Thursday, August 30, 2018

August 30: Ahab and the Carpenter, a Little Haunted, Game Plan

The Deck - First Night Watch

(Carpenter standing before vice-bench, and by the light of two lanterns busily filing the ivory joist for the leg, which joist is firmly fixed in the vice. Slabs of ivory, leather straps, pads, screws, and various tools of all sorts lying about the bench. Forward, the red flame of the forge is seen, where the blacksmith is at work.)

Drat the file, and drat the bone! That is hard which should be soft, and that is soft which should be hard. So we go, who file old jaws and shin bones. Let's try another. Aye, now, this works better (sneezes). Halloa, this bone dust is (sneezes)- why it's (sneezes)- yes it's (sneezes)- bless my soul, it won't let me speak! This is what an old fellow gets now for working in dead lumber. Saw a live tree, and you don't get this dust; amputate a live bone, and you don't get it (sneezes). Come, come, you old Smut, there, bear a hand, and let's have that ferrule and buckle-screw; I'll be ready for them presently. Lucky now (sneezes) there's no knee-joint to make; that might puzzle a little; but a mere shin-bone- why it's easy as making hop-poles; only I should like to put a good finish on. Time, time; if I but only had the time, I could turn him out as neat a leg now as ever (sneezes) scraped to a lady in a parlor. Those buckskin legs and calves of legs I've seen in shop windows wouldn't compare at all. They soak water, they do; and of course get rheumatic, and have to be doctored (sneezes) with washes and lotions, just like live legs. There; before I saw it off, I must call his old Mogulship, and see whether the length will be all right; too short, if anything, I guess. Ha! that's the heel; we are in luck; here he comes, or it's somebody else, that's certain.

AHAB (advancing) (During the ensuing scene, the carpenter continues sneezing at times)
Well, manmaker!

Just in time, sir. If the captain pleases, I will now mark the length. Let me measure, sir.

Measured for a leg! good. Well, it's not the first time. About it! There; keep thy finger on it. This is a cogent vice thou hast here, carpenter; let me feel its grip once. So, so; it does pinch some.

Oh, sir, it will break bones- beware, beware!

No fear; I like a good grip; I like to feel something in this slippery world that can hold, man. What's Prometheus about there?- the blacksmith, I mean- what's he about?

He must be forging the buckle-screw, sir, now.

Right. It's a partnership; he supplies the muscle part. He makes a fierce red flame there!

Aye, sir; he must have the white heat for his kind of fine work.

Um-m. So he must. I do deem it now a most meaning thing, that that old Greek, Prometheus, who made men, they say, should have been a blacksmith, and animated them with fire; for what's made in fire must properly belong to fire; and so hell's probable. How the soot flies! This must be the remainder the Greek made the Africans of. Carpenter, when he's through with that buckle, tell him to forge a pair of steel shoulder-blades; there's a pedlar aboard with a crushing pack.


Hold; while Prometheus is about it, I'll order a complete man after a desirable pattern. Imprimis, fifty feet high in his socks; then, chest modelled after the Thames Tunnel then, legs with roots to 'em, to stay in one place; then, arms three feet through the wrist; no heart at all, brass forehead, and about a quarter of an acre of fine brains; and let me see- shall I order eyes to see outwards? No, but put a sky-light on top of his head to illuminate inwards. There, take the order, and away.

Now, what's he speaking about, and who's he speaking to, I should like know? Shall I keep standing here? (aside.)

'Tis but indifferent architecture to make a blind dome; here's one. No, no, no; I must have a lantern.

Ho, ho! That's it, hey? Here are two, sir; one will serve my turn.

What art thou thrusting that thief-catcher into my face for, man? Thrusted light is worse than presented pistols.

I thought, sir, that you spoke to carpenter.

Carpenter? why that's- but no;- a very tidy, and, I may say, an extremely gentlemanlike sort of business thou art in here, carpenter;- or would'st thou rather work in clay?

Sir?- Clay? clay, sir? That's mud; we leave clay to ditchers, sir.

The fellow's impious! What art thou sneezing about?

Bone is rather dusty, sir.

Take the hint, then; and when thou art dead, never bury thyself under living people's noses.

Sir?- oh! ah!- I guess so;- yes- dear!

Look ye, carpenter, I dare say thou callest thyself a right good workmanlike workman, eh? Well, then, will it speak thoroughly well for thy work, if, when I come to mount this leg thou makest, I shall nevertheless feel another leg in the same identical place with it; that is, carpenter, my old lost leg; the flesh and blood one, I mean. Canst thou not drive that old Adam away?

Truly, sir, I begin to understand somewhat now. Yes, I have heard something curious on that score; how that a dismasted man never entirely loses the feeling of his old spar, but it will be still pricking him at times. May I humbly ask if it be really so, sir?

It is, man. Look, put thy live leg here in the place where mine was; so, now, here is only one distinct leg to the eye, yet two to the soul. Where thou feelest tingling life; there, exactly there, there to a hair, do I. Is't a riddle?

I should humbly call it a poser, sir.

Hist, then. How dost thou know that some entire, living, thinking thing may not be invisibly and uninterpenetratingly standing precisely where thou now standest; aye, and standing there in thy spite? In thy most solitary hours, then, dost thou not fear eavesdroppers? Hold, don't speak! And if I still feel the smart of my crushed leg, though it be now so long dissolved; then, why mayst not thou, carpenter, feel the fiery pains of hell for ever, and without a body? Hah!

Good Lord! Truly, sir, if it comes to that, I must calculate over again; I think I didn't carry a small figure, sir.

Look ye, pudding-heads should never grant premises.- How long before the leg is done?

Perhaps an hour, sir.

Bungle away at it then, and bring it to me (turns to go). Oh, Life. Here I am, proud as Greek god, and yet standing debtor to this blockhead for a bone to stand on! Cursed be that mortal inter-indebtedness which will not do away with ledgers. I would be free as air; and I'm down in the whole world's books. I am so rich, I could have given bid for bid with the wealthiest Praetorians at the auction of the Roman empire (which was the world's); and yet I owe for the flesh in the tongue I brag with. By heavens! I'll get a crucible, and into it, and dissolve myself down to one small, compendious vertebra. So.

CARPENTER (resuming work).

Well, well, well! Stubb knows him best of all, and Stubb always says he's queer; says nothing but that one sufficient little word queer; he's queer, says Stubb; he's queer- queer, queer; and keeps dinning it into Mr. Starbuck all the time- queer- sir- queer, queer, very queer. And here's his leg. Yes, now that I think of it, here's his bed-fellow! has a stick of whale's jaw-bone for a wife! And this is his leg; he'll stand on this. What was that now about one leg standing in three places, and all three places standing in one hell- how was that? Oh! I don't wonder he looked so scornful at me! I'm a sort of strange-thoughted sometimes, they say; but that's only haphazard-like. Then, a short, little old body like me, should never undertake to wade out into deep water with tall, heron-built captains; the water chucks you under the chin pretty quick, and there's a great cry for life-boats. And here's the heron's leg! long and slim, sure enough! Now, for most folks one pair of legs lasts a lifetime, and that must be because they use them mercifully, as a tender-hearted old lady uses her roly-poly old coach-horses. But Ahab; oh he's a hard driver. Look, driven one leg to death, and spavined the other for life, and now wears out bone legs by the cord. Halloa, there, you Smut! bear a hand there with those screws, and let's finish it before the resurrection fellow comes a-calling with his horn for all legs, true or false, as brewery men go round collecting old beer barrels, to fill 'em up again. What a leg this is! It looks like a real live leg, filed down to nothing but the core; he'll be standing on this to-morrow; he'll be taking altitudes on it. Halloa! I almost forgot the little oval slate, smoothed ivory, where he figures up the latitude. So, so; chisel, file, and sand-paper, now!

Here I sit at the end of the day, reflecting on another chapter of Moby-Dick.  This one features a new character--the carpenter of the Pequod, who has been tasked by Ahab to carve a new leg for him out of whale bone.  This chapter reads like a scene from a play.  Two roles--Carpenter and Ahab.  One man is comic relief; the other, wrestling with phantoms from the past.  He feels them, like dead nerve endings still sparking in his skin.

I think we all are a little haunted in our lives.  By people.  By experience.  By loss.  By love.  We go through our days, hearing those ghosts in our ears, whispering.  Today, I went to a doctor's appointment, mostly to discuss my continuing problems with being dizzy and lightheaded.  It has been a continuing problem since my bout with vertigo in July.

