Monday, July 30, 2018

July 30: Heads or Tails, Religious Liberty Task Force, Jeff Sessions

"De balena vero sufficit, si rex habeat caput, et regina caudam." BRACTON, L. 3, C. 3.

Latin from the books of the Laws of England, which taken along with the context, means, that of all whales captured by anybody on the coast of that land, the King, as Honorary Grand Harpooneer, must have the head, and the Queen be respectfully presented with the tail. A division which, in the whale, is much like halving an apple; there is no intermediate remainder. Now as this law, under a modified form, is to this day in force in England; and as it offers in various respects a strange anomaly touching the general law of Fast- and Loose-Fish, it is here treated of in a separate chapter, on the same courteous principle that prompts the English railways to be at the expense of a separate car, specially reserved for the accommodation of royalty. In the first place, in curious proof of the fact that the above-mentioned law is still in force, I proceed to lay before you a circumstance-that happened within the last two years.

It seems that some honest mariners of Dover, or Sandwich, or some one of the Cinque Ports, had after a hard chase succeeded in killing and beaching a fine whale which they had originally descried afar off from the shore. Now the Cinque Ports are partially or somehow under the jurisdiction of a sort of policeman or beadle, called a Lord Warden. Holding the office directly from the crown, I believe, all the royal emoluments incident to the Cinque Port territories become by assignment his. By some writers this office is called a sinecure. But not so. Because the Lord Warden is busily employed at times in fobbing his perquisites; which are his chiefly by virtue of that same fobbing of them.

Now when these poor sun-burnt mariners, bare-footed, and with their trowsers rolled high up on their eely legs, had wearily hauled their fat fish high and dry, promising themselves a good L150 from the precious oil and bone; and in fantasy sipping rare tea with their wives, and good ale with their cronies, upon the strength of their respective shares; up steps a very learned and most Christian and charitable gentleman, with a copy of Blackstone under his arm; and laying it upon the whale's head, he says- "Hands off! this fish, my masters, is a Fast-Fish. I seize it as the Lord Warden's." Upon this the poor mariners in their respectful consternation- so truly English- knowing not what to say, fall to vigorously scratching their heads all round; meanwhile ruefully glancing from the whale to the stranger. But that did in nowise mend the matter, or at all soften the hard heart of the learned gentleman with the copy of Blackstone. At length one of them, after long scratching about for his ideas, made bold to speak,

"Please, sir, who is the Lord Warden?"

"The Duke."

"But the duke had nothing to do with taking this fish?"

"It is his."

"We have been at great trouble, and peril, and some expense, and is all that to go to the Duke's benefit; we getting nothing at all for our pains but our blisters?"

"It is his."

"Is the Duke so very poor as to be forced to this desperate mode of getting a livelihood?"

"It is his."

"I thought to relieve my old bed-ridden mother by part of my share of this whale."

"It is his."

"Won't the Duke be content with a quarter or a half?"

"It is his."

In a word, the whale was seized and sold, and his Grace the Duke of Wellington received the money. Thinking that viewed in some particular lights, the case might by a bare possibility in some small degree be deemed, under the circumstances, a rather hard one, ali honest clergyman of the town respectfully addressed a note to his Grace, begging him to take the case of those unfortunate mariners into full consideration. To which my Lord Duke in substance replied (both letters were published) that he had already done so, and received the money, and would be obliged to the reverend gentleman if for the future he (the reverend gentleman) would decline meddling with other people's business. Is this the still militant old man, standing at the corners of the three kingdoms, on all hands coercing alms of beggars?

It will readily be seen that in this case the alleged right of the Duke to the whale was a delegated one from the Sovereign. We must needs inquire then on what principle the Sovereign is originally invested with that right. The law itself has already been set forth. But Plowdon gives us the reason for it. Says Plowdon, the whale so caught belongs to the King and Queen, "because of its superior excellence." And by the soundest commentators this has ever been held a cogent argument in such matters.

But why should the King have the head, and the Queen the tail? A reason for that, ye lawyers!

In his treatise on "Queen-Gold," or Queen-pin-money, an old King's Bench author, one William Prynne, thus discourseth: "Ye tail is ye Queen's, that ye Queen's wardrobe may be supplied with ye whalebone." Now this was written at a time when the black limber bone of the Greenland or Right whale was largely used in ladies' bodices. But this same bone is not in the tail; it is in the head, which is a sad mistake for a sagacious lawyer like Prynne. But is the Queen a mermaid, to be presented with a tail? An allegorical meaning may lurk here.

There are two royal fish so styled by the English law writers- the whale and the sturgeon; both royal property under certain limitations, and nominally supplying the tenth branch of the crown's ordinary revenue. I know not that any other author has hinted of the matter; but by inference it seems to me that the sturgeon must be divided in the same way as the whale, the King receiving the highly dense and elastic head peculiar to that fish, which, symbolically regarded, may possibly be humorously grounded upon some presumed congeniality. And thus there seems a reason in all things, even in law.

So, this chapter is all about a law that makes no sense.  The king gets the head of the whale; the queen gets the tail.  Yes, Melville expends much energy in explaining the reasons behind this seemingly arbitrary doctrine.  Despite his best efforts, however, Melville doesn't really convince me that this law makes any sense, whatsoever.

Of course, there's a whole lot going on in the United States right now that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, especially when it comes to the federal government and the Justice Department.  Just this afternoon, I read that Attorney General Jeff Session established a "religious liberty task force" because, as he stated, "the cultural climate in this country--and in the West more generally--has become less hospitable to people of faith in recent years, and as a result many Americans have felt their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack."

Of course, what Sessions is doing is trying to defend discrimination against, among others, members of the LGTBQ community on the basis of religion.  Thus, the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple will now be protected under the Trump Justice Department.  Businesses that refuse to provide access to legitimate healthcare treatment for women (for example, birth control) on the basis of faith would also be safe under this religious liberty task force.

I find this move alarming on many levels.  I believe in freedom of religion.  I don't care whether a person is atheist or Jewish or Catholic or Muslim.  They should all be allowed to practice their beliefs freely, without government interference.  But I also believe in the separation of church and state--a fundamental doctrine in the United States almost since its inception.  Remember, many of the earliest European settlers who came to North America did so to escape religious persecution.

So, no branch of government has any place in the practice of religion in this country.  And no religion has any place in any branch of government.  Today, Jeff Sessions has opened the door to legitimizing discrimination based on faith.  He has brought church and state together, and the founders of this country are rolling over in their graves.

Now, some people are jumping all over religions, blaming them for this new task force.  That would be a mistake, as well.  This religious liberty task force is the brainchild of Jeff Sessions and the entire Donald Trump regime, who have proven over and over that they condone racism, misogyny, homophobia, and Islamophobia in the name of patriotism.  They use the Bible as a tool for their hatred.  They are perverting the essential messages of Christianity to further their agenda.

So, I don't agree with Jeff Sessions or his boss.  But you can't blame Christianity for the state of this country.  It's not God's fault.  It's wrong-headed men and women.  Let's keep that in mind.  Terrible things have perpetrated on humankind and the planet in the name of science, as well.  I don't blame all of science for the practice of lobotomy, which was widespread in the first half of the 20th century.

It's easy to blame an entire religion for the actions of the Trump White House.  But that would be like blaming every Muslim for the bombing of the World Trade Centers.  It just doesn't work that way.

Saint Marty is thankful today for religion and government--and never the twain shall meet.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

July 29: A Little Story, Armistice 1918, a Hero, "In Memoriam"

Greetings, friends.

I just returned from a little sojourn in Calumet, Michigan, where I performed in The Red Jacket Jamboree at the Calumet Theatre.  It was a wonderful weekend, working with a lot of musicians and artists and actors who have become really good friends of mine.

Usually, on Sundays, I include a Classic Saint Marty post.  Today, I'm not going to do that.  Instead, I want to tell you a little story . . .

One of the shows we did last night in Calumet was a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Armistice that ended World War I.  I found the entire experience profoundly moving.  There was music from the era.  News from the era.  I did a tribute to Wilfred Owen, one of the greatest poets of the war.  Read one of Owen's poems.  And I read a poem of my own that I wrote on Memorial Day many years ago.

At the end of the performance, I was a bundle of emotions.  As I was standing near the stage, speaking with my family afterward, a man approached me.

