Tuesday, October 30, 2018

October 30: The Chase--The First Day, My Wife's Birthday, What Really Counts

That night, in the mid-watch when the old man- as his wont at intervals- stepped forth from the scuttle in which he leaned, and went to his pivot-hole, he suddenly thrust out his face fiercely, snuffing up the sea air as a sagacious ship's dog will, in drawing nigh to some barbarous isle. He declared that a whale must be near. Soon that peculiar odor, sometimes to a great distance given forth by the living sperm whale, was palpable to all the watch; nor was any mariner surprised when, after inspecting the compass, and then the dog-vane, and then ascertaining the precise bearing of the odor as nearly as possible, Ahab rapidly ordered the ship's course to be slightly altered, and the sail to be shortened.

The acute policy dictating these movements was sufficiently vindicated at daybreak, by the sight of a long sleek on the sea directly and lengthwise ahead, smooth as oil, and resembling in the pleated watery wrinkles bordering it, the polished metallic-like marks of some swift tide-rip, at the mouth of a deep, rapid stream.

"Man the mast-heads! Call all hands!"

Thundering with the butts of three clubbed handspikes on the forecastle deck, Daggoo roused the sleepers with such judgment claps that they seemed to exhale from the scuttle, so instantaneously did they appear with their clothes in their hands.

"What d'ye see?" cried Ahab, flattening his face to the sky.

"Nothing, nothing sir!" was the sound hailing down in reply.

"T'gallant sails!- stunsails! alow and aloft, and on both sides!"

All sail being set, he now cast loose the life-line, reserved for swaying him to the main royal-mast head; and in a few moments they were hoisting him thither, when, while but two thirds of the way aloft, and while peering ahead through the horizontal vacancy between the main-top-sail and top-gallant-sail, he raised a gull-like cry in the air. "There she blows!- there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Dick!"

Fired by the cry which seemed simultaneously taken up by the three look-outs, the men on deck rushed to the rigging to behold the famous whale they had so long been pursuing. Ahab had now gained his final perch, some feet above the other look-outs, Tashtego standing just beneath him on the cap of the top-gallant-mast, so that the Indian's head was almost on a level with Ahab's heel. From this height the whale was now seen some mile or so ahead, at every roll of the sea revealing his high sparkling hump, and regularly jetting his silent spout into the air. To the credulous mariners it seemed the same silent spout they had so long ago beheld in the moonlit Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
"And did none of ye see it before?" cried Ahab, hailing the perched men all around him.

"I saw him almost that same instant, sir, that Captain Ahab did, and I cried out," said Tashtego.

"Not the same instant; not the same- no, the doubloon is mine, Fate reserved the doubloon for me. I only; none of ye could have raised the White Whale first. There she blows!- there she blows!- there she blows! There again!- there again!" he cried, in long-drawn, lingering, methodic tones, attuned to the gradual prolongings of the whale's visible jets. "He's going to sound! In stunsails! Down top-gallant-sails! Stand by three boats. Mr. Starbuck, remember, stay on board, and keep the ship. Helm there! Luff, luff a point! So; steady, man, steady! There go flukes! No, no; only black water! All ready the boats there? Stand by, stand by! Lower me, Mr. Starbuck; lower, lower,- quick, quicker!" and he slid through the air to the deck.

"He is heading straight to leeward, sir," cried Stubb, "right away from us; cannot have seen the ship yet."

"Be dumb, man! Stand by the braces! Hard down the helm!- brace up! Shiver her!- shiver her!- So; well that! Boats, boats!"

Soon all the boats but Starbuck's were dropped; all the boat-sails set- all the paddles plying; with rippling swiftness, shooting to leeward; and Ahab heading the onset. A pale, death-glimmer lit up Fedallah's sunken eyes; a hideous motion gnawed his mouth.