My medical provider is a kind, compassionate person.  She started asking me questions, and I started talking about all kinds of phantoms--vertigo, depression, and fears.  Before I knew it, I had laid bare myself.  I felt like an open wound.  Totally exposed to a person who was simply there to help me feel better.  A carpenter, if you will, to make a new leg for me.

She smiled and nodded.  After she had listened, asked more questions, we came up with a game plan.  It involves taking blood pressures for a week and then having another appointment.  Right now, it's about finding out what is NOT bothering me.  Ruling out phantoms.  I'm relaxed after this conversation.  Less stressed.

One of the ghosts that has been banging around in my head, rattling chains, is my sister who died of lymphoma of the brain.  Since most of my problems seem to be focused inside my head, I've realized that I've been harboring this fear that I may . . . be . . . Well, I don't think I have to finish that thought.  You get the idea.

Ghosts have a way of showing up in the middle of the night when you're trying to sleep.  They aren't conducive to rest or relaxation.  They shiver their sheets, rattle their voices to remind you that you're mortal.  Poet Marie Howe says, "Poetry holds the knowledge that we are alive and that we're going to die."

Saint Marty is stuck in a poem right now, hovering between those two poles.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

August 29: Hostile Teenagers, Emily Dickinson, "Hope" Is a Thing with Feathers

You will excuse my abandonment of Moby-Dick this evening.  I'm dashing the post off between the two classes I'm teaching this semester.  In a little less than twenty minutes, I will be heading into a roomful of surly students who are being forced to take a class in composition from me.  Translation:  hostile teenagers. 

Having taught twice this week already, I know that I will be able to handle tonight.  I'm going to be brain dead by the time I get home, but I will not be dead dead.

Saint Marty is thankful for supportive friends.

A poem , , , 

"Hope" Is a Thing with Feathers

by:  Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

August 28: The Carpenter, Renaissance Man, ADHD

Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn, and take high abstracted man alone; and he seems a wonder, a grandeur, and a woe. But from the same point, take mankind in mass, and for the most part, they seem a mob of unnecessary duplicates, both contemporary and hereditary. But most humble though he was, and far from furnishing an example of the high, humane abstraction; the Pequod's carpenter was no duplicate; hence, he now comes in person on this stage.

Like all sea-going ship carpenters, and more especially those belonging to whaling vessels, he was, to a certain off-hand, practical extent, alike experienced in numerous trades and callings collateral to his own; the carpenter's pursuit being the ancient and outbranching trunk of all those numerous handicrafts which more or less have to do with wood as an auxiliary material. But, besides the application to him of the generic remark above, this carpenter of the Pequod was singularly efficient in those thousand nameless mechanical emergencies continually recurring in a large ship, upon a three or four years' voyage, in uncivilized and far-distant seas. For not to speak of his readiness in ordinary duties:- repairing stove boats, sprung spars, reforming the shape of clumsy-bladed oars, inserting bull's eyes in the deck, or new tree-nails in the side planks, and other miscellaneous matters more directly pertaining to his special business; he was moreover unhesitatingly expert in all manner of conflicting aptitudes, both useful and capricious.

The one grand stage where he enacted all his various parts so manifold, was his vice-bench; a long rude ponderous table furnished with several vices, of different sizes, and both of iron and of wood. At all times except when whales were alongside, this bench was securely lashed athwartships against the rear of the Try-works.

A belaying pin is found too large to be easily inserted into its hole: the carpenter claps it into one of his ever ready vices, and straightway files it smaller. A lost landbird of strange plumage strays on board, and is made a captive: out of clean shaved rods of right-whale bone, and cross-beams of sperm whale ivory, the carpenter makes a pagoda-looking cage for it. An oarsmen sprains his wrist: the carpenter concocts a soothing lotion. Stubb longed for vermillion stars to be painted upon the blade of his every oar; screwing each oar in his big vice of wood, the carpenter symmetrically supplies the constellation. A sailor takes a fancy to wear shark-bone ear-rings: the carpenter drills his ears.  Another has the toothache: the carpenter out pincers, and clapping one hand upon his bench bids him be seated there; but the poor fellow unmanageably winces under the unconcluded operation; whirling round the handle of his wooden vice, the carpenter signs him to clap his jaw in that, if he would have him draw the tooth.

Thus, this carpenter was prepared at all points, and alike indifferent and without respect in all. Teeth he accounted bits of ivory; heads he deemed but top-blocks; men themselves he lightly held for capstans. But while now upon so wide a field thus variously accomplished and with such liveliness of expertness in him, too; all this would seem to argue some uncommon vivacity of intelligence. But not precisely so. For nothing was this man more remarkable, than for a certain impersonal stolidity as it were; impersonal, I say; for it so shaded off into the surrounding infinite of things, that it seemed one with the general stolidity discernible in the whole visible world; which while pauselessly active in uncounted modes, still eternally holds its peace, and ignores you, though you dig foundations for cathedrals. Yet was this half-horrible stolidity in him, involving, too, as it appeared, an all-ramifying heartlessness;- yet was it oddly dashed at times, with an old, crutch-like, antediluvian, wheezing humorousness, not unstreaked now and then with a certain grizzled wittiness; such as might have served to pass the time during the midnight watch on the bearded forecastle of Noah's ark. Was it that this old carpenter had been a life-long wanderer, whose much rolling, to and fro, not only had gathered no moss; but what is more, had rubbed off whatever small outward clingings might have originally pertained to him? He was a stript abstract; an unfractioned integral; uncompromised as a new-born babe; living without premeditated reference to this world or the next. You might almost say, that this strange uncompromisedness in him involved a sort of unintelligence; for in his numerous trades, he did not seem to work so much by reason or by instinct, or simply because he had been tutored to it, or by any intermixture of all these, even or uneven; but merely by kind of deaf and dumb, spontaneous literal process. He was a pure manipulater; his brain, if he had ever had one, must have early oozed along into the muscles of his fingers. He was like one of those unreasoning but still highly useful, multum in parvo, Sheffield contrivances, assuming the exterior- though a little swelled- of a common pocket knife; but containing, not only blades of various sizes, but also screw-drivers, cork-screws, tweezers, awls, pens, rulers, nail-filers, countersinkers. So, if his superiors wanted to use the carpenter for a screw-driver, all they had to do was to open that part of him, and the screw was fast: or if for tweezers, take him up by the legs, and there they were.

Yet, as previously hinted, this omnitooled, open-and-shut carpenter, was, after all, no mere machine of an automaton. If he did not have a common soul in him, he had a subtle something that somehow anomalously did its duty. What that was, whether essence of quicksilver, or a few drops of hartshorn, there is no telling. But there it was; and there it had abided for now some sixty years or more. And this it was, this same unaccountable, cunning life-principle in him; this it was, that kept him a great part of the time soliloquizing; but only like an unreasoning wheel, which also hummingly soliloquizes; or rather, his body was a sentry-box and this soliloquizer on guard there, and talking all the time to keep himself awake.

Melville fairly canonizes the carpenter in this chapter, making him a descendant of Noah, no less.  The carpenter shaves wood and bone.  Engraves oars.  Pierces ears.  Extracts rotting teeth.  It seems that the carpenter is the jack-of-all-things on the Pequod.  Dentist, beautician, artist, craftsman.  And, for Captain Ahab, a leg-carver.

Today, I spoke with a person I hadn't seen in many years.  He asked me if I was still into theater, because that's how he knew me in the past.  I told him that I hadn't done theater in many years.  "Well, what are you doing now?" he asked.

I went on to list my current occupations:  English professor, healthcare worker, church organist, musician, poet, writer, husband, father, Bigfoot bard, laureate, editor, blogger, radio show performer and host . . . He stopped me after a minute or so.

"Wow," he said.  "You're quite the Renaissance man."

I'm not telling you this story to brag.  Ever since I was young, I've always thought myself to be really unfocused.  I've bounced from one interest to another.  At various times as an adolescent, I said I wanted to be a writer, movie director, music composer, novelist, screenwriter, playwright, actor, teacher.  Although I was never diagnosed as a child, I see a lot of myself in my son, who has been diagnosed with ADHD.  My son takes medication to help him focus.  I, on the other hand, was enrolled in piano lessons by my mother.  Which did the trick.

Piano made me sit down.  Calm down.  Focus for an hour or so.  It calmed my restless mind for a while and gave the members of my family a little bit of a break from the dervish of my day.  As I grew up, my many interests served me well.  I graduated from college with a major in English and minors in math and computer science.  I earned a Master's in fiction writing and an MFA in poetry.

Perhaps Renaissance men/women simply had ADHD.  Leonardo da Vinci.  Michelangelo.  Cicero.  Galileo.  Thomas Jefferson.  Isaac Newton.  Perhaps they all lacked the ability to focus for long periods of time.  Maybe my Bigfoot book of poems will be my Sistine Chapel or Mona Lisa.