He was probably in his late sixties, large and bearded.  He was wearing a leather vest that you might see on motorcyclists.  On the vest, patches were sewn.  Some were military patches, identifying the man as a Vietnam War veteran.  He was obviously struggling to control his emotions, but I could tell he was close to tears.  His face was red, and his eyes were wet.

We looked at each other for a few moments, and then I said, "Thank you for your service."

He nodded and said, "I want to thank you for that poem."  He stopped, started crying, then regained control of himself again.  He pointed to a patch on his vest.  "I lost a lot of buddies over there . . . and . . . I just want . . . to thank you for that poem."  And he started crying again.

I nodded.  Put my hand on his shoulder.  He continued to cry.  Then, I reached out and hugged him.

After a few moments, he took a deep breath and stepped back from me.  "You don't know how much that meant," he said.

I looked him in the eyes, and I said, "Thank you for coming tonight."

He nodded, turned, and walked up the aisle.

So, tonight, I'm feeling incredibly humbled by my encounter with that gentleman.

Saint Marty is thankful he met a real hero last night.

Here is the poem:

In Memoriam

I take my two-year-old son
To the cemetery this Memorial Day,
Walk him around gravestones
As local war veterans conduct
A service solemn as evening rain,
As a high school band plays
Stars and Stripes Forever,
As the local Methodist pastor
Talks of ultimate sacrifice.
I remain a respectful distance away
So my son's screams won't
Disrupt the placing of wreaths,
The recognition of the Gold Star mother,
A woman whose son bled
To death in a jungle over 40 years ago.
On this day, in this place,
Her grief is fresh, delicate
As the white rose pinned
To the lapel of her jacket.
I lift my son into my arms
When I see the honor guards
Shoulder their rifles and aim.
I whisper in my son's ear,
Warn him of the noise to follow.
He still flinches, jumps
When the guns crack.
Seven of them.  Three times.
I hold my son close, as if I need
To protect him from some unseen
Enemy.  The trumpet begins
To play for the dead.  My son squirms,
Wants down, wants to run,
Collect fistfuls of dandelions.
I struggle to keep him still
Until the music ends,
Until the horn's last notes fade
In the gray morning.  My son
Kicks, pushes, yells until even
The Gold Star mother turns, looks
At us.  I surrender, put my son down.
I watch him race away from me,
Laughing among the stones,
The rows of waving flags.
Happy.  Free.

Friday, July 27, 2018

July 27: Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish, Trump Presidency, Diversity

The allusion to the waif-poles in the last chapter but one, necessitates some account of the laws and regulations of the whale fishery, of which the waif may be deemed the grand symbol and badge.

It frequently happens that when several ships are cruising in company, a whale may be struck by one vessel, then escape, and be finally killed and captured by another vessel; and herein are indirectly comprised many minor contingencies, all partaking of this one grand feature. For example,- after a weary and perilous chase and capture of a whale, the body may get loose from the ship by reason of a violent storm; and drifting far away to leeward, be retaken by a second whaler, who, in a calm, snugly tows it alongside, without risk of life or line. Thus the most vexatious and violent disputes would often arise between the fishermen, were there not some written or unwritten, universal, undisputed law applicable to all cases.

Perhaps the only formal whaling code authorized by legislative enactment, was that of Holland. It was decreed by the States-General in A.D. 1695. But though no other nation has ever had any written whaling law, yet the American fishermen have been their own legislators and lawyers in this matter. They have provided a system which for terse comprehensiveness surpasses Justinian's Pandects and the By-laws of the Chinese Society for the Suppression of Meddling with other People's Business. Yes; these laws might be engraven on a Queen Anne's forthing, or the barb of a harpoon, and worn round the neck, so small are they.

I. A Fast-Fish belongs to the party fast to it.

II. A Loose-Fish is fair game for anybody who can soonest catch it.

But what plays the mischief with this masterly code is the admirable brevity of it, which necessitates a vast volume of commentaries to expound it.

First: What is a Fast-Fish? Alive or dead a fish is technically fast, when it is connected with an occupied ship or boat, by any medium at all controllable by the occupant or occupants,- a mast, an oar, a nine-inch cable, a telegraph wire, or a strand of cobweb, it is all the same. Likewise a fish is technically fast when it bears a waif, or any other recognized symbol of possession; so long as the party wailing it plainly evince their ability at any time to take it alongside, as well as their intention so to do.

These are scientific commentaries; but the commentaries of the whalemen themselves sometimes consist in hard words and harder knocks- the Coke-upon-Littleton of the fist. True, among the more upright and honorable whalemen allowances are always made for peculiar cases, where it would be an outrageous moral injustice for one party to claim possession of a whale previously chased or killed by another party. But others are by no means so scrupulous.

Some fifty years ago there was a curious case of whale-trover litigated in England, wherein the plaintiffs set forth that after a hard chase of a whale in the Northern seas; and when indeed they (the plaintiffs) had succeeded in harpooning the fish; they were at last, through peril of their lives, obliged to forsake not only their lines, but their boat itself. Ultimately the defendants (the crew of another ship) came up with the whale, struck, killed, seized, and finally appropriated it before the very eyes of the plaintiffs. And when those defendants were remonstrated with, their captain snapped his fingers in the plaintiffs' teeth, and assured them that by way of doxology to the deed he had done, he would now retain their line, harpoons, and boat, which had remained attached to the whale at the time of the seizure. Wherefore the plaintiffs now sued for the recovery of the value of their whale, line, harpoons, and boat.

Mr. Erskine was counsel for the defendants; Lord Ellenborough was the judge. In the course of the defence, the witty Erskine went on to illustrate his position, by alluding to a recent crim. con. case, wherein a gentleman, after in vain trying to bridle his wife's viciousness, had at last abandoned her upon the seas of life; but in the course of years, repenting of that step, he instituted an action to recover possession of her. Erskine was on the other side; and he then supported it by saying, that though the gentleman had originally harpooned the lady, and had once had her fast, and only by reason of the great stress of her plunging viciousness, had at last abandoned her; yet abandon her he did, so that she became a loose-fish; and therefore when a subsequent gentleman re-harpooned her, the lady then became that subsequent gentleman's property, along with whatever harpoon might have been found sticking in her.

Now in the present case Erskine contended that the examples of the whale and the lady were reciprocally illustrative to each other.

These pleadings, and the counter pleadings, being duly heard, the very learned Judge in set terms decided, to wit,- That as for the boat, he awarded it to the plaintiffs, because they had merely abandoned it to save their lives; but that with regard to the controverted whale, harpoons, and line, they belonged to the defendants; the whale, because it was a Loose-Fish at the time of the final capture; and the harpoons and line because when the fish made off with them, it (the fish) acquired a property in those articles; and hence anybody who afterwards took the fish had a right to them. Now the defendants afterwards took the fish; ergo, the aforesaid articles were theirs.

A common man looking at this decision of the very learned Judge, might possibly object to it. But ploughed up to the primary rock of the matter, the two great principles laid down in the twin whaling laws previously quoted, and applied and elucidated by Lord Ellenborough in the above cited case; these two laws touching Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish, I say, will on reflection, be found the fundamentals of all human jurisprudence; for notwithstanding its complicated tracery of sculpture, the Temple of the Law, like the Temple of the Philistines, has but two props to stand on.

Is it not a saying in every one's mouth, Possession is half of the law: that is, regardless of how the thing came into possession? But often possession is the whole of the law. What are the sinews and souls of Russian serfs and Republican slaves but Fast-Fish, whereof possession is the whole of the law? What to the rapacious landlord is the widow's last mite but a Fast-Fish? What is yonder undetected villain's marble mansion with a doorplate for a waif; what is that but a Fast-Fish? What is the ruinous discount which Mordecai, the broker, gets from the poor Woebegone, the bankrupt, on a loan to keep Woebegone's family from starvation; what is that ruinous discount but a Fast-Fish? What is the Archbishop of Savesoul's income of L100,000 seized from the scant bread and cheese of hundreds of thousands of broken-backed laborers (all sure of heaven without any of Savesoul's help) what is that globular 100,000 but a Fast-Fish. What are the Duke of Dunder's hereditary towns and hamlets but Fast-Fish? What to that redoubted harpooneer, John Bull, is poor Ireland, but a Fast-Fish?  What to that apostolic lancer, Brother Jonathan, is Texas but a Fast-Fish? And concerning all these, is not Possession the whole of the law?