Like noiseless nautilus shells, their light prows sped through the sea; but only slowly they neared the foe. As they neared him, the ocean grew still more smooth; seemed drawing a carpet over its waves; seemed a noon-meadow, so serenely it spread. At length the breathless hunter came so nigh seemingly unsuspecting prey, that his entire dazzling hump was distinctly visible, sliding along the sea as if an isolated thing, and continually set in a revolving ring of finest, fleecy, greenish foam. He saw the vast, involved wrinkles of the slightly projecting head beyond. Before it, far out on the soft Turkish-rugged waters, went the glistening white shadow from his broad, milky forehead, a musical rippling playfully accompanying the shade; and behind, the blue waters interchangeably flowed over into the moving valley of his steady wake; and on either hand bright bubbles arose and danced by his side. But these were broken again by the light toes of hundreds of gay fowls softly feathering the sea, alternate with their fitful flight; and like to some flag-staff rising from the painted hull of an argosy, the tall but shattered pole of a recent lance projected from the white whale's back; and at intervals one of the cloud of soft-toed fowls hovering, and to and fro skimming like a canopy over the fish, silently perched and rocked on this pole, the long tail feathers streaming like pennons.

A gentle joyousness- a mighty mildness of repose in swiftness, invested the gliding whale. Not the white bull Jupiter swimming away with ravished Europa clinging to his graceful horns; his lovely, leering eyes sideways intent upon the maid; with smooth bewitching fleetness, rippling straight for the nuptial bower in Crete; not Jove, not that great majesty Supreme! did surpass the glorified White Whale as he so divinely swam.

On each soft side- coincident with the parted swell, that but once leaving him then flowed so wide away- on each bright side, the whale shed off enticings. No wonder there had been some among the hunters who namelessly transported and allured by all this serenity, had ventured to assail it; but had fatally found that quietude but the vesture of tornadoes. Yet calm, enticing calm, oh, whale! thou glidest on, to all who for the first time eye thee, no matter how many in that same way thou mayst have bejuggled and destroyed before.

And thus, through the serene tranquilities of the tropical sea, among waves whose hand-clappings were suspended by exceeding rapture, Moby Dick moved on, still withholding from sight the full terrors of his submerged trunk, entirely hiding the wrenched hideousness of his jaw. But soon the fore part of him slowly rose from the water; for an instant his whole marbleized body formed a high arch, like Virginia's Natural Bridge, and warningly waving his bannered flukes in the air, the grand god revealed himself, sounded and went out of sight. Hoveringly halting, and dipping on the wing, the white sea-fowls longingly lingered over the agitated pool that he left.

With oars apeak, and paddles down, the sheets of their sails adrift, the three boats now stilly floated, awaiting Moby Dick's reappearance.

"An hour," said Ahab, standing rooted in his boat's stern; and he gazed beyond the whale's place, towards the dim blue spaces and wide wooing vacancies to leeward. It was only an instant; for again his eyes seemed whirling round in his head as he swept the watery circle. The breeze now freshened; the sea began to swell.

"The birds!- the birds!" cried Tashtego.

In long Indian file, as when herons take wing, the white birds were now all flying towards Ahab's boat; and when within a few yards began fluttering over the water there, wheeling round and round, with joyous, expectant cries. Their vision was keener than man's; Ahab could discover no sign in the sea. But suddenly as he peered down and down into its depths, he profoundly saw a white living spot no bigger than a white weasel, with wonderful celerity uprising, and magnifying as it rose, till it turned, and then there were plainly revealed two long crooked rows of white, glistening teeth, floating up from the undiscoverable bottom. It was Moby Dick's open mouth and scrolled jaw; his vast, shadowed bulk still half blending with the blue of the sea. The glittering mouth yawned beneath the boat like an open-doored marble tomb; and giving one sidelong sweep with his steering oar, Ahab whirled the craft aside from this tremendous apparition. Then, calling upon Fedallah to change places with him, went forward to the bows, and seizing Perth's harpoon, commanded his crew to grasp their oars and stand by to stern.

