tearin' de blubber out your neighbour's mout, I say. Is not one shark dood right as toder to dat whale? And, by Gor, none on you has de right to dat whale; dat whale belong to some one else. I know some o' you has berry brig mout, brigger dan oders; but then de brig mouts sometimes has de small bellies; so dat de brigness of de mout is not to swaller wid, but to bit off de blubber for de small fry ob sharks, dat can't get into de scrouge to help demselves."

"Well done, old Fleece!" cried Stubb, "that's Christianity; go on."

"No use goin' on; de dam willains will keep a scougin' and slappin' each oder, Massa Stubb; dey don't hear one word; no use a-preaching to such dam g'uttons as you call 'em, till dare bellies is full, and dare bellies is bottomless; and when dey do get 'em full, dey wont hear you den; for den dey sink in the sea, go fast to sleep on de coral, and can't hear noting at all, no more, for eber and eber."

"Upon my soul, I am about of the same opinion; so give the benediction, Fleece, and I'll away to my supper."

Upon this, Fleece, holding both hands over the fishy mob, raised his shrill voice, and cried-
"Cussed fellow-critters! Kick up de damndest row as ever you can; fill your dam bellies 'till dey bust- and den die."

"Now, cook," said Stubb, resuming his supper at the capstan; "stand just where you stood before, there, over against me, and pay particular attention."

"All 'dention," said Fleece, again stooping over upon his tongs in the desired position.

"Well," said Stubb, helping himself freely meanwhile; "I shall now go back to the subject of this steak. In the first place, how old are you, cook?"

"What dat do wid de 'teak, " said the old black, testily.

"Silence! How old are you, cook?"

"'Bout ninety, dey say," he gloomily muttered.

"And you have lived in this world hard upon one hundred years, cook, and don't know yet how to cook a whale-steak?" rapidly bolting another mouthful at the last word, so that morsel seemed a continuation of the question. "Where were you born, cook?"

"'Hind de hatchway, in ferry-boat, goin' ober de Roanoke."

"Born in a ferry-boat! That's queer, too. But I want to know what country you were born in, cook!"

"Didn't I say de Roanoke country?" he cried sharply.

"No, you didn't, cook; but I'll tell you what I'm coming to, cook. You must go home and be born over again; you don't know how to cook a whale-steak yet."

"Bress my soul, if I cook noder one," he growled, angrily, turning round to depart.

"Come back here, cook;- here, hand me those tongs;- now take that bit of steak there, and tell me if you think that steak cooked as it should be? Take it, I say"- holding the tongs towards him- "take it, and taste it."

Faintly smacking his withered lips over it for a moment, the old negro muttered, "Best cooked 'teak I eber taste; joosy, berry joosy."

"Cook," said Stubb, squaring himself once more; "do you belong to the church?"

"Passed one once in Cape-Down," said the old man sullenly.

"And you have once in your life passed a holy church in Cape-Town, where you doubtless overheard a holy parson addressing his hearers as his beloved fellow-creatures, have you, cook! And yet you come here, and tell me such a dreadful lie as you did just now, eh?" said Stubb. "Where do you expect to go to, cook?"

"Go to bed berry soon," he mumbled, half-turning as he spoke.

"Avast! heave to! I mean when you die, cook. It's an awful question. Now what's your answer?"

"When dis old brack man dies," said the negro slowly, changing his whole air and demeanor, "he hisself won't go nowhere; but some bressed angel will come and fetch him."

"Fetch him? How? In a coach and four, as they fetched Elijah? And fetch him where?"

"Up dere," said Fleece, holding his tongs straight over his head, and keeping it there very solemnly.

"So, then, you expect to go into our main-top, do you, cook, when you are dead? But don't you know the higher you climb, the colder it gets? Main-top, eh?"

"Didn't say dat t'all," said Fleece, again in the sulks.