But if the doctrine of Fast-Fish be pretty generally applicable, the kindred doctrine of Loose-Fish is still more widely so. That is internationally and universally applicable.

What was America in 1492 but a Loose-Fish, in which Columbus struck the Spanish standard by way of wailing it for his royal master and mistress? What was Poland to the Czar? What Greece to the Turk? What India to England? What at last will Mexico be to the United States? All Loose-Fish.

What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish? What all men's minds and opinions but Loose-Fish? What is the principle of religious belief in them but a Loose-Fish? What to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers but Loose-Fish? What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish? And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?

Melville has covered almost every subject possible in the novel so far.  Anatomy of the whale.  Myth of the whale.  Biology of the whale.  Religion and the whale.  In this chapter, he tackles law and the whale.  The information is fairly straightforward.  It can be summed up with one simple phrase:  possession is half the law.  Melville uses this dictum to cover not only whaling, but near the end of the chapter, he justifies colonialism with this rule.  The Spanish own North America.  Russia owns Poland.  Turkey owns Greece.  England owns India.  It's that simple.  Of course, history has not necessarily supported Melville's argument.  Ask Gandhi.

And where does this chapter lead me tonight?  I am sitting in a hotel room in Calumet, Michigan.  Tomorrow night, I will be performing at the Calumet Theatre in the Red Jacket Jamboree.  So, my day was spent in travel and rehearsal.  I'm a little beat.  But I have some writing and reading to do before I go to bed tonight.

There is a lot of turmoil in the United States at the moment.  Thankfully, I live in an area of the country that has not really felt a lot of the effects of the Trump presidency.  Not that there haven't been isolated incidents of racism and hatred in my little corner of the Upper Peninsula.  Right after the 2016 election, an African American woman was verbally attacked in the Walmart parking lot, told that she was going to be "sent back where she came from."  Right around the same time, I took my son to McDonald's, and he found graffiti scribbled inside the play structure:  "Fuck Hillary Clinton."

The funny thing is, if we applied the Fast-Fish/Loose-Fish law in the United States appropriately, then this country belongs to the Native Americans.  Every square inch of it.  We (anyone not indigenous to North America) are the law-breakers.  We stole this country.  Plain and simple.

Of course, this statement is not a revelation.  I'm not being particularly brilliant or subversive.  Native Americans have been making this argument for centuries.  But, for any person who thinks that the United States belongs to white Christians, I have to point out that you're wrong.  You weren't here first.  Your ancestors probably came here on a boat--refugees if you will--and made a new life in this place.  Just like Mexicans and Syrians.  And these ancestors did terrible things to Native Americans, including genocide.

So, the next time you say that illegal immigrants are all rapists and drug dealers, remember one thing:  unless you are Native American, you are an illegal immigrant. 

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for diversity.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

July 26: Schools and Schoolmasters, Poetry Reading, Old Bull

The previous chapter gave account of an immense body or herd of Sperm Whales, and there was also then given the probable cause inducing those vast aggregations.

Now, though such great bodies are at times encountered, yet, as must have been seen, even at the present day, small detached bands are occasionally observed, embracing from twenty to fifty individuals each. Such bands are known as schools. They generally are of two sorts; those composed almost entirely of females, and those mustering none but young vigorous males, or bulls as they are familiarly designated.

In cavalier attendance upon the school of females, you invariably see a male of full grown magnitude, but not old; who, upon any alarm, evinces his gallantry by falling in the rear and covering the flight of his ladies. In truth, this gentleman is a luxurious Ottoman, swimming about over the watery world, surroundingly accompanied by all the solaces and endearments of the harem. The contrast between this Ottoman and his concubines is striking; because, while he is always of the largest leviathanic proportions, the ladies, even at full growth, are not more than one-third of the bulk of an average-sized male. They are comparatively delicate, indeed; I dare say, not to exceed half a dozen yards round the waist. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied, that upon the whole they are hereditarily entitled to embonpoint.

It is very curious to watch this harem and its lord in their indolent ramblings. Like fashionables, they are for ever on the move in leisurely search of variety. You meet them on the Line in time for the full flower of the Equatorial feeding season, having just returned, perhaps, from spending the summer in the Northern seas, and so cheating summer of all unpleasant weariness and warmth. By the time they have lounged up and down the promenade of the Equator awhile, they start for the Oriental waters in anticipation of the cool season there, and so evade the other excessive temperature of the year.

When serenely advancing on one of these journeys, if any strange suspicious sights are seen, my lord whale keeps a wary eye on his interesting family. Should any unwarranted pert young Leviathan coming that way, presume to draw confidentially close to one of the ladies, with what prodigious fury the Bashaw assails him, and chases him away! High times, indeed, if unprincipled young rakes like him are to be permitted to invade the sanctity of domestic bliss; though do what the Bashaw will, he cannot keep the most notorious Lothario out of his bed; for alas! all fish bed in common. As ashore, the ladies often cause the most terrible duels among their rival admirers; just so with the whales, who sometimes come to deadly battle, and all for love. They fence with their long lower jaws, sometimes locking them together, and so striving for the supremacy like elks that warringly interweave their antlers. Not a few are captured having the deep scars of these encounters,- furrowed heads, broken teeth, scolloped fins; and in some instances, wrenched and dislocated mouths.

But supposing the invader of domestic bliss to betake himself away at the first rush of the harem's lord, then is it very diverting to watch that lord. Gently he insinuates his vast bulk among them again and revels there awhile, still in tantalizing vicinity to young Lothario, like pious Solomon devoutly worshipping among his thousand concubines. Granting other whales to be in sight, the fisherman will seldom give chase to one of these Grand Turks; for these Grand Turks are too lavish of their strength, and hence their unctuousness is small. As for the sons and daughters they beget, why, those sons and daughters must take care of themselves; at least, with only the maternal help. For like certain other omnivorous roving lovers that might be named, my Lord Whale has no taste for the nursery, however much for the bower; and so, being a great traveller, he leaves his anonymous babies all over the world; every baby an exotic. In good time, nevertheless, as the ardor of youth declines; as years and dumps increase; as reflection lends her solemn pauses; in short, as a general lassitude overtakes the sated Turk; then a love of ease and virtue supplants the love for maidens; our Ottoman enters upon the impotent, repentant, admonitory stage of life, forswears, disbands the harem, and grown to an exemplary, sulky old soul, goes about all alone among the meridians and parallels saying his prayers, and warning each young Leviathan from his amorous errors.

Now, as the harem of whales is called by the fishermen a school, so is the lord and master of that school technically known as the schoolmaster. It is therefore not in strict character, however admirably satirical, that after going to school himself, he should then go abroad inculcating not what he learned there, but the folly of it. His title, schoolmaster, would very naturally seem derived from the name bestowed upon the harem itself, but some have surmised that the man who first thus entitled this sort of Ottoman whale, must have read the memoirs of Vidocq, and informed himself what sort of a country-schoolmaster that famous Frenchman was in his younger days, and what was the nature of those occult lessons he inculcated into some of his pupils.

The same secludedness and isolation to which the schoolmaster whale betakes himself in his advancing years, is true of all aged Sperm Whales. Almost universally, a lone whale- as a solitary Leviathan is called- proves an ancient one. Like venerable moss-bearded Daniel Boone, he will have no one near him but Nature herself; and her he takes to wife in the wilderness of waters, and the best of wives she is, though she keeps so many moody secrets.

The schools composing none but young and vigorous males, previously mentioned, offer a strong contrast to the harem schools. For while those females are characteristically timid, the young males, or forty-barrel-bulls, as they call them, are by far the most pugnacious of all Leviathans, and proverbially the most dangerous to encounter; excepting those wondrous grey-headed, grizzled whales, sometimes met, and these will fight you like grim fiends exasperated by a penal gout.
The Forty-barrel-bull schools are larger than the harem schools. Like a mob of young collegians, they are full of fight, fun, and wickedness, tumbling round the world at such a reckless, rollicking rate, that no prudent underwriter would insure them any more than he would a riotous lad at Yale or Harvard. They soon relinquish this turbulence though, and when about three-fourths grown, break up, and separately go about in quest of settlements, that is, harems.

Another point of difference between the male and female schools is still more characteristic of the sexes. Say you strike a Forty-barrel-bull- poor devil! all his comrades quit him. But strike a member of the harem school, and her companions swim around her with every token of concern, sometimes lingering so near her and so long, as themselves to fall a prey.