Now, by reason of this timely spinning round the boat upon its axis, its bow, by anticipation, was made to face the whale's head while yet under water. But as if perceiving this stratagem, Moby Dick, with that malicious intelligence ascribed to him, sidelingly transplanted himself, as it were, in an instant, shooting his pleated head lengthwise beneath the boat.

Through and through; through every plank and each rib, it thrilled for an instant, the whale obliquely lying on his back, in the manner of a biting shark slowly and feelingly taking its bows full within his mouth, so that the long, narrow, scrolled lower jaw curled high up into the open air, and one of the teeth caught in a row-lock. The bluish pearl-white of the inside of the jaw was within six inches of Ahab's head, and reached higher than that. In this attitude the White Whale now shook the slight cedar as a mildly cruel cat her mouse. With unastonished eyes Fedallah gazed, and crossed his arms; but the tiger-yellow crew were tumbling over each other's heads to gain the uttermost stern.

And now, while both elastic gunwales were springing in and out, as the whale dallied with the doomed craft in this devilish way; and from his body being submerged beneath the boat, he could not be darted at from the bows, for the bows were almost inside of him, as it were; and while the other boats involuntarily paused, as before a quick crisis impossible to withstand, then it was that monomaniac Ahab, furious with this tantalizing vicinity of his foe, which placed him all alive and helpless in the very jaws he hated; frenzied with all this, he seized the long bone with his naked hands, and wildly strove to wrench from its gripe. As now he thus vainly strove, the jaw slipped from him; the frail gunwales bent in, collapsed, and snapped, as both jaws, like an enormous shears, sliding further aft, bit the craft completely in twain, and locked themselves fast again in the sea, midway between the two floating wrecks. These floated aside, the broken ends drooping, the crew at the stern-wreck clinging to the gunwales, and striving to hold fast to the oars to lash them across.

At that preluding moment, ere the boat was yet snapped, Ahab, the first to perceive the whale's intent, by the crafty upraising of his head, a movement that loosed his hold for the time; at that moment his hand had made one final effort to push the boat out of the bite. But only slipping further into the whale's mouth, and tilting over sideways as it slipped, the boat had shaken off his hold on the jaw; spilled him out of it, as he leaned to the push; and so he fell flat-faced upon the sea.

Ripplingly withdrawing from his prey, Moby Dick now lay at a little distance, vertically thrusting his oblong white head up and down in the billows; and at the same time slowly revolving his whole spindled body; so that when his vast wrinkled forehead rose- some twenty or more feet out of the water- the now rising swells, with all their confluent waves, dazzlingly broke against it; vindictively tossing their shivered spray still higher into the air.* So, in a gale, the but half baffled Channel billows only recoil from the base of the Eddystone, triumphantly to overleap its summit with their scud.

*This motion is peculiar to the sperm whale. It receives its designation (pitchpoling) from its being likened to that preliminary up-and-down poise of the whale-lance, in the exercise called pitchpoling, previously described. By this motion the whale must best and most comprehensively view whatever objects may be encircling him.

But soon resuming his horizontal attitude, Moby Dick swam swiftly round and round the wrecked crew; sideways churning the water in his vengeful wake, as if lashing himself up to still another and more deadly assault. The sight of the splintered boat seemed to madden him, as the blood of grapes and mulberries cast before Antiochus's elephants in the book of Maccabees. Meanwhile Ahab half smothered in the foam of the whale's insolent tail, and too much of a cripple to swim,- though he could still keep afloat, even in the heart of such a whirlpool as that; helpless Ahab's head was seen, like a tossed bubble which the least chance shock might burst. From the boat's fragmentary stern, Fedallah incuriously and mildly eved him; the clinging crew, at the other drifting end, could not succor him; more than enough was it for them to look to themselves. For so revolvingly appalling was the White Whale's aspect, and so planetarily swift the ever-contracting circles he made, that he seemed horizontally swooping upon them. And though the other boats, unharmed, still hovered hard by; still they dared not pull into the eddy to strike, lest that should be the signal for the instant destruction of the jeopardized castaways, Ahab and all; nor in that case could they themselves hope to escape. With straining eyes, then, they remained on the outer edge of the direful zone, whose centre had now become the old man's head.