Hmmmm.  I've always wanted to try my hand at painting.

Saint Marty is thankful this evening for poetry and painting and music and math and . . .

August 28: Marie Howe, "The Last Time," New Fanboy

The Last Time

by:  Marie Howe

The last time we had dinner together in a restraurant
with white table clothes, he leaned forward

and took my two hands in his and said,
I'm going to die soon. I want you to know that.

And I said, I think I do know.
And he said, what surprises me is that you don't.

And I said, I do. And he said, What?
And I said, Know that you're going to die.

And he said, No, I mean know that you are.                         


I recently was introduced to the work of poet Marie Howe.  I had read some of her work before and liked it, but I had never read her in earnest.  For the last week or so, I've been searching for her poems online, watching videos of her poetry readings.  She has become my new favorite poet.

In my addled mind, her poems calm me for some reason.  Speak to me deeply through the fog and dark.

Saint Marty is a new Marie Howe fanboy.

Monday, August 27, 2018

August 27: Ahab's Leg, Taught for the First Time, Cold Sweat

The precipitating manner in which Captain Ahab had quitted the Samuel Enderby of London, had not been unattended with some small violence to his own person. He had lighted with such energy upon a thwart of his boat that his ivory leg had received a half-splintering shock. And when after gaining his own deck, and his own pivot-hole there, he so vehemently wheeled round with an urgent command to the steersman (it was, as ever, something about his not steering inflexibly enough); then, the already shaken ivory received such an additional twist and wrench, that though it still remained entire, and to all appearances lusty, yet Ahab did not deem it entirely trustworthy.

And, indeed, it seemed small matter for wonder, that for all his pervading, mad recklessness, Ahab, did at times give careful heed to the condition of that dead bone upon which he partly stood. For it had not been very long prior to the Pequod's sailing from Nantucket, that he had been found one night lying prone upon the ground, and insensible; by some unknown, and seemingly inexplicable, unimaginable casualty, his ivory limb having been so violently displaced, that it had stake-wise smitten, and all but pierced his groin; nor was it without extreme difficulty that the agonizing wound was entirely cured.

Nor, at the time, had it failed to enter his monomaniac mind, that all the anguish of that then present suffering was but the direct issue of former woe; and he too plainly seemed to see, that as the most poisonous reptile of the marsh perpetuates his kind as inevitably as the sweetest songster of the grove; so, equally with every felicity, all miserable events do naturally beget their like. Yea, more than equally, thought Ahab; since both tie ancestry and posterity of Grief go further than the ancestry and posterity of Joy. For, not to hint of this: that it is an inference from certain canonic teachings, that while some natural enjoyments here shall have no children born to them for the other world, but, on the contrary, shall be followed by the joy-childlessness of all hell's despair; whereas, some guilty mortal miseries shall still fertilely beget to themselves an eternally progressive progeny of griefs beyond the grave; not at all to hint of this, there still seems an inequality in the deeper analysis of the thing. For, thought Ahab, while even the highest earthly felicities ever have a certain unsignifying pettiness lurking in them, but, at bottom, all heartwoes, a mystic significance, and, in some men, an archangelic grandeur; so do their diligent tracings-out not belie the obvious deduction. To trail the genealogies of these high mortal miseries, carries us at last among the sourceless primogenitures of the gods; so that, in the face of all the glad, hay-making suns, and softcymballing, round harvest-moons, we must needs give in to this: that the gods themselves are not for ever glad. The ineffaceable, sad birth-mark in the brow of man, is but the stamp of sorrow in the signers.

Unwittingly here a secret has been divulged, which perhaps might more properly, in set way, have been disclosed before. With many other particulars concerning Ahab, always had it remained a mystery to some, why it was, that for a certain period, both before and after the sailing of the Pequod, he had hidden himself away with such Grand-Lama-like exclusiveness; and, for that one interval, sought speechless refuge, as it were, among the marble senate of the dead. Captain Peleg's bruited reason for this thing appeared by no means adequate; though, indeed, as touching all Ahab's deeper part, every revelation partook more of significant darkness than of explanatory light. But, in the end, it all came out; this one matter did, at least. That direful mishap was at the bottom of his temporary recluseness. And not only this, but to that ever-contracting, dropping circle ashore, who for any reason, possessed the privilege of a less banned approach to him; to that timid circle the above hinted casualty- remaining, as it did, moodily unaccounted for by Ahab- invested itself with terrors, not entirely underived from the land of spirits and of wails. So that, through their zeal for him, they had all conspired, so far as in them lay, to muffle up the knowledge of this thing from others; and hence it was, that not till a considerable interval had elapsed, did it transpire upon the Pequod's decks.

But be all this as it may; let the unseen, ambiguous synod in the air, or the vindictive princes and potentates of fire, have to do or not with earthly Ahab, yet, in this present matter of his leg, he took plain practical procedures;- he called the carpenter.

And when that functionary appeared before him, he bade him without delay set about making a new leg, and directed the mates to see him supplied with all the studs and joists of jaw-ivory (Sperm Whale) which had thus far been accumulated on the voyage, in order that a careful selection of the stoutest, clearest-grained stuff might be secured. This done, the carpenter received orders to have the leg completed that night; and to provide all the fittings for it, independent of those pertaining to the distrusted one in use. Moreover, the ship's forge was ordered to be hoisted out of its temporary idleness in the hold; and, to accelerate the affair, the blacksmith was commanded to proceed at once to the forging of whatever iron contrivances might be needed.

Ahab's leg is simply a physical sign of his inner turmoil.  The leg is made of whale bone, and, thus, it is a constant reminder to him of his obsession--the hunting of Moby Dick.  That the leg seems to be in mutiny against him is no small wonder.  Ahab is on a dangerous course of self-destruction, dragging his ship and crew along with him.

Of course, given my current situation, I'm focused on Ahab's state of mind.  He's mentally ill.  Period.  Perhaps it's a kind of addiction to revenge.  Maybe he's depressed after losing his leg on his last whaling voyage.  Certainly, in the last few chapters, it's very evident that Ahab is not in control of himself, putting everyone near him at risk.

I taught for the first time this afternoon.  I will be honest:  the idea of stepping into a classroom in front of a group of students terrified me more than a little.  When I first got to the room, I began sweating.  Thank God it was hot and humid outside and inside the building.  I could blame my hot flash on the weather.  In truth, I was in a cold sweat for the first ten minutes of the class.

After I surmounted that initial panic, I slid into teacher mode.  My mind went into autopilot, and I was able to lead my students through the syllabus, answer their questions, and lead them through some introductions.  I even was able to crack a few jokes.  All in all, it wasn't my finest moment as a professor, but it wasn't a disaster.  I did the best I could.

After I was done, I drove home, exhausted.  I changed out of my work clothes, climbed into bed, and fell asleep for over an hour.

All in all, it was a good day.  Better than I expected.  I'm completely unused to this kind of struggle.  Tonight, I put together the syllabus and materials for my evening class, which I will teach on Wednesday night.  I'm sure there will be cold sweats.  I may have several moments of panic.  However, after today, I know that I will survive.  Get my job done, without endangering my ship or crew.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for a job mediocrely done.

August 27: Christian Wiman, "Darkness Starts," Superior Breaths

Darkness Starts

by:  Christian Wiman

A shadow in the shape of a house
slides out of a house
and loses its shape on the lawn.

Trees seek each other
as the wind within them dies.

Darkness starts inside of things
but keeps on going when the things are gone.

Barefoot careless in the farthest parts of the yard
children become their cries.


A poem for tonight about darkness and light.

I am happy to report that I survived what I thought was going to be a very dark day.  I was even able to laugh a little bit.  See the sun instead of the clouds.  Breathe some big Superior breaths, as a friend advised me to do.

Saint Marty is still breathing.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

August 25: Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish?--Will He Perish?, Critical Thinking, Keeping Busy

# Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish? - Will He Perish?

Inasmuch, then, as this Leviathan comes floundering down upon us from the head-waters of the Eternities, it may be fitly inquired, whether, in the long course of his generations, he has not degenerated from the original bulk of his sires.

But upon investigation we find, that not only are the whales of the present day superior in magnitude to those whose fossil remains are found in the Tertiary system (embracing a distinct geological period prior to man), but of the whales found in that Tertiary system, those belonging to its latter formations exceed in size those of its earlier ones.