Interesting description of a sort of whale mob mentality.  The bulls protect their harems.  The young bulls travel the ocean like aquatic Hell's Angels, looking for trouble.  And, of course, Melville depicts the female whales as docile, subservient concubines, waiting on the needs of the old bull.  It's a fairly typical depiction of women's roles in the 19th century.  Melville is not breaking new ground here.

This evening, I gave a poetry reading at the Carnegie Library.  There were not that many people in the audience, which did not surprise me.  The detail that stuck with me was the fact that, aside from my daughter's boyfriend (and he was sort of forced to attend), there were no other men in the audience.  I'm not sure if this fact reflects a general attitude toward poetry (that it's a fairly feminine pursuit), or that most men are intimidated by the open, raw, emotional nature of poetry.

I was raised by a father who wasn't warm and fuzzy.  I know he loved me, but he didn't express that love to me very often.  He was part of a generation of men who were hard-drinking, flag-waving, John Wayne types.  These guys showed love by working long hours for their families, ushering at church, spending weekends mowing lawns and fixing leaky pipes.

That was my dad.  He was an old bull.  Life of the party.  Fiercely protective of his wife and kids.  And he tried to instill these same virtues in me.  I did pick up a few things from him.  I think I'm a hard worker.  As a father, I can be a little too strict at times.  Get that from my old man, as well.  I push my kids to try to do their best at everything--school, sports, dance, church.  If my daughter comes home with 5 A's and one A-, I ask her what happened with the A- class.

I'm not proud of these behaviors, but I come by them naturally.  Strangely, I am no longer the young bull, riding my motorcycle through the ocean.  I am the old bull now, and my kids remind me of this fact on a daily basis.  I'm not old-fashioned.  In fact, I'm almost the exact opposite of my father when it comes to politics and social issues.  But there's still a very 1950s streak in my mind. 

I don't like it when my daughter questions my decisions, even though she's 17 years old.  Almost an adult.  One of my standard answers has become, "Because I said so."  I HATED it when my father said that to me.  Of course, I rarely had the courage to question his authority.  That would have been like calling John Wayne a coward and slapping him in the face.  Never went there.

So, this old bull still has some learning to do.  Every day, I feel like I've just been handed my newborn daughter, and I'm scared shitless that I might drop her.  I wonder if my father ever felt that way with me.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for kids and poetry.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

July 24: The Grand Armada, Things I'm Chasing, Mowing the Lawn Again

The long and narrow peninsula of Malacca, extending south-eastward from the territories of Birmah, forms the most southerly point of all Asia. In a continuous line from that peninsula stretch the long islands of Sumatra, Java, Bally, and Timor; which, with many others, form a vast mole, or rampart, lengthwise connecting Asia with Australia, and dividing the long unbroken Indian ocean from the thickly studded oriental archipelagoes. This rampart is pierced by several sally-ports for the convenience of ships and whales; conspicuous among which are the straits of Sunda and Malacca. By the straits of Sunda, chiefly, vessels bound to China from the west, emerge into the China seas.

Those narrow straits of Sunda divide Sumatra from Java; and standing midway in that vast rampart of islands, buttressed by that bold green promontory, known to seamen as Java Head; they not a little correspond to the central gateway opening into some vast walled empire: and considering the inexhaustible wealth of spices, and silks, and jewels, and gold, and ivory, with which the thousand islands of that oriental sea are enriched, it seems a significant provision of nature, that such treasures, by the very formation of the land, should at least bear the appearance, however ineffectual, of being guarded from the all-grasping western world. The shores of the Straits of Sunda are unsupplied with those domineering fortresses which guard the entrances to the Mediterranean, the Baltic, and the Propontis. Unlike the Danes, these Orientals do not demand the obsequious homage of lowered top-sails from the endless procession of ships before the wind, which for centuries past, by night and by day, have passed between the islands of Sumatra and Java, freighted with the costliest cargoes of the east. But while they freely waive a ceremonial like this, they do by no means renounce their claim to more solid tribute.

Time out of mind the piratical proas of the Malays, lurking among the low shaded coves and islets of Sumatra, have sallied out upon the vessels sailing through the straits, fiercely demanding tribute at the point of their spears. Though by the repeated bloody chastisements they have received at the hands of European cruisers, the audacity of these corsairs has of late been somewhat repressed; yet, even at the present day, we occasionally hear of English and American vessels, which, in those waters, have been remorselessly boarded and pillaged.

With a fair, fresh wind, the Pequod was now drawing nigh to these straits; Ahab purposing to pass through them into the Java sea, and thence, cruising northwards, over waters known to be frequented here and there by the Sperm Whale, sweep inshore by the Philippine Islands, and gain the far coast of Japan, in time for the great whaling season there. By these means, the circumnavigating Pequod would sweep almost all the known Sperm Whale cruising grounds of the world, previous to descending upon the Line in the Pacific; where Ahab, though everywhere else foiled in his pursuit, firmly counted upon giving battle to Moby Dick, in the sea he was most known to frequent; and at a season when he might most reasonably be presumed to be haunting it.

But how now? in this zoned quest, does Ahab touch no land? does his crew drink air? Surely, he will stop for water. Nay. For a long time, now, the circus-running sun had raced within his fiery ring, and needs no sustenance but what's in himself. So Ahab. Mark this, too, in the whaler. While other hulls are loaded down with alien stuff, to be transferred to foreign wharves; the world-wandering whale-ship carries no cargo but herself and crew, their weapons and their wants. She has a whole lake's contents bottled in her ample hold. She is ballasted with utilities; not altogether with unusable pig-lead and kentledge. She carries years' water in her. Clear old prime Nantucket water; which, when three years afloat, the Nantucketer, in the Pacific, prefers to drink before the brackish fluid, but yesterday rafted off in casks, from the Peruvian or Indian streams. Hence it is, that, while other ships may have gone to China from New York, and back again, touching at a score of ports, the whale-ship, in all that interval, may not have sighted one grain of soil; her crew having seen no man but floating seamen like themselves. So that did you carry them the news that another flood had come; they would only answer- "Well, boys, here's the ark!"

Now, as many Sperm Whales had been captured off the western coast of Java, in the near vicinity of the Straits of Sunda; indeed, as most of the ground, roundabout, was generally recognised by the fishermen as an excellent spot for cruising; therefore, as the Pequod gained more and more upon Java Head, the look-outs were repeatedly hailed, and admonished to keep wide awake. But though the green palmy cliffs of the land soon loomed on the starboard bow, and with delighted nostrils the fresh cinnamon was snuffed in the air, yet not a single jet was descried. Almost renouncing all thought of falling in with any game hereabouts, the ship had well nigh entered the straits, when the customary cheering cry was heard from aloft, and ere long a spectacle of singular magnificence saluted us.

But here be it premised, that owing to the unwearied activity with which of late they have been hunted over all four oceans, the Sperm Whales, instead of almost invariably sailing in small detached companies, as in former times, are now frequently met with in extensive herds, sometimes embracing so great a multitude, that it would almost seem as if numerous nations of them had sworn solemn league and covenant for mutual assistance and protection. To this aggregation of the Sperm Whale into such immense caravans, may be imputed the circumstance that even in the best cruising grounds, you may now sometimes sail for weeks and months together, without being greeted by a single spout; and then be suddenly saluted by what sometimes seems thousands on thousands.

Broad on both bows, at the distance of some two or three miles, and forming a great semicircle, embracing one half of the level horizon, a continuous chain of whale-jets were up-playing and sparkling in the noon-day air. Unlike the straight perpendicular twin-jets of the Right Whale, which, dividing at top, fall over in two branches, like the cleft drooping boughs of a willow, the single forward-slanting spout of the Sperm Whale presents a thick curled bush of white mist, continually rising and falling away to leeward.

Seen from the Pequod's deck, then, as she would rise on a high hill of the sea, this host of vapory spouts, individually curling up into the air, and beheld through a blending atmosphere of bluish haze, showed like the thousand cheerful chimneys of some dense metropolis, descried of a balmy autumnal morning, by some horseman on a height.

As marching armies approaching an unfriendly defile in the mountains, accelerate their march, all eagerness to place that perilous passage in their rear, and once more expand in comparative security upon the plain; even so did this vast fleet of whales now seem hurrying forward through the straits; gradually contracting the wings of their semicircle, and swimming on, in one solid, but still crescentic centre.