Meantime, from the beginning all this had been descried from the ship's mast heads; and squaring her yards, she had borne down upon the scene; and was now so nigh, that Ahab in the water hailed her!- "Sail on the"- but that moment a breaking sea dashed on him from Moby Dick, and whelmed him for the time. But struggling out of it again, and chancing to rise on a towering crest, he shouted,- "Sail on the whale!- Drive him off!"

The Pequod's prows were pointed-, and breaking up the charmed circle, she effectually parted the white whale from his victim. As he sullenly swam off, the boats flew to the rescue.

Dragged into Stubb's boat with blood-shot, blinded eyes, the white brine caking in his wrinkles; the long tension of Ahab's bodily strength did crack, and helplessly he yielded to his body's doom for a time, lying all crushed in the bottom of Stubb's boat, like one trodden under foot of herds of elephants. Far inland, nameless wails came from him, as desolate sounds from out ravines.

But this intensity of his physical prostration did but so much the more abbreviate it. In an instant's compass, great hearts sometimes condense to one deep pang, the sum total of those shallow pains kindly diffused through feebler men's whole lives. And so, such hearts, though summary in each one suffering; still, if the gods decree it, in their life-time aggregate a whole age of woe, wholly made up of instantaneous intensities; for even in their pointless centres, those noble natures contain the entire circumferences of inferior souls.

"The harpoon," said Ahab, half way rising, and draggingly leaning on one bended arm- "is it safe?"

"Aye, sir, for it was not darted; this is it," said Stubb, showing it.

"Lay it before me;- any missing men?"

"One, two, three, four, five;- there were five oars, sir, and here are five men."

"That's good.- Help me, man; I wish to stand. So, so, I see him! there! there! going to leeward still; what a leaping spout!- Hands off from me! The eternal sap runs up in Ahab's bones again! Set the sail; out oars; the helm!"

It is often the case that when a boat is stove, its crew, being picked up by another boat, help to work that second boat; and the chase is thus continued with what is called double-banked oars. It was thus now. But the added power of the boat did not equal the added power of the whale, for he seemed to have treble-banked his every fin; swimming with a velocity which plainly showed, that if now, under these circumstances, pushed on, the chase would prove an indefinitely prolonged, if not a hopeless one; nor could any crew endure for so long a period, such an unintermitted, intense straining at the oar; a thing barely tolerable only in some one brief vicissitude. The ship itself, then, as it sometimes happens, offered the most promising intermediate means of overtaking the chase. Accordingly, the boats now made for her, and were soon swayed up to their cranes- the two parts of the wrecked boat having been previously secured by her- and then hoisting everything to her side, and stacking her canvas high up, and sideways outstretching it with stunsails, like the double-jointed wings of an albatross; the Pequod bore down in the leeward wake of Moby Dick. At the well known, methodic intervals, the whale's glittering spout was regularly announced from the manned mast-heads; and when he would be reported as just gone down, Ahab would take the time, and then pacing the deck, binnacle-watch in hand, so soon as the last second of the allotted hour expired, his voice was heard.- "Whose is the doubloon now? D'ye see him?" and if the reply was No, sir! straightway he commanded them to lift him to his perch. In this way the day wore on; Ahab, now aloft and motionless; anon, unrestingly pacing the planks.

As he was thus walking, uttering no sound, except to hail the men aloft, or to bid them hoist a sail still higher, or to spread one to a still greater breadth- thus to and fro pacing, beneath his slouched hat, at every turn he passed his own wrecked boat, which had been dropped upon the quarter-deck, and lay there reversed; broken bow to shattered stern. At last he paused before it; and as in an already over-clouded sky fresh troops of clouds will sometimes sail across, so over the old man's face there now stole some such added gloom as this.