Of all the pre-adamite whale yet exhumed, by far the largest is the Alabama one mentioned in the last chapter, and that was less than seventy feet in length in the skeleton. Whereas, we have already seen, that the tape-measure gives seventy-two feet for the skeleton of a large sized modern whale. And I have heard, on whalemen's authority, that Sperm Whales have been captured near a hundred feet long at the time of capture.

But may it not be, that while the whales of the present hour are an advance in magnitude upon those of all previous geological periods; may it not be, that since Adam's time they have degenerated?

Assuredly, we must conclude so, if we are to credit the accounts of such gentlemen as Pliny, and the ancient naturalists generally. For Pliny tells us of Whales that embraced acres of living bulk, and Aldrovandus of others which measured eight hundred feet in length- Rope Walks and Thames Tunnels of Whales! And even in the days of Banks and Solander, Cooke's naturalists, we find a Danish member of the Academy of Sciences setting down certain Iceland Whales (reydan-siskur, or Wrinkled Bellies) at one hundred and twenty yards; that is, three hundred and sixty feet. And Lacepede, the French naturalist, in his elaborate history of whales, in the very beginning of his work (page 3), sets down the Right Whale at one hundred metres, three hundred and twenty-eight feet. And this work was published so late as A.D. 1825.

But will any whaleman believe these stories? No. The whale of to-day is as big as his ancestors in Pliny's time. And if ever I go where Pliny is, I, a whaleman (more than he was), will make bold to tell him so. Because I cannot understand how it is, that while the Egyptian mummies that were buried thousands of years before even Pliny was born, do not measure so much in their coffins as a modern Kentuckian in his socks; and while the cattle and other animals sculptured on the oldest Egyptian and Nineveh tablets, by the relative proportions in which they are drawn, just as plainly prove that the high-bred, stall-fed, prize cattle of Smithfield, not only equal, but far exceed in magnitude the fattest of Pharaoh's fat kine; in the face of all this, I will not admit that of all animals the whale alone should have degenerated.

But still another inquiry remains; one often agitated by the more recondite Nantucketers. Whether owing to the almost omniscient look-outs at the mast-heads of the whaleships, now penetrating even through Behring's straits, and into the remotest secret drawers and lockers of the world; and the thousand harpoons and lances darted along all continental coasts; the moot point is, whether Leviathan can long endure so wide a chase, and so remorseless a havoc; whether he must not at last be exterminated from the waters, and the last whale, like the last man, smoke his last pipe, and then himself evaporate in the final puff.

Comparing the humped herds of whales with the humped herds of buffalo, which, not forty years ago, overspread by tens of thousands the prairies of Illinois and Missouri, and shook their iron manes and scowled with their thunder-clotted brows upon the sites of populous river-capitals, where now the polite broker sells you land at a dollar an inch; in such a comparison an irresistible argument would seem furnished, to show that the hunted whale cannot now escape speedy extinction.

But you must look at this matter in every light. Though so short a period ago- not a good lifetime- the census of the buffalo in Illinois exceeded the census of men now in London, and though at the present day not one horn or hoof of them remains in all that region; and though the cause of this wondrous extermination was the spear of man; yet the far different nature of the whale-hunt peremptorily forbids so inglorious an end to the Leviathan. Forty men in one ship hunting the Sperm Whales for forty-eight months think they have done extremely well, and thank God, if at last they carry home the oil of forty fish. Whereas, in the days of the old Canadian and Indian hunters and trappers of the West, when the far west (in whose sunset suns still rise) was a wilderness and a virgin, the same number of moccasined men, for the same number of months, mounted on horse instead of sailing in ships, would have slain not forty, but forty thousand and more buffaloes; a fact that, if need were, could be statistically stated.

Nor, considered aright, does it seem any argument in favor of the gradual extinction of the Sperm Whale, for example, that in former years (the latter part of the last century, say) these Leviathans, in small pods, were encountered much oftener than at present, and, in consequence, the voyages were not so prolonged, and were also much more remunerative. Because, as has been elsewhere noticed, those whales, influenced by some views to safety, now swim the seas in immense caravans, so that to a large degree the scattered solitaries, yokes, and pods, and schools of other days are now aggregated into vast but widely separated, unfrequent armies. That is all. And equally fallacious seems the conceit, that because the so-called whale-bone whales no longer haunt many grounds in former years abounding with them, hence that species also is declining. For they are only being driven from promontory to cape; and if one coast is no longer enlivened with their jets, then, be sure, some other and remoter strand has been very recently startled by the unfamiliar spectacle.

Furthermore: concerning these last mentioned Leviathans, they have two firm fortresses, which, in all human probability, will for ever remain impregnable. And as upon the invasion of their valleys, the frosty Swiss have retreated to their mountains; so, hunted from the savannas and glades of the middle seas, the whale-bone whales can at last resort to their Polar citadels, and diving under the ultimate glassy barriers and walls there, come up among icy fields and floes! and in a charmed circle of everlasting December, bid defiance to all pursuit from man.

But as perhaps fifty of these whale-bone whales are harpooned for one cachalot, some philosophers of the forecastle have concluded that this positive havoc has already very seriously diminished their battalions. But though for some time past a number of these whales, not less than 13,000, have been annually slain on the nor'west coast by the Americans alone; yet there are considerations which render even this circumstance of little or no account as an opposing argument in this matter.

Natural as it is to be somewhat incredulous concerning the populousness of the more enormous creatures of the globe, yet what shall we say to Harto, the historian of Goa, when he tells us that at one hunting the King of Siam took 4,000 elephants; that in those regions elephants are numerous as droves of cattle in the temperate climes. And there seems no reason to doubt that if these elephants, which have now been hunted for thousands of years, by Semiramis, by Porus, by Hannibal, and by all the successive monarchs of the East- if they still survive there in great numbers, much more may the great whale outlast all hunting, since he has a pasture to expatiate in, which is precisely twice as large as all Asia, both Americas, Europe and Africa, New Holland, and all the Isles of the sea combined.

Moreover: we are to consider, that from the presumed great longevity of whales, their probably attaining the age of a century and more, therefore at any one period of time, several distinct adult generations must be contemporary. And what this is, we may soon gain some idea of, by imagining all the grave-yards, cemeteries, and family vaults of creation yielding up the live bodies of all the men, women, and children who were alive seventy-five years ago; and adding this countless host to the present human population of the globe.

Wherefore, for all these things, we account the whale immortal in his species, however perishable in his individuality. He swam the seas before the continents broke water; he once swam over the site of the Tuileries, and Windsor Castle, and the Kremlin. In Noah's flood he despised Noah's Ark; and if ever the world is to be again flooded, like the Netherlands, to kill off its rats, then the eternal whale will still survive, and rearing upon the topmost crest of the equatorial flood, spout his frothed defiance to the skies.

Of course, Melville's argument in this chapter for the continuation of whaling is flawed.  In the 21st century, we postmodern peoples know that many species (including the buffalo of North America) were hunted to the brink of extinction.  All of Melville's justifications ring false through this lens.  Humankind HAS done irreparable harm to the animal kingdom over the centuries, including many of the creatures mentioned in the above paragraphs.  This is not fake news.

In some ways, I think Melville would have fit in well in Donald Trump's cabinet, perhaps as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.  Keep in mind, though, he is working with 19th-century information.  When Moby-Dick was written, it wasn't the Information Age.  Google didn't exist.  So, I can almost give Melville a pass on this chapter.

As an English professor at a university, I spend a great deal of my time teaching young people how to think critically.  That's my job.  I'm trying to show the next generation how NOT to depend on flawed information, that everything published on the Internet ISN'T necessarily true.  That Fox News might be slightly biased in their presentation of the facts.  If I can do that, I can sleep better at night.

As I discussed yesterday in my blog post, I've been struggling recently with depression.  It has muddied my ability to reason effectively.  Situations that would require little effort on my part to handle normally now take a great deal of energy to think through.  I know this condition is temporary.  That my mind will clear, and that I will be back to my normal self eventually.  However, that doesn't make these moments any easier for me.

It's frightening not being able to think and speak clearly.  It makes me feel like a little less of a person.  Don't worry, I'm not going to start getting up at 3 a.m. to send out early morning Tweet rants as I sit on the toilet.  I'm not insane.  Just depressed.  Big difference.  I have gotten slightly better.  This post proves it.  On Wednesday, the thought of trying to write a cogent sentence was impossible for me.

I have a good friend who has suffered from depression in the past.  She told me that keeping busy helped her during the blue periods.  Since I published that post yesterday, I've received a lot of kind messages (public and private).  It helps to know that people really care about me.  Mental illness still carries so much stigma in modern society.  I think it is still viewed as a kind of failing of character.  People don't want to talk about it.  My wife has bipolar disorder.  I've seen this reaction over and over.