Crowding all sail the Pequod pressed after them; the harpooneers handling their weapons, and loudly cheering from the heads of their yet suspended boats. If the wind only held, little doubt had they, that chased through these Straits of Sunda, the vast host would only deploy into the Oriental seas to witness the capture of not a few of their number. And who could tell whether, in that congregated caravan, Moby Dick himself might not temporarily be swimming, like the worshipped white-elephant in the coronation procession of the Siamese! So with stun-sail piled on stun-sail, we sailed along, driving these leviathans before us; when, of a sudden, the voice of Tashtego was heard, loudly directing attention to something in our wake.

Corresponding to the crescent in our van, we beheld another in the rear. It seemed formed of detached white vapors, rising and falling something like the spouts of the whales; only they did not so completely come and go; for they constantly hovered, without finally disappearing. Levelling his glass at this sight, Ahab quickly revolved in his pivot-hole, crying, "Aloft there, and rig whips and buckets to wet the sail;- Malays, sir, and after us!"

As if too long lurking behind the headlands, till the Pequod should fairly have entered the straits, these rascally Asiatics were now in hot pursuit, to make up for their over-cautious delay. But when the swift Pequod, with a fresh leading wind, was herself in hot chase; how very kind of these tawny philanthropists to assist in speeding her on to her own chosen pursuit,- mere riding-whips and rowels to her, that they were. As with glass under arm, Ahab to-and-fro paced the deck; in his forward turn beholding the monsters he chased, and in the after one the bloodthirsty pirates chasing him; some such fancy as the above seemed his. And when he glanced upon the green walls of the watery defile in which the ship was then sailing, and bethought him that through that gate lay the route to his vengeance, and beheld, how that through that same gate he was now both chasing and being chased to his deadly end; and not only that, but a herd of remorseless wild pirates and inhuman atheistical devils were infernally cheering him on with their curses;- when all these conceits had passed through his brain, Ahab's brow was left gaunt and ribbed, like the black sand beach after some stormy tide had been gnawing it, without being able to drag the firm thing from its place.

But thoughts like these troubled very few of the reckless crew; and when, after steadily dropping and dropping the pirates astern, the Pequod at last shot by the vivid green Cockatoo Point on the Sumatra side, emerging at last upon the broad waters beyond; then, the harpooneers seemed more to grieve that the swift whales had been gaining upon the ship, than to rejoice that the ship had so victoriously gained upon the Malays. But still driving on in the wake of the whales, at length they seemed abating their speed; gradually the ship neared them; and the wind now dying away, word was passed to spring to the boats. But no sooner did the herd, by some presumed wonderful instinct of the Sperm Whale, become notified of the three keels that were after them,- though as yet a mile in their rear,- than they rallied again, and forming in close ranks and battalions, so that their spouts all looked like flashing lines of stacked bayonets, moved on with redoubled velocity.

Stripped to our shirts and drawers, we sprang to the white-ash, and after several hours' pulling were almost disposed to renounce the chase, when a general pausing commotion among the whales gave animating tokens that they were now at last under the influence of that strange perplexity of inert irresolution, which, when the fishermen perceive it in the whale, they say he is gallied. The compact martial columns in which they had been hitherto rapidly and steadily swimming, were now broken up in one measureless rout; and like King Porus' elephants in the Indian battle with Alexander, they seemed going mad with consternation. In all directions expanding in vast irregular circles, and aimlessly swimming hither and thither, by their short thick spoutings, they plainly betrayed their distraction of panic. This was still more strangely evinced by those of their number, who, completely paralysed as it were, helplessly floated like water-logged dismantled ships on the sea. Had these Leviathans been but a flock of simple sheep, pursued over the pasture by three fierce wolves, they could not possibly have evinced such excessive dismay. But this occasional timidity is characteristic of almost all herding creatures. Though banding together in tens of thousands, the lion-maned buffaloes of the West have fled before a solitary horseman. Witness, too, all human beings, how when herded together in the sheepfold of a theatre's pit, they will, at the slightest alarm of fire, rush helter-skelter for the outlets, crowding, trampling, jamming, and remorselessly dashing each other to death. Best, therefore, withhold any amazement at the strangely gallied whales before us, for there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.

One of the long chapters in Moby-Dick.  This passage constitutes half of it.  The chapter is titled "The Grand Armada."  The Armada in question is comprised of thousands of sperm whales, travelling in a great herd.  The men of the Pequod pursue them through the Straits of Sunda, which is patrolled by bands of pirates.  And the pirates appear.  So, the whales are being chased.  The Pequod is being chased.  And not a sign of Moby Dick.

I have a few things that I am chasing this evening.  I need to mow my lawn.  Also, I need to work on a new poem (falling behind on this a little).  Then there's getting ready for my poetry reading on Thursday evening.  Practicing, revising, ordering.  At this point in time, however, I have energy for none of it.  I want to take a nap.

I'm not sure if this lethargy is a holdover from the vertigo I experienced on Sunday afternoon.  It could simply be my normal lag in energy that I experience around this time.  That's a result of rising at 4:45 in the morning and working all day.  Whatever the reason, however, my lawn-mowing ambition is quickly fading.  As is the pursuit of any of those other things, as well.

Usually, I get a second wind in the early evening.  That may carry me through pushing a lawn mower for a couple hours.  Of all the things I'm chasing tonight, mowing my lawn is the least attractive.  However, it's probably the need that's most urgent at the moment.  It's the Moby Dick of the night, so to speak.

So, I have a feeling that's how I'm going to be spending the last few hours of daylight--shaving the grass around my house.  If only a band of lawn pirates would come along and do it for me.

Saint Marty is thankful this evening for energy, when he has it.

Monday, July 23, 2018

July 23: Celebrate a Tail, Ambulance, Vertigo

Other poets have warbled the praises of the soft eye of the antelope, and the lovely plumage of the bird that never alights; less celestial, I celebrate a tail.

Reckoning the largest sized Sperm Whale's tail to begin at that point of the trunk where it tapers to about the girth of a man, it comprises upon its upper surface alone, an area of at least fifty square feet. The compact round body of its root expands into two broad, firm, flat palms or flukes, gradually shoaling away to less than an inch in thickness. At the crotch or junction, these flukes slightly overlap, then sideways recede from each other like wings, leaving a wide vacancy between. In no living thing are the lines of beauty more exquisitely defined than in the crescentic borders of these flukes. At its utmost expansion in the full grown whale, the tail will considerably exceed twenty feet across.

The entire member seems a dense webbed bed of welded sinews; but cut into it, and you find that three distinct strata compose it:- upper, middle, and lower. The fibres in the upper and lower layers, are long and horizontal; those of the middle one, very short, and running crosswise between the outside layers. This triune structure, as much as anything else, imparts power to the tail. To the student of old Roman walls, the middle layer will furnish a curious parallel to the thin course of tiles always alternating with the stone in those wonderful relics of the antique, and which undoubtedly contribute so much to the great strength of the masonry.

But as if this vast local power in the tendinous tail were not enough, the whole bulk of the leviathan is knit over with a warp and woof of muscular fibres and filaments, which passing on either side the loins and running down into the flukes, insensibly blend with them, and largely contribute to their might; so that in the tail the confluent measureless force of the whole whale seems concentrated to a point. Could annihilation occur to matter, this were the thing to do it.

Nor does this- its amazing strength, at all tend to cripple the graceful flexion of its motions; where infantileness of ease undulates through a Titanism of power. On the contrary, those motions derive their most appalling beauty from it. Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony, but it often bestows it; and in everything imposingly beautiful, strength has much to do with the magic. Take away the tied tendons that all over seem bursting from the marble in the carved Hercules, and its charm would be gone. As devout Eckerman lifted the linen sheet from the naked corpse of Goethe, he was overwhelmed with the massive chest of the man, that seemed as a Roman triumphal arch. When Angelo paints even God the Father in human form, mark what robustness is there. And whatever they may reveal of the divine love in the Son, the soft, curled, hermaphroditical Italian pictures, in which his idea has been most successfully embodied; these pictures, so destitute as they are of all brawniness, hint nothing of any power, but the mere negative, feminine one of submission and endurance, which on all hands it is conceded, form the peculiar practical virtues of his teachings.
Such is the subtle elasticity of the organ I treat of, that whether wielded in sport, or in earnest, or in anger, whatever be the mood it be in, its flexions are invariably marked by exceeding grace. Therein no fairy's arm can transcend it.