"You said up there, didn't you? and now look yourself, and see where your tongs are pointing. But, perhaps you expect to get into heaven by crawling through the lubber's hole, cook; but, no, no, cook, you don't get there, except you go the regular way, round by the rigging. It's a ticklish business, but must be done, or else it's no go. But none of us are in heaven yet. Drop your tongs, cook, and hear my orders. Do ye hear? Hold your hat in one hand, and clap t'other a'top of your heart, when I'm giving my orders, cook. What! that your heart, there?- that's your gizzard! Aloft! aloft!- that's it- now you have it. Hold it there now, and pay attention."

"All 'dention," said the old black, with both hands placed as desired, vainly wriggling his grizzled head, as if to get both ears in front at one and the same time.

"Well then, cook, you see this whale-steak of yours was so very bad, that have put it out of sight as soon as possible; you see that, don't you? Well, for the future, when you cook another whale-steak for my private table here, the capstan, I'll tell you what to do so as not to spoil it by overdoing. Hold the steak in one hand, and show a live coal to it with the other; that done, dish it; d'ye hear? And now to-morrow, cook, when we are cutting in the fish, be sure you stand by to get the tips of his fins; have them put in pickle. As for the ends of the flukes, have them soused, cook. There, now ye may go."

But Fleece had hardly got three paces off, when he was recalled.

"Cook, give me cutlets for supper to-morrow night in the mid-watch. D'ye hear? away you sail then.- Halloa! stop! make a bow before you go.- Avast heaving again! Whale-balls for breakfast- don't forget."

"Wish, by gor! whale eat him, 'stead of him eat whale. I'm bressed if he ain't more of shark dan Massa Shark hisself," muttered the old man, limping away; with which sage ejaculation he went to his hammock.

Yes, I know this is a long passage, but I couldn't find a good place to cut it.  The whole scene smacks of 19th-century racism.  Fleece is a caricature.  An old, uneducated, superstitious black man whom Melville plays for cheap laughs.  Fleece is 90-years-old, and Stubb is treating him like a child.  It is not one of the book's greatest moments.  It almost reads like a minstrel show.

I point these things out because it drives home the point I'm trying to make today--the type of racism exhibited in this chapter is indicative of a huge problem.  A book that's universally hailed as one of the greatest American novels ever written is riddled with racial stereotypes.  Racism is a problem that runs deep in the United States.

Today, Donald Trump reversed his policy of separating illegal immigrant children from their parents.  These kids are being housed in facilities that basically resemble kennels--chain link fences, cement slabs, several children to a cage.  It's despicable, and the President of the United States, until today, has defended the practice, saying immigrants "pour" across the borders and "infest the country."  That's right, folks, he's making an analogy that was used in Germany more than 70 years ago to justify the Holocaust.  Donald Trump is dehumanizing people to justify his actions.  It's right out of the Nazi playbook.

Now, I know you're probably hearing about this situation from all over--newspapers, television, social media, friends, family members.  I don't know on what side of the political spectrum you fall.  I don't care, really.  I grew up in a highly Republican household.  The only Democrat my father ever voted for in his entire life was John F. Kennedy.  In the 2016 Presidential election, he voted for Donald Trump.  People whom I care very deeply about are Republicans.

This isn't about Republican or Democrat.  It really isn't.  It's about little kids.  Scared.  Crying.  Traumatized.  If small children were found in cages in your neighbor's backyard, you'd call the police.  That neighbor would be arrested, put in jail, and imprisoned for child abuse, among other things.  That is a fact.  Yet, when the President of the United States does the same thing, he's "making America great again."

Sadly, this isn't something new for the United States of America.  Ask Native Americans and African Americans.  Or Japanese Americans.  Call them what you want--reservations, plantations, or internment camps--my country has a habit of incarcerating people (including American citizens) who it considers threats to national security.  Most of these people were non-white or non-Christian.  People who didn't look like "us."

I am ashamed of my country right now.  We have become what we are supposed to hate.  And there are people using the Bible to defend this.  Let me be clear on this:  people who think the Bible encourages the victimization of children are not followers of Christ.  They are not defenders of family values.  They are hypocrites and liars, more demagogues than disciples.

I apologize for the bluntness of this post.  I think the time for subtlety has passed.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight that his children are safe and secure and loved, and he prays that ALL children have the same security, the same safety, and the same love.