That's why I wrote that post last night.  I'm not going to let mental illness control me.  Instead, I dragged mental illness out into broad daylight and pointed my finger at it.  Named it.  That felt empowering.  I'm glad that I had enough brain power to do it.

Today, I'm going to buy a car for my daughter.  Clean my house.  Read a good book.  Maybe finish up my syllabi for teaching next week.  That's my plan.  Keeping busy, as my good friend advised.  I'm also going to be kind to myself.

Saint Marty is thankful this morning for the love of family and friends.

August 25: Anne Sexton, "Sylvia's Death," Uplifting Little Poem

Sylvia's Death

by:  Anne Sexton

for Sylvia Plath

O Sylvia, Sylvia,
with a dead box of stones and spoons,
with two children, two meteors
wandering loose in a tiny playroom,
with your mouth into the sheet,
into the roofbeam, into the dumb prayer,
(Sylvia, Sylvia
where did you go
after you wrote me
from Devonshire
about raising potatoes
and keeping bees?)
what did you stand by,
just how did you lie down into?
Thief -
how did you crawl into,
crawl down alone
into the death I wanted so badly and for so long,
the death we said we both outgrew,
the one we wore on our skinny breasts,
the one we talked of so often each time
we downed three extra dry martinis in Boston,
the death that talked of analysts and cures,
the death that talked like brides with plots,
the death we drank to,
the motives and the quiet deed?
(In Boston
the dying
ride in cabs,
yes death again,
that ride home
with our boy.)
O Sylvia, I remember the sleepy drummer
who beat on our eyes with an old story,
how we wanted to let him come
like a sadist or a New York fairy
to do his job,
a necessity, a window in a wall or a crib,
and since that time he waited
under our heart, our cupboard,
and I see now that we store him up
year after year, old suicides
and I know at the news of your death
a terrible taste for it, like salt,
(And me,
me too.
And now, Sylvia,
you again
with death again,
that ride home
with our boy.)
And I say only
with my arms stretched out into that stone place,
what is your death
but an old belonging,
a mole that fell out
of one of your poems?
(O friend,
while the moon's bad,
and the king's gone,
and the queen's at her wit's end
the bar fly ought to sing!)
O tiny mother,
you too!
O funny duchess!
O blonde thing!


An uplifting little poem by Anne Sexton about her friend, Sylvia Plath, who had recently committed suicide.  Some say that Plath suffered from schizophrenia.  Others, bipolar disorder.  It is certain that she was severely depressed--recently abandoned by her husband, living alone in a foreign country with two small children

Love those last lines:  "O funny duchess! / O blonde thing!"

Of course, Sexton will commit suicide in just a few short years, as well.

Saint Marty thought everyone could use some light reading this afternoon.

Friday, August 24, 2018

August 24: The Fossil Whale, Prolonged Absence, Depression

From his mighty bulk the whale affords a most congenial theme whereon to enlarge, amplify, and generally expatiate. Would you, you could not compress him. By good rights he should only be treated of in imperial folio. Not to tell over again his furlongs from spiracle to tail, and the yards he measured about the waist; only think of the gigantic involutions of his intestines, where they lie in him like great cables and hawsers coiled away in the subterranean orlop-deck of a line-of-battle-ship.

Since I have undertaken to manhandle this Leviathan, it behooves me to approve myself omnisciently exhaustive in the enterprise; not overlooking the minutest seminal germs of his blood, and spinning him out to the uttermost coil of his bowels. Having already described him in most of his present habitatory and anatomical peculiarities, it now remains to magnify him in an archaeological, fossiliferous, and antediluvian point of view. Applied to any other creature than the Leviathan- to an ant or a flea- such portly terms might justly be deemed unwarrantably grandiloquent. But when Leviathan is the text, the case is altered. Fain am I to stagger to this enterprise under the weightiest words of the dictionary. And here be it said, that whenever it has been convenient to consult one in the course of these dissertations, I have invariably used a huge quarto edition of Johnson, expressly purchased for that purpose; because that famous lexicographer's uncommon personal bulk more fitted him to compile a lexicon to be used by a whale author like me.

One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject, though it may seem but an ordinary one. How, then, with me, writing of this Leviathan? Unconsciously my chirography expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor's quill! Give me Vesuvius' crater for an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms! For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint with their outreaching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include the whole circle of the sciences, and all the generations of whales, and men, and mastodons, past, present, and to come, with all the revolving panoramas of empire on earth, and throughout the whole universe, not excluding its suburbs. Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme! We expand to its bulk. To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.

Ere entering upon the subject of Fossil Whales, I present my credentials as a geologist, by stating that in my miscellaneous time I have been a stone-mason, and also a great digger of ditches, canals and wells, wine-vaults, cellars, and cisterns of all sorts. Likewise, by way of preliminary, I desire to remind the reader, that while in the earlier geological strata there are found the fossils of monsters now almost completely extinct; the subsequent relics discovered in what are called the Tertiary formations seem the connecting, or at any rate intercepted links, between the antichronical creatures, and those whose remote posterity are said to have entered the Ark; all the Fossil Whales hitherto discovered belong to the Tertiary period, which is the last preceding the superficial formations. And though none of them precisely answer to any known species of the present time, they are yet sufficiently akin to them in general respects, to justify their taking rank as Cetacean fossils.

Detached broken fossils of pre-adamite whales, fragments of their bones and skeletons, have within thirty years past, at various intervals, been found at the base of the Alps, in Lombardy, in France, in England, in Scotland, and in the States of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Among the more curious of such remains is part of a skull, which in the year 1779 was disinterred in the Rue Dauphine in Paris, a short street opening almost directly upon the palace of the Tuileries; and bones disinterred in excavating the great docks of Antwerp, in Napoleon's time. Cuvier pronounced these fragments to have belonged to some utterly unknown Leviathanic species.

But by far the most wonderful of all Cetacean relics was the almost complete vast skeleton of an extinct monster, found in the year 1842, on the plantation of Judge Creagh, in Alabama. The awe-stricken credulous slaves in the vicinity took it for the bones of one of the fallen angels. The Alabama doctors declared it a huge reptile, and bestowed upon it the name of Basilosaurus. But some specimen bones of it being taken across the sea to Owen, the English Anatomist, it turned out that this alleged reptile was a whale, though of a departed species. A significant illustration of the fact, again and again repeated in this book, that the skeleton of the whale furnishes but little clue to the shape of his fully invested body. So Owen rechristened the monster Zeuglodon; and in his paper read before the London Geological Society, pronounced it, in substance, one of the most extraordinary creatures which the mutations of the globe have blotted out of existence.

When I stand among these mighty Leviathan skeletons, skulls, tusks, jaws, ribs, and vertebrae, all characterized by partial resemblances to the existing breeds of sea-monsters; but at the same time bearing on the other hand similar affinities to the annihilated antichronical Leviathans, their incalculable seniors; I am, by a flood, borne back to that wondrous period, ere time itself can be said to have begun; for time began with man. Here Saturn's grey chaos rolls over me, and I obtain dim, shuddering glimpses into those Polar eternities; when wedged bastions of ice pressed hard upon what are now the Tropics; and in all the 25,000 miles of this world's circumference, not an inhabitable hand's breadth of land was visible. Then the whole world was the whale's; and, king of creation, he left his wake along the present lines of the Andes and the Himmalehs. Who can show a pedigree like Leviathan? Ahab's harpoon had shed older blood than the Pharaoh's. Methuselah seems a schoolboy. I look round to shake hands with Shem. I am horror-struck at this antemosaic, unsourced existence of the unspeakable terrors of the whale, which, having been before all time, must needs exist after all humane ages are over.

But not alone has this Leviathan left his pre-adamite traces in the stereotype plates of nature, and in limestone and marl bequeathed his ancient bust; but upon Egyptian tablets, whose antiquity seems to claim for them an almost fossiliferous character, we find the unmistakable print of his fin. In an apartment of the great temple of Denderah, some fifty years ago, there was discovered upon the granite ceiling a sculptured and painted planisphere, similar to the grotesque figures on the celestial globe of the moderns. Gliding among them, old Leviathan swam as of yore; was there swimming in that planisphere, centuries before Solomon was cradled.

Nor must there be omitted another strange attestation of the antiquity of the whale, in his own osseous postdiluvian reality, as set down by the venerable John Leo, the old Barbary traveller.