Five great motions are peculiar to it. First, when used as a fin for progression; Second, when used as a mace in battle; Third, in sweeping; Fourth, in lobtailing; Fifth, in peaking flukes.

First: Being horizontal in its position, the Leviathan's tail acts in a different manner from the tails of all other sea creatures. It never wriggles. In man or fish, wriggling is a sign of inferiority. To the whale his tail is the sole means of propulsion. Scroll-wise coiled forwards beneath the body, and then rapidly sprung backwards, it is this which gives that singular darting, leaping motion to the monster when furiously swimming. His side-fins only serve to steer by.

Second: It is a little significant, that while one sperm whale only fights another sperm whale with his head and jaw, nevertheless, in his conflicts with man, he chiefly and contemptuously uses his tail. In striking at a boat, he swiftly curves away his flukes from it, and the blow is only inflicted by the recoil. If it be made in the unobstructed air, especially if it descend to its mark, the stroke is then simply irresistible. No ribs of man or boat can withstand it. Your only salvation lies in eluding it; but if it comes sideways through the opposing water, then partly owing to the light buoyancy of the whale-boat, and the elasticity of its materials, a cracked rib or a dashed plank or two, a sort of stitch in the side, is generally the most serious result. These submerged side blows are so often received in the fishery, that they are accounted mere child's play. Some one strips off a frock, and the hole is stopped.

Third: I cannot demonstrate it, but it seems to me, that in the whale the sense of touch is concentrated in the tail; for in this respect there is a delicacy in it only equalled by the daintiness of the elephant's trunk. This delicacy is chiefly evinced in the action of sweeping, when in maidenly gentleness the whale with a certain soft slowness moves his immense flukes side to side upon the surface of the sea; and if he feel but a sailor's whisker, woe to that sailor, whiskers and all. What tenderness there is in that preliminary touch! Had this tail any prehensile power, I should straightway bethink me of Darmonodes' elephant that so frequented the flower-market, and with low salutations presented nosegays to damsels, and then caressed their zones. On more accounts than one, a pity it is that the whale does not possess this prehensile virtue in his tail; for I have heard of yet another elephant, that when wounded in the fight, curved round his trunk and extracted the dart.

Fourth: Stealing unawares upon the whale in the fancied security of the middle of solitary seas, you find him unbent from the vast corpulence of his dignity, and kitten-like, he plays on the ocean as if it were a hearth. But still you see his power in his play. The broad palms of his tail are flirted high into the air! then smiting the surface, the thunderous concussion resounds for miles. You would almost think a great gun had been discharged; and if you noticed the light wreath of vapor from the spiracle at his other extremity, you would think that that was the smoke from the touch-hole.

Fifth: As in the ordinary floating posture of the leviathan the flukes lies considerably below the level of his back, they are then completely out of sight beneath the surface; but when he is about to plunge into the deeps, his entire flukes with at least thirty feet of his body are tossed erect in the air, and so remain vibrating a moment, till they downwards shoot out of view. Excepting the sublime breach- somewhere else to be described- this peaking of the whale's flukes is perhaps the grandest sight to be seen in all animated nature. Out of the bottomless profundities the gigantic tail seems spasmodically snatching at the highest heaven. So in dreams, have I seen majestic Satan thrusting forth his tormented colossal claw from the flame Baltic of Hell. But in gazing at such scenes, it is all in all what mood you are in; if in the Dantean, the devils will occur to you; if in that of Isaiah, the archangels. Standing at the mast-head of my ship during a sunrise that crimsoned sky and sea, I once saw a large herd of whales in the east, all heading towards the sun, and for a moment vibrating in concert with peaked flukes. As it seemed to me at the time, such a grand embodiment of adoration of the gods was never beheld, even in Persia, the home of the fire worshippers. As Ptolemy Philopater testified of the African elephant, I then testified of the whale, pronouncing him the most devout of all beings. For according to King Juba, the military elephants of antiquity often hailed the morning with their trunks uplifted in the profoundest silence.

The chance comparison in this chapter, between the whale and the elephant, so far as some aspects of the tail of the one and the trunk of the other are concerned, should not tend to place those two opposite organs on an equality, much less the creatures to which they respectively belong. For as the mightiest elephant is but a terror to Leviathan, so, compared with Leviathan's tail, his trunk is but the stalk of a lily. The most direful blow from the elephant's trunk were as the playful tap of a fan, compared with the measureless crush and crash of the sperm whale's ponderous flukes, which in repeated instances have one after the other hurled entire boats with all their oars and crews into the air, very much as an Indian juggler tosses his balls.*

*Though all comparison in the way of general bulk between the whale and the elephant is preposterous, inasmuch as in that particular the elephant stands in much the same respect to the whale that a dog does to the elephant; nevertheless, there are not wanting some points of curious similitude; among these is the spout. It is well known that the elephant will often draw up water or dust in his trunk, and then elevating it, jet it forth in a stream.

The more I consider this mighty tail, the more do I deplore my inability to express it. At times there are gestures in it, which, though they would well grace the hand of man, remain wholly inexplicable. In an extensive herd, so remarkable, occasionally, are these mystic gestures, that I have heard hunters who have declared them akin to Free-Mason signs and symbols; that the whale, indeed, by these methods intelligently conversed with the world. Nor are there wanting other motions of the whale in his general body, full of strangeness, and unaccountable to his most experienced assailant. Dissect him how I may, then, I but go skin deep. I know him not, and never will. But if I know not even the tail of this whale, how understand his head? much more, how comprehend his face, when face he has none? Thou shalt see my back parts, my tail, he seems to say, but my face shall not be seen. But I cannot completely make out his back parts; and hint what he will about his face, I say again he has no face.

Can I tell you that Melville's meditation on the tail of a whale does not engage me at all this evening?  It js beautifully written.  Poetic even, at times.  However, it leaves me a little cold.  Melville is describing each and every portion of the sperm whale, from nose to tail.  He has reached the end now.  Of course, most of his readership had never even seen a picture of a whale, so perhaps it was necessary for him to be this particular.  To demystify his subject a little.

Well, yesterday afternoon, I wrote about getting ready for Book Club, cleaning and straightening and cooking.  My friend, John Smolens, was the guest of honor.  We had read his novel, Angel's Head.  It was a great book of suspense and mystery.  I was really looking forward to the evening.

I spoke yesterday about being a control freak.  Having to plan out everything to the last detail to make sure that everything went smoothly.  Yesterday, about 15 minutes before people were scheduled to start arriving, I got sick.  REALLY sick.  I was sitting on my couch, got up to check on a dish that I was cooking, and, basically, almost passed out.

I was nauseated, sweaty, and pale.  I thought, perhaps, that I had risen too quickly from the sofa, so I sat back down for a moment.  I didn't get better.  I tested my blood sugar, thinking that I was in the middle of a low blood sugar episode.  I wasn't.  I went into the bathroom, got a cold rag, and sat on the toilet, trying to get my body under control.  I couldn't.

The first two people to show up were my best friends, who happen to be registered nurses.  They assessed the situation and decided that an ambulance should be called, considering my family history of heart problems and stroke.  So, there I was, apologizing to my friend, John, dry heaving into a plastic bag, waiting for EMS to arrive.

They came, took me into the ambulance, did an EKG, and then drove me to the hospital.

Long story short, I was not having a heart attack.  Turns out I had a case of vertigo.  A BAD case of vertigo.  Like Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak vertigo.  And I was really dehydrated, which may have actually precipitated everything.  Blood tests.  Chest x-ray.  Antivert.  IV fluids.  Three hours later, I was on my way home.

That is my demystification of last night.  Book club was canceled.  I had to bow out of another party I'd been invited to attend, which included poetry and bratwurst.  Two of my favorite things.  I felt like I was disappointing a lot of people.

I thought I was in control.  I wasn't.  God brought me down hard last night.  Still feeling a little out of sorts today, but I've been drinking water like crazy.  I'm feeling much better, nose to tail.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for good medication and good friends.