"Not far from the Sea-side, they have a Temple, the Rafters and Beams of which are made of Whale-Bones; for Whales of a monstrous size are oftentimes cast up dead upon that shore. The Common People imagine, that by a secret Power bestowed by God upon the Temple, no Whale can pass it without immediate death. But the truth of the matter is, that on either side of the Temple, there are Rocks that shoot two Miles into the Sea, and wound the Whales when they light upon 'em. They keep a Whale's Rib of an incredible length for a Miracle, which lying upon the Ground with its convex part uppermost, makes an Arch, the Head of which cannot be reached by a Man upon a Camel's Back. This Rib (says John Leo) is said to have layn there a hundred Years before I saw it. Their Historians affirm, that a Prophet who prophesy'd of Mahomet, came from this Temple, and some do not stand to assert, that the Prophet Jonas was cast forth by the Whale at the Base of the Temple."

In this Afric Temple of the Whale I leave you, reader, and if you be a Nantucketer, and a whaleman, you will silently worship there.

An entire chapter devoted to Ice Age whales, a time before time, when creatures were swimming over Mount Everest and above Alabama fields.  Melville paints a good picture of when leviathans ruled the planet with their monstrous flukes and tails.  Their spouting fountains and bedrock heads.  This passage almost reads like a prose poem in its compressed language of whale rant.  I love it.

I am sorry for my prolonged absence from blogging.  In the past week or so, I have found myself in a kind of Ice Age myself.  Frozen.  Unable to think or act.  On Monday, I was pushing through cement, barely able to string words together into coherent thoughts.  Tuesday, I spent all the energy I had at work, trying to complete my duties with some kind of competence.  Wednesday was the worst of the week.  The day exhausted me so much--all human interaction--that I was asleep before 8 p.m.

Thursday, I saw some fissures of daylight.  Last night, I attended a poetry workshop run by a friend of mine.  I didn't know if I was even going to be able to participate.  The focus of the workshop was difficult emotions--mainly anger and sadness.  As I sat in my chair, closed my eyes to meditate, I said a little prayer.  A plea for help.  Then I started to write.  It wasn't great or polished stuff that I produced.  In fact, some of it may not ever see the light of day again.  But I wrote it.  About depression and anger.  All these feelings that I've been struggling with for the last week or so.  It felt . . . good.  Cleansing in a way.

So, tonight, I stand before you, still stuck in the tar pits with the other extincting creatures.  Still an immense whale skeleton of a person.  Not fully whole.  I'm struggling, but there are vestiges of sun breaking through the stone of the clouds.  I am feeling more like myself than I have in a while.

On Wednesday night, I was sure that I would never write another elegant word or phrase.  I finally told my wife about my struggles, and she looked at me and said, "It's depression.  You're dealing with depression."  Up until that moment, I couldn't or wouldn't put a name to what I was experiencing.  I thought I was succumbing to some illness.  Early Alzheimer's.  A tumor.  When my wife said the word "depression," I knew she was right.  Immediately.  Yet, I couldn't see it myself.

I have taught classes on the literature of mental illness.  Read dozens of books on the subject.  Saw dozens of movies.  For some reason, though, I couldn't (or wouldn't) recognize it in myself.  It came out of nowhere and took me down so quickly that I didn't have time even to blink.

Tonight, I am getting better.  I have the weekend ahead of me.  Rest time.  Recharging.  Next week, I begin teaching again.  I will not be 100%.  I know this fact.  I will do the best that I can.  That's it.  And I will survive.

Saint Marty is thankful this evening for his wife, who knows about darkness and light.

August 24: Henry Carlile, "Depression," Sadness


by:  Henry Carlile

He is pushing a black Ford
through an empty street -
a car like his father's
that beat the flat roads like wind
in summer and brought him here.

He never forgave his father.
That was the year he left home.
Then there was talk of weather
and everyone was packing.
Windmills were stopped
all over Kansas.

He is thinking of fathers,
the ways they never forgive you,
withholding love like lust.
But they quit, they stop like pumps.
There is no way to
set them working again.

He is thinking of mothers,
how she could not know how he
half followed girls down dark streets
of his heart, how that loneliness
is passed to sons,
to the fathers of sons.

He is pushing a black Ford.
Its problem is such a heart
you cannot give it enough care.
Like a father it will quit.
And there is no end to this.


So, I don't have much to add after that poem.  It kind of encapsulates a lot of what I've been dealing with this past week.

Tomorrow, I go down to the car dealership and sign papers to get my daughter her first car.  On Sunday, I host my book club gathering.  In between, I will clean my house, cook, and prepare my syllabi for teaching on Monday.

Autumn is upon me, with all the upheaval and change it brings.  Every year.  This year--my daughter's last in high school--is going to be a challenge.  I'm not sure I'm ready for it.

Saint Marty wants this summer to last forever.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

August 21: Measurement of the Whale's Skeleton, a Dream, Silence and Sleep

In the first place, I wish to lay before you a particular, plain statement, touching the living bulk of this leviathan, whose skeleton we are briefly to exhibit. Such a statement may prove useful here.

According to a careful calculation I have made, and which I partly base upon Captain Scoresby's estimate, of seventy tons for the largest sized Greenland whale of sixty feet in length; according to my careful calculation, I say, a Sperm Whale of the largest magnitude, between eighty-five and ninety feet in length, and something less than forty feet in its fullest circumference, such a whale will weigh at least ninety tons; so that, reckoning thirteen men to a ton, he would considerably outweigh the combined population of a whole village of one thousand one hundred inhabitants.

Think you not then that brains, like yoked cattle, should be put to this leviathan, to make him at all budge to any landsman's imagination?

Having already in various ways put before you his skull, spout-hole, jaw, teeth, tail, forehead, fins, and divers other parts, I shall now simply point out what is most interesting in the general bulk of his unobstructed bones. But as the colossal skull embraces so very large a proportion of the entire extent of the skeleton; as it is by far the most complicated part; and as nothing is to be repeated concerning it in this chapter, you must not fail to carry it in your mind, or under your arm, as we proceed, otherwise you will not gain a complete notion of the general structure we are about to view.

In length, the Sperm Whale's skeleton at Tranque measured seventy-two feet: so that when fully invested and extended in life, he must have been ninety feet long; for in the whale, the skeleton loses about one fifth in length compared with the living body. Of this seventy-two feet, his skull and jaw comprised some twenty feet, leaving some fifty feet of plain backbone. Attached to this back-bone, for something less than a third of its length, was the mighty circular basket of ribs which once enclosed his vitals.

To me this vast ivory-ribbed chest, with the long, unrelieved spine, extending far away from it in a straight line, not a little resembled the hull of a great ship new-laid upon the stocks, when only some twenty of her naked bow-ribs are inserted, and the keel is otherwise, for the time, but a long, disconnected timber.

The ribs were ten on a side. The first, to begin from the neck, was nearly six feet long; the second, third, and fourth were each successively longer, till you came to the climax of the fifth, or one of the middle ribs, which measured eight feet and some inches. From that part, the remaining ribs diminished, till the tenth and last only spanned five feet and some inches. In general thickness, they all bore a seemly correspondence to their length. The middle ribs were the most arched. In some of the Arsacides they are used for beams whereon to lay footpath bridges over small streams.

In considering these ribs, I could not but be struck anew with the circumstance, so variously repeated in this book, that the skeleton of the whale is by no means the mould of his invested form. The largest of the Tranque ribs, one of the middle ones, occupied that part of the fish which, in life, is greatest in depth. Now, the greatest depth of the invested body of this particular whale must have been at least sixteen feet; whereas, the corresponding rib measured but little more than eight feet. So that this rib only conveyed half of the true notion of the living magnitude of that part. Besides, for some way, where I now saw but a naked spine, all that had been once wrapped round with tons of added bulk in flesh, muscle, blood, and bowels. Still more, for the ample fins, I here saw but a few disordered joints; and in place of the weighty and majestic, but boneless flukes, an utter blank!

How vain and foolish, then, thought I, for timid untravelled man to try to comprehend aright this wondrous whale, by merely pouring over his dead attenuated skeleton, stretched in this peaceful wood. No. Only in the heart of quickest perils; only when within the eddyings of his angry flukes; only on the profound unbounded sea, can the fully invested whale be truly and livingly found out.
But the spine. For that, the best way we can consider it is, with a crane, to pile its bones high up on end. No speedy enterprise. But now it's done, it looks much like Pompey's Pillar.

There are forty and odd vertebrae in all, which in the skeleton are not locked together. They mostly lie like the great knobbed blocks on a Gothic spire, forming solid courses of heavy masonry. The largest, a middle one, is in width something less than three feet, and in depth more than four. The smallest, where the spine tapers away into the tail, is only two inches in width, and looks something like a white billiard-ball. I was told that there were still smaller ones, but they had been lost by some little cannibal urchins, the priest's children, who had stolen them to play marbles with. Thus we see how that the spine of even the hugest of living things tapers off at last into simple child's play.