July 23: Les Murray, "Vertigo", Feeling Really Old


by:  Les Murray

Last time I fell in a shower room
I bled like a tumbril dandy
and the hotel longed to be rid of me.
Taken to the town clinic, I
described how I tripped on a steel rim
and found my head in the wardrobe.
Scalp-sewn and knotted and flagged
I thanked the Frau Doktor and fled,
wishing the grab-bar of age might
be bolted to all civilization
and thinking of Rome’s eighth hill
heaped up out of broken amphorae.

When, anytime after sixty,
or anytime before, you stumble
over two stairs and club your forehead
on rake or hoe, bricks or fuel-drums,
that’s the time to call the purveyor
of steel pipe and indoor railings,
and soon you’ll be grasping up landings
having left your balance in the car
from which please God you’ll never
see the launchway of tires off a brink.
Later comes the sunny day when
street detail whitens blindly to mauve

and people hurry you, or wait, quiet.


Okay, ended up in the hospital yesterday with a case of vertigo. 

Yes, I felt really old when I was in that ambulance on the way to the hospital.  Thought I was dying.  I've gone from "ow, that hurts" when I get a headache to "this is how it all ends."  It doesn't help that my sister died of lymphoma of the brain.  So now, I've diagnosed myself with a brain tumor.

Saint Marty needs a nap.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

July 22: Book Club, John Smolens, Classic Saint Marty

Book Club this evening.  My friend, John Smolens, and his wife are joining us for a discussion of his novel Angel's Head.  For those of my disciples who may be unfamiliar with John's work, you don't know what you're missing.  He's a first-rate writer, a great teacher, and a damn fine human being, to boot.

Of course, I have been preparing for this gathering for two days. Cleaned my house yesterday.  Cooked a snack last night.  Now, I've just grilled some bratwurst.  People will be showing up in little less than an hour, and my control freakishness is kicking into high gear.  That's why I decided to sit down and type this blog post.  It calms me down.  Takes my mind out of the immediate moment.

Of course, this break will only last a until I publish these words, and then I will be in full-throttle freak mode for the next 45 or so minutes.

Funny, I was thinking about being a control freak a year ago on this day, as well . . .

July 22, 2017:  Little Green Hands, Control Freak, Grace

All the little green hands closed tight, because Montana's terror was so unpleasant to see.  The head zoo keeper ordered a crane operator, who was standing by, to drop a navy blue canopy over the dome, thus simulating Earthling night inside.  Real night came to the zoo for only one Earthling hour out of every sixty-two.

Billy switched on a floor lamp.  The light from the single source threw the baroque detailing of Montana's body into sharp relief.  Billy was reminded of fantastic architecture in Dresden, before it was bombed.

Montana has lost control of her life, if she ever had control of it at all.  She was sunning herself next to a swimming pool in Palm Springs, and she suddenly finds herself in a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore without a single notion of how she got there.  Complete loss of control.  She is at the mercy of her zookeeper.  And it terrifies her.  The veil of her life has been torn away, and what's behind the curtain isn't too pleasant.

I must admit that I'm a little bit of a control freak.  I like routine.  Getting up at the same time every day.  Doing the same things every day.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same time every day.  Going to bed around the same time every day.  I find great comfort in that kind of schedule.  It allows me to believe that I'm in control of my life.

Of course, I know that isn't true.  Just like every other human being on the planet, I am at the mercy of lots of factors.  Environment--yes, global warming is real.  Health--can't control illness.  Finances--money does make the world go 'round.  I could go on, but you get the idea.  My routine is built on a pretty shaky foundation.  One little shift in that foundation and everything falls apart.

In the last few years, I've experienced a lot of shifts in the foundation.  Some good, some bad.  That's life.  When that happens, the veil that covers the dome of my life is torn away for a while, and I'm reminded how little control I actually have of my existence.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that God is some race of aliens from a distant planet.  I'm saying that most of us walk around, confident in our places in the world, and then God sends us reminders of Who's really in control.

Now, when this happens, we can react like Montana.  Scream and scream.  Or we can accept the reminder (good or bad) as a blessing.  A moment of grace.  As Flannery O'Connor said, "All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful."  Most people think of grace as the Holy Spirit descending in a beautiful cloud.  I'm here to tell you that grace can hurt like a bitch sometimes.

But, grace, in whatever form, is good.  And Saint Marty gives thanks for it in his life.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

July 21: Ponderous Profound Beings, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, Cloud Above My Head

That for six thousand years- and no one knows how many millions of ages before- the great whales should have been spouting all over the sea, and sprinkling and mistifying the gardens of the deep, as with so many sprinkling or mistifying pots; and that for some centuries back, thousands of hunters should have been close by the fountain of the whale, watching these sprinklings and spoutings- that all this should be, and yet, that down to this blessed minute (fifteen and a quarter minutes past one o'clock P.M. of this sixteenth day of December, A.D. 1851), it should still remain a problem, whether these spoutings are, after all, really water, or nothing but vapor- this is surely a noteworthy thing.

Let us, then, look at this matter, along with some interesting items contingent. Every one knows that by the peculiar cunning of their gills, the finny tribes in general breathe the air which at all times is combined with the element in which they swim; hence, a herring or a cod might live a century, and never once raise its head above the surface. But owing to his marked internal structure which gives him regular lungs, like a human being's, the whale can only live by inhaling the disengaged air in the open atmosphere. Wherefore the necessity for his periodical visits to the upper world. But he cannot in any degree breathe through his mouth, for, in his ordinary attitude, the Sperm Whale's mouth is buried at least eight feet beneath the surface; and what is still more, his windpipe has no connexion with his mouth. No, he breathes through his spiracle alone; and this is on the top of his head.

If I say, that in any creature breathing is only a function indispensable to vitality, inasmuch as it withdraws from the air a certain element, which being subsequently brought into contact with the blood imparts to the blood its vivifying principle, I do not think I shall err; though I may possibly use some superfluous scientific words. Assume it, and it follows that if all the blood in a man could be aerated with one breath, he might then seal up his nostrils and not fetch another for a considerable time. That is to say, he would then live without breathing. Anomalous as it may seem, this is precisely the case with the whale, who systematically lives, by intervals, his full hour and more (when at the bottom) without drawing a single breath, or so much as in any way inhaling a particle of air; for, remember, he has no gills. How is this? Between his ribs and on each side of his spine he is supplied with a remarkable involved Cretan labyrinth of vermicelli-like vessels, which vessels, when he quits the surface, are completely distended with oxygenated blood. So that for an hour or more, a thousand fathoms in the sea, he carries a surplus stock of vitality in him, just as the camel crossing the waterless desert carries a surplus supply of drink for future use in its four supplementary stomachs. The anatomical fact of this labyrinth is indisputable; and that the supposition founded upon it is reasonable and true, seems the more cogent to me, when I consider the otherwise inexplicable obstinacy of that leviathan in having his spoutings out, as the fishermen phrase it. This is what I mean. If unmolested, upon rising to the surface, the Sperm Whale will continue there for a period of time exactly uniform with all his other unmolested risings. Say he stays eleven minutes, and jets seventy times, that is, respires seventy breaths; then whenever he rises again, he will be sure to have his seventy breaths over again, to a minute. Now, if after he fetches a few breaths you alarm him, so that he sounds, he will be always dodging up again to make good his regular allowance of air. And not till those seventy breaths are told, will he finally go down to stay out his full term below. Remark, however, that in different individuals these rates are different; but in any one they are alike. Now, why should the whale thus insist upon having his spoutings out, unless it be to replenish his reservoir of air, ere descending for good? How obvious it is too, that this necessity for the whale's rising exposes him to all the fatal hazards of the chase. And not by hook or by net could this vast leviathan be caught, when sailing a thousand fathoms beneath the sunlight. Not so much thy skill, then, O hunter, as the great necessities that strike the victory to thee!

In man, breathing is incessantly going on- one breath only serving for two or three pulsations; so that whatever other business he has to attend to, waking or sleeping, breathe he must, or die he will. But the Sperm Whale only breathes about one seventh or Sunday of his time.

It has been said that the whale only breathes through his spout-hole; if it could truthfully be added that his spouts are mixed with water, then I opine we should be furnished with the reason why his sense of smell seems obliterated in him; for the only thing about him that at all answers to his nose is that identical spout-hole; and being so clogged with two elements, it could not be expected to have the power of smelling. But owing to the mystery of the spout- whether it be water or whether it be vapor- no absolute certainty can as yet be arrived at on this head. Sure it is, nevertheless, that the Sperm Whale has no proper olfactories. But what does he want of them? No roses, no violets, no Cologne-water in the sea.