Another chapter regarding the skeleton of the sperm whale.  Its size and girth and weight.  As I said yesterday, Melville seems more interested in his digressions than his narrative.  In this way, he is a very postmodern writer, seems intent on circumventing our expectations as readers.  The story of Ahab and his mad quest for the White Whale is secondary to the meditations on all things whale, including skulls and spines.

In this way, Melville is also like a poet, I think.  When I sit down to work on a new poem, I find myself chasing rabbits down holes.  A poem that I thought was about losing car keys becomes an ode to loss and grief.  It's the way the mind works.  Or, at least, it's the way my mind works.  We don't think in words and sentences and paragraphs.  We think in image, which is the way we dream.

Last night (or this morning), I had a dream about the Cocker Spaniel I used to have as a pet.  His name was Nick, and he was crazy.  Not well-behaved at all.  He stole pizza from plates.  Chewed up shoes.  Barked and snarled at visitors.  He didn't play well with others.

In my dream, Nick was sitting on my lap, gnawing on a baby shoe.  It was small and white in his mouth.  Every once in a while, he would growl, as if he thought I was going try to take the shoe away from him.  I sat there, watching him slowly dissect the shoe with his teeth.  Tongue and sole and laces coming apart as I watched.  Eventually, it was just small pieces or leather and rubber and string.

Then, Nick jumped down from my lap and began walking away from me, toward a door.  I think it was the front door of my house, but I'm not sure.  It took him a long time to reach the door.  A really long time.  Like months.  He just kept walking and walking.

The door began to open, slowly, as Nick got closer to it.  And there was all kinds of light.  It was so bright that it turned Nick into shadow.  A dog-shaped piece of black construction paper.  Two dimensional, like the silhouettes you make in grade school art class.  And Nick kept walking into the light, getting smaller and smaller.  Eventually, he was just a speck of darkness, haloed in sun.

I couldn't get out of my chair to follow Nick.  I could only sit and watch him get swallowed up by whatever that light was.

I'm trying not to get all Freudian with this dream.  I'm simply accepting the images for what they were.  I haven't thought of Nick in years.  Maybe it was a dream about loss in some way, which I seem to be focused on quite a bit.

I've been struggling all day with melancholy.  Woke up with it, like a hangover.  It's been with me all day long.  Even now.  It's making it difficult for me to think clearly.  Can't seem to shake it.  Maybe it will be gone when I wake up tomorrow morning.  Maybe not.  I've had spells like this before.  Sometimes they last just a day.  Sometimes weeks.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for silence and sleep, because it means a new day is coming.

Monday, August 20, 2018

August 20: A Bower in the Arsacides, Feeling Very Old, High School Bullshit

Hitherto, in descriptively treating of the Sperm Whale, I have chiefly dwelt upon the marvels of his outer aspect; or separately and in detail upon some few interior structural features. But to a large and thorough sweeping comprehension of him, it behooves me now to unbutton him still further, and untagging the points of his hose, unbuckling his garters, and casting loose the hooks and the eyes of the joints of his innermost bones, set him before you in his ultimatum; that is to say, in his unconditional skeleton.

But how now, Ishmael? How is it, that you, a mere oarsman in the fishery, pretend to know aught about the subterranean parts of the whale? Did erudite Stubb, mounted upon your capstan, deliver lectures on the anatomy of the Cetacea; and by help of the windlass, hold up a specimen rib for exhibition? Explain thyself, Ishmael. Can you land a full-grown whale on your deck for examination, as a cook dishes a roast-pig? Surely not. A veritable witness have you hitherto been, Ishmael; but have a care how you seize the privilege of Jonah alone; the privilege of discoursing upon the joists and beams; the rafters, ridge-pole, sleepers, and under-pinnings, making up the frame-work of leviathan; and belike of the tallow-vats, dairy-rooms, butteries, and cheeseries in his bowels.

I confess, that since Jonah, few whalemen have penetrated very far beneath the skin of the adult whale; nevertheless, I have been blessed with an opportunity to dissect him in miniature. In a ship I belonged to, a small cub Sperm Whale was once bodily hoisted to the deck for his poke or bag, to make sheaths for the barbs of the harpoons, and for the heads of the lances. Think you I let the chance go, without using my boat-hatchet and jack-knife, and breaking the seal and reading all the contents of that young cub?

And as for my exact knowledge of the bones of the leviathan in their gigantic, full grown development, for that rare knowledge I am indebted to my late royal friend Tranque, king of Tranque, one of the Arsacides. For being at Tranque, years ago, when attached to the trading-ship Dey of Algiers, I was invited to spend part of the Arsacidean holidays with the lord of Tranque, at his retired palm villa at Pupella; a sea-side glen not very far distant from what our sailors called Bamboo-Town, his capital.

Among many other fine qualities, my royal friend Tranquo, being gifted with a devout love for all matters of barbaric vertu, had brought together in Pupella whatever rare things the more ingenious of his people could invent; chiefly carved woods of wonderful devices, chiselled shells, inlaid spears, costly paddles, aromatic canoes; and all these distributed among whatever natural wonders, the wonder-freighted, tribute-rendering waves had cast upon his shores.

Chief among these latter was a great Sperm Whale, which, after an unusually long raging gale, had been found dead and stranded, with his head against a cocoa-nut tree, whose plumage-like, tufted droopings seemed his verdant jet. When the vast body had at last been stripped of its fathomdeep enfoldings, and the bones become dust dry in the sun, then the skeleton was carefully transported up the Pupella glen, where a grand temple of lordly palms now sheltered it.

The ribs were hung with trophies; the vertebrae were carved with Arsacidean annals, in strange hieroglyphics; in the skull, the priests kept up an unextinguished aromatic flame, so that the mystic head again sent forth its vapory spout; while, suspended from a bough, the terrific lower jaw vibrated over all the devotees, like the hair-hung sword that so affrighted Damocles.

It was a wondrous sight. The wood was green as mosses of the Icy Glen; the trees stood high and haughty, feeling their living sap; the industrious earth beneath was as a weaver's loom, with a gorgeous carpet on it, whereof the ground-vine tendrils formed the warp and woof, and the living flowers the figures. All the trees, with all their laden branches; all the shrubs, and ferns, and grasses; the message-carrying air; all these unceasingly were active. Through the lacings of the leaves, the great sun seemed a flying shuttle weaving the unwearied verdure. Oh, busy weaver! unseen weaver!- pause!- one word!- whither flows the fabric? what palace may it deck? wherefore all these ceaseless toilings? Speak, weaver!- stay thy hand!- but one single word with thee! Nay- the shuttle flies- the figures float from forth the loom; the fresher-rushing carpet for ever slides away. The weaver-god, he weaves; and by that weaving is he deafened, that he hears no mortal voice; and by that humming, we, too, who look on the loom are deafened; and only when we escape it shall we hear the thousand voices that speak through it. For even so it is in all material factories. The spoken words that are inaudible among the flying spindles; those same words are plainly heard without the walls, bursting from the opened casements. Thereby have villainies been detected. Ah, mortal! then, be heedful; for so, in all this din of the great world's loom, thy subtlest thinkings may be overheard afar.

Now, amid the green, life-restless loom of that Arsacidean wood, the great, white, worshipped skeleton lay lounging- a gigantic idler! Yet, as the ever-woven verdant warp and woof intermixed and hummed around him, the mighty idler seemed the sunning weaver; himself all woven over with the vines; every month assuming greener, fresher verdure; but himself a skeleton. Life folded Death; Death trellised Life; the grim god wived with youthful Life, and begat him curly-headed glories.

Now, when with royal Tranquo I visited this wondrous whale, and saw the skull an altar, and the artificial smoke ascending from where the real jet had issued, I marvelled that the king should regard a chapel as an object of vertu. He laughed. But more I marvelled that the priests should swear that smoky jet of his was genuine. To and fro I paced before this skeleton- brushed the vine aside- broke through the ribs- and with a ball of Arsacidean twine, wandered, eddied long amid its many winding, shaded colonnades and arbors. But soon my line was out; and following back, I emerged from the opening where I entered. I saw no living thing within; naught was there but bones.

Cutting me a green measuring-rod, I once more dived within the skeleton. From their arrow-slit in the skull, the priests perceived me taking the altitude of the final rib, "How now!" they shouted; "Dar'st thou measure this our god! That's for us." "Aye, priests- well, how long do ye make him, then?" But hereupon a fierce contest rose among them, concerning feet and inches; they cracked each other's sconces with their yard-sticks- the great skull echoed- and seizing that lucky chance, I quickly concluded my own admeasurements.