Furthermore, as his windpipe solely opens into the tube of his spouting canal, and as that long canal- like the grand Erie Canal- is furnished with a sort of locks (that open and shut) for the downward retention of air or the upward exclusion of water, therefore the whale has no voice; unless you insult him by saying, that when he so strangely rumbles, he talks through his nose. But then again, what has the whale to say? Seldom have I known any profound being that had anything to say to this world, unless forced to stammer out something by way of getting a living. Oh! happy that the world is such an excellent listener!

Now, the spouting canal of the Sperm Whale, chiefly intended as it is for the conveyance of air, and for several feet laid along, horizontally, just beneath the upper surface of his head, and a little to one side; this curious canal is very much like a gas-pipe laid down in a city on one side of a street. But the question returns whether this gas-pipe is also a water-pipe; in other words, whether the spout of the Sperm Whale is the mere vapor of the exhaled breath, or whether that exhaled breath is mixed with water taken in at the mouth, and discharged through the spiracle. It is certain that the mouth indirectly communicates with the spouting canal; but it cannot be proved that this is for the purpose of discharging water through the spiracle. Because the greatest necessity for so doing would seem to be, when in feeding he accidentally takes in water. But the Sperm Whale's food is far beneath the surface, and there he cannot spout even if he would. Besides, if you regard him very closely, and time him with your watch, you will find that when unmolested, there is an undeviating rhyme between the periods of his jets and the ordinary periods of respiration.

But why pester one with all this reasoning on the subject? Speak out! You have seen him spout; then declare what the spout is; can you not tell water from air? My dear sir, in this world it is not so easy to settle these plain things. I have ever found your plain things the knottiest of all. And as for this whale spout, you might almost stand in it, and yet be undecided as to what it is precisely.

The central body of it is hidden in the snowy sparkling mist enveloping it; and how can you certainly tell whether any water falls from it, when, always, when you are close enough to a whale to get a close view of his spout, he is in a prodigious commotion, the water cascading all around him. And if at such times you should think that you really perceived drops of moisture in the spout, how do you know that they are not merely condensed from its vapor; or how do you know that they are not those identical drops superficially lodged in the spout-hole fissure, which is countersunk into the summit of the whale's head? For even when tranquilly swimming through the mid-day sea in a calm, with his elevated hump sun-dried as a dromedary's in the desert; even then, the whale always carries a small basin of water on his head, as under a blazing sun you will sometimes see a cavity in a rock filled up with rain.

Nor is it at all prudent for the hunter to be over curious touching the precise nature of the whale spout. It will not do for him to be peering into it, and putting his face in it. You cannot go with your pitcher to this fountain and fill it, and bring it away. For even when coming into slight contact with the outer, vapory shreds of the jet, which will often happen, your skin will feverishly smart, from the acridness of the thing so touching it. And I know one, who coming into still closer contact with the spout, whether with some scientific object in view, or otherwise, I cannot say, the skin peeled off from his cheek and arm. Wherefore, among whalemen, the spout is deemed poisonous; they try to evade it. Another thing; I have heard it said, and I do not much doubt it, that if the jet is fairly spouted into your eyes, it will blind you. The wisest thing the investigator can do then, it seems to me, is to let this deadly spout alone.

Still, we can hypothesize, even if we cannot prove and establish. My hypothesis is this: that the spout is nothing but mist. And besides other reasons, to this conclusion I am impelled, by considerations touching the great inherent dignity and sublimity of the Sperm Whale; I account him no common, shallow being, inasmuch as it is an undisputed fact that he is never found on soundings, or near shores; all other whales sometimes are. He is both ponderous and profound. And I am convinced that from the heads of all ponderous profound beings, such as Plato, Pyrrho, the Devil, Jupiter, Dante, and so on, there always goes up a certain semi-visible steam, while in the act of thinking deep thoughts. While composing a little treatise on Eternity, I had the curiosity to place a mirror before me; and ere long saw reflected there, a curious involved worming and undulation in the atmosphere over my head. The invariable moisture of my hair, while plunged in deep thought, after six cups of hot tea in my thin shingled attic, of an August noon; this seems an additional argument for the above supposition.

And how nobly it raises our conceit of the mighty, misty monster, to behold him solemnly sailing through a calm tropical sea; his vast, mild head overhung by a canopy of vapor, engendered by his incommunicable contemplations, and that vapor- as you will sometimes see it- glorified by a rainbow, as if Heaven itself had put its seal upon his thoughts. For d'ye see, rainbows do not visit the clear air; they only irradiate vapor. And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray. And for this I thank God; for all have doubts; many deny; but doubts or denials, few along with them, have intuitions. Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye.

So, here I sit at McDonald's on a rainy Saturday morning.  It's the first real rain my little corner of the Upper Peninsula has received in a week or so.  It looks like one of those real soaking rains that's going to last for quite a while.  I'm sitting in my little corner, typing this blog post, trying to think deep thoughts amid the clatter and conversation of the normal Saturday morning crowd, of which I am one.

I sort of like Melville's idea of the cloud of mist floating above profound thinkers of the world--Plato, Dante, the Sperm Whale, and himself.  Perhaps there is some fog of ideas floating above my head this very moment, waving in the air like heat off a July highway.  I'm not sure that what I'm typing or contemplating is necessarily earth-shattering.  It's reflection more than anything else, applying Melville's words to this moment of my life.

I will say that, when I am truly engaged in my work--whether it's blogging, poem-ing, or prose-ing--my entire body feels different.  Looser.  Relaxed.  Engaged with the world in a different way.  More aware and less aware at the same time.  I can't really explain it definitively.  I'm a different person.  Poet Saint Marty.  Writer Saint Marty.

Today, my thoughts are preoccupied with several things:

  1. What Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin said to each other in their private meeting in Helsinki.
  2. Whether Bigfoot really exists.
  3. If Congress is going to impeach Donald Trump.
  4. Who is going to publish a book of Bigfoot poems.
  5. Why so many people in this country still support Donald Trump.
  6. When I am going to write another Bigfoot poem.
As you can see, two subjects are monopolizing my mind at the moment:  Bigfoot and Donald Trump.  Perhaps I could combine them into one endeavor--a poem titled "Bigfoot Eavesdrops on Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki."  

I'm sure that some other subject will soon swoop in and take over.  The cloud above my head will change shape or consistency.  I have to plan for a reading that I'm doing next Thursday with a couple musician friends.  Have to write a new poem for that one.  Clean my house for my Book Club tomorrow evening.  Read.  Pick out music to play for Mass this afternoon.  

I can feel the air shifting, weather fronts clashing, above my head now.  Again, I'm not sure these are deep or profound subjects.  Certainly, this blog post will not go down in the annals of literature as something akin to Leaves of Grass or Moby-Dick.  I am just like everyone else trying to make sense of the modern world in which I live.  That includes Donald Trump.  Bigfoot.  Poetry.  Homelessness.  Poverty.  Universal healthcare.  Compassion.  Love.

Saint Marty is thankful this morning for deep thoughts.

July 21: Joy Harjo, "Praise the Rain," All-Day Soaking

Praise the Rain

by:  Joy Harjo

Praise the rain; the seagull dive
The curl of plant, the raven talk—
Praise the hurt, the house slack
The stand of trees, the dignity—
Praise the dark, the moon cradle
The sky fall, the bear sleep—
Praise the mist, the warrior name
The earth eclipse, the fired leap—
Praise the backwards, upward sky
The baby cry, the spirit food—
Praise canoe, the fish rush
The hole for frog, the upside-down—
Praise the day, the cloud cup
The mind flat, forget it all—

Praise crazy. Praise sad.
Praise the path on which we're led.
Praise the roads on earth and water.
Praise the eater and the eaten.
Praise beginnings; praise the end.
Praise the song and praise the singer.

Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.


This poem, by Joy Harjo, is perfect for this morning, where there seems to be an all-day soaking going on. 

I was going to mow my lawn.  Not happening.  I've switched plans.  This afternoon, I will be cleaning my house, getting it ready for members of my book club to descend upon it tomorrow evening.  Vacuuming.  Sweeping.  Mopping.  Dusting.  Bathroom cleaning.  Perfect for a rainy day.

Tomorrow, it's cooking and arranging.

Saint Marty would rather be reading and writing, but that is not in the stars today.  Can't see the stars.