These admeasurements I now propose to set before you. But first, be it recorded, that, in this matter, I am not free to utter any fancied measurements I please. Because there are skeleton authorities you can refer to, to test my accuracy. There is a Leviathanic Museum, they tell me, in Hull, England, one of the whaling ports of that country, where they have some fine specimens of fin-backs and other whales. Likewise, have heard that in the museum of Manchester, in New Hampshire, they have what the proprietors call "the only perfect specimen of a Greenland or River Whale in the United States." Moreover, at a place in Yorkshire, England, Burton Constable by name, a certain Sir Clifford Constable has in his possession the skeleton of a Sperm Whale, but of moderate size, by no means of the full-grown magnitude of my friend King Tranquo's.

In both cases, the stranded whales to which these two skeletons belonged, were originally claimed by their proprietors upon similar grounds. King Tranquo seizing his because he wanted it; and Sir Clifford, because he was lord of the seignories of those parts. Sir Clifford's whale has been articulated throughout; so that, like a great chest of drawers, you can open and shut him, in all his bony cavities- spread out his ribs like a gigantic fan- and swing all day upon his lower jaw. Locks are to be put upon some of his trap-doors and shutters; and a footman will show round future visitors with a bunch of keys at his side. Sir Clifford thinks of charging twopence for a peep at the whispering gallery in the spinal column; threepence to hear the echo in the hollow of his cerebellum; and sixpence for the unrivalled view from his forehead.

The skeleton dimensions I shall now proceed to set down are copied verbatim from my right arm, where I had them tattooed; as in my wild wanderings at that period, there was no other secure way of preserving such valuable statistics. But as I was crowded for space, and wished the other parts of my body to remain a blank page for a poem I was then composing- at least, what untattooed parts might remain- I did not trouble myself with the odd inches; nor, indeed, should inches at all enter into a congenial admeasurement of the whale.

Now, you're probably thinking:  here we go again.  Melville has already described the physical appearance of the sperm whale in great detail.  Now, he's going to describe the INSIDE of the sperm whale, starting with its skeleton.  Now, if you have little patience for Melville's digressions, then this chapter is not for you.  If digression is your thing, then a meditation on the skull and vertebrae and ribs of a sperm whale is right up your alley.

So, in the spirit of digression, tonight I'm going to write about something completely unrelated to the above chapter from Moby-Dick.  Instead, I'm going to discuss the fact that, in about a week, my daughter will be walking through the doors of her high school as a senior, and also that I'm feeling very old.

I know that I am being a total cliche.  Daddy not ready to let go of his little girl.  Little girl spreading her wings, getting a car, not depending on me anymore for rides to school or dance lessons or football games.  On the way home from Calumet this weekend, I was talking about the next trip to Calumet in October.  My daughter was complaining that she didn't want to miss school.  I said, "Well, we can pick you up after school, and drive up with us.  That way you only have to miss two days of school."

"Or," my daughter said, "I can drive up in my car for the show and then drive home afterward.  That way I don't have to miss any school."

I sat in my seat for a minute, incredibly uncomfortable, and then said, "Yeah . . . I guess . . . we could do that, too."

And it begins.  The slow process of pulling away, testing the waters.  Independence.  It kind of sucks.  Especially for a control freak like myself.  It's not that I don't trust my daughter.  She's smart and sensible.  She doesn't buy into the high school bullshit that other teenage girls do.  I've always admired that about her.

That is my story this evening.  My daughter is sliding toward her eighteenth birthday, and I am having severe separation issues.  Perhaps, I'm not ready to be the father of any almost adult young woman.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight that his daughter still calls him "Daddy."

August 20: James Lenfestey, "Daughter," End of Summer Time


by:  James Lenfestey

A daughter is not a passing cloud, but permanent,
holding earth and sky together with her shadow.
She sleeps upstairs like mystery in a story,
blowing leaves down the stairs, then cold air, then warm.
We who at sixty should know everything, know nothing.
We become dull and disoriented by uncertain weather.
We kneel, palms together, before this blossoming altar.


A poem that really captures my feelings tonight.

I know that this time comes in every father's life.  I've spent my whole father life protecting my daughter, spoiling her, drying her tears, bandaging her scrapes and cuts.  Now, I'm feeling it all slipping away at this end of summer time.

Things are changing, and I don't deal well with change.

Saint Marty is going to have a tough school year.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

August 19: Facebook Memory, Classic Saint Marty, "Emmaus"

This morning, when I woke up, Facebook had sent me a memory:  a picture of my sister who died three years ago on this day.  It took me by surprise.  In the back of my head, I knew it was the anniversary of her passing, but I wasn't prepared to see her face smiling at me from my phone.

I just got back from visiting the cemetery with my daughter.  It's been a long, warm, sad day.  I've spent most of it mowing grass.  In an hour or so, dinner at my parents' house.

Today's Classic Saint Marty is from three years ago . . .

August 19, 2015:  Bewildered Expression, 6:27 a.m., Maggie Nelson, Unbearably Vivid Colors

And then Ives blinked and found himself standing on the sidewalk beside his wife, across the street from the Church of the Ascension.  On the pavement, just by his feet, was a large piece of canvas, and under it a body, stretched out.   Then the officer lifted off the canvas and shined a flashlight onto the face to reveal the shocked and bewildered expression of his son.

My sister died this morning at 6:27 a.m.

When I saw her last night, she was breathing hard, each intake hitting her chest like a hammer.  I leaned over, said her name and then, "It's me.  Marty."  Her eyelid lifted, and she focused on me.  I told her about my long day of work.  I told her about classes starting next week.  Just before I left, I leaned over and whispered, "You don't have to be afraid, Sal.  You don't."

When I got to my parents' house at around 5 a.m., my sister was surrounded by the people who loved her.  My mother and father, siblings, nieces, nephews, and best friends.  We all stood around her, touched her hands and feet, told her how much we loved her.

Her breaths got slower, the spaces in between longer, and then she was simply gone.

I thought I was prepared for it.  I thought I was going to hold myself together.  I thought a lot of things.  But, in those moments following my sister's death, I felt an incredible emptiness enter me, as if I had been scooped out like a pumpkin at Halloween.  I wasn't prepared.

It has been about twelve hours since that moment.  I am still not prepared for a world without my sister.  For 17 years, I worked with her.  Eight- and nine- and ten-hour days.  I spent more time with her than any of my other siblings, and we knew each other deeply.  Trusted each other deeply.  Loved each other deeply, without having to say it.

There will be no cartoon tonight.  No laughter.

My sister once said to me, "You know, I wish I was as strong as you."

Saint Marty isn't strong tonight.  He's heartbroken.

98 from Bluets

by:  Maggie Nelson

Vincent van Gogh, whose depression, some say, was likely related to temporal epilepsy, famously saw and painted the world in almost unbearably vivid colors.  After his nearly unsuccessful attempt to take his life by shooting himself in the gut, when asked why he should not be saved, he famously replied, "The sadness will last forever."  I imagine he was right.

Loss never gets easier.  It gets more distant, until days like today, when it becomes fresh again, like grass that's just been cut, bleeding the smell of green into the air.

A poem for today . . .


by:  Martin Achatz

My sister lies in her bed
while her neighbors scream
in the hallway outside her door.
My sock, something’s wrong
with my sock, moans one voice.
And, Give it back, give it back now,
begs another, so full of longing
that I want to find its owner,
reach into my pants pocket,
empty its contents into
the speaker’s hands, hope
that, among the five quarters,
scrap of paper with a phone number,
burned-out Christmas bulb,
Tootsie Roll wrapper, maybe,
just maybe, he may find
what he’s lost.  My sister
has grown deaf to these voices.
She grips her bedrails,
grimaces, pulls herself closer
to me, the effot making her
shake as if some fist
is pounding on the door of her
body.  Do you want a drink?
I ask.  No, she says.
Are you warm enough? I ask.
She nods, closes her eyes.
Should I change the channel?
I ask.  No, she says again.
Then silence as she drifts
like a vagrant kite on a windy
day.  I wonder if she dreams
her body whole, climbs through
the window of her room, begins
walking down the road, between
the snowbanks, under the moon.
Maybe she meets other people
who tell her about the things
they can’t find.  Socks.  Cocker spaniels.
Birthday cards.  Wives.  Poems.
Husbands.  Photographs.  Friends.
The road is crowded with loss.
But they all keep moving, like pilgrims
on some cold Easter morning, hoping
to meet the one who will have
directions, will know how to get home.