Stubb saw him pause; and perhaps intending, not vainly, though, to evince his own unabated fortitude, and thus keep up a valiant place in his Captain's mind, he advanced, and eyeing the wreck exclaimed- "The thistle the ass refused; it pricked his mouth too keenly, sir, ha! ha!"

"What soulless thing is this that laughs before a wreck? Man, man! did I not know thee brave as fearless fire (and as mechanical) I could swear thou wert a paltroon. Groan nor laugh should be heard before a wreck."

"Aye, sir," said Starbuck drawing near, "'tis a solemn sight; an omen, and an ill one."

"Omen? omen?- the dictionary! If the gods think to speak outright to man, they will honorably speak outright; not shake their heads, and give an old wives' darkling hint.- Begone! Ye two are the opposite poles of one thing; Starbuck is Stubb reversed, and Stubb is Starbuck; and ye two are all mankind; and Ahab stands alone among the millions of the peopled earth, nor gods nor men his neighbors! Cold, cold- I shiver!- How now? Aloft there! D'ye see him? Sing out for every spout, though he spout ten times a second!"

The day was nearly done; only the helm of his golden robe was rustling. Soon it was almost dark, but the look-out men still remained unset.

"Can't see the spout now, sir;- too dark"- cried a voice from the air.

"How heading when last seen?"

"As before, sir,- straight to leeward."

"Good! he will travel slower now 'tis night. Down royals and top-gallant stunsails, Mr. Starbuck. We must not run over him before morning; he's making a passage now, and may heave-to a while. Helm there! keep her full before the wind!- Aloft! come down!- Mr. Stubb, send a fresh hand to the fore-mast head, and see it manned till morning."- Then advancing towards the doubloon in the main-mast- "Men, this gold is mine, for I earned it; but I shall let it abide here till the White Whale is dead; and then, whosoever of ye first raises him, upon the day he shall be killed, this gold is that man's; and if on that day I shall again raise him, then, ten times its sum shall be divided among all of ye! Away now! the deck is thine, sir!"

And so saying, he placed himself half way within the scuttle, and slouching his hat, stood there till dawn, except when at intervals rousing himself to see how the night wore on.

Ahab finally spies Moby-Dick, three chapters before the end of the novel.  All has been leading to this moment.  Queequeg and Ishmael's first meeting.  Queequeg's trance in the room on Nantucket.  The Pequod.  Tashtego and Starbuck.  The oceans and seas and stories and digressions.  All leading to the appearance of Moby-Dick's white hump on the horizon.  The book is unclear about how long the crew of the Pequod has been sailing and whaling, but the hold of the ship is full of barrels of rendered sperm whale.

Today is my wife's birthday.  I wanted to stop and get her some birthday cards last night at Walmart.  Was planning on getting her a cake today.  I want to make this day special for her.  Unfortunately, my plans didn't work out.  Money is really tight this week due to various bills coming due.  So I couldn't buy her cards last night.  Couldn't pick up a cheesecake for her.  Instead, I bought a cupcake for her, and, when I get home, I will put a candle in the cupcake, and we will sing "Happy Birthday" and watch her make a wish and blow out the candle.

Like Ahab, this day has not turned out the way I wanted.  Ahab's boat gets bitten in two, and he almost drowns.  I've had to settle for a cupcake.  Not very exciting.  When I spoke with her this afternoon, she said that she was having a wonderful day.  She got to sleep in as long as she wanted.  She didn't have to work today.  And this afternoon, she's going grocery shopping and then spending some time at Lake Superior by herself.

She and I have been through a lot together.  It hasn't always been easy sailing.  There have been plenty of white whales in our relationship and marriage.  Mental illness.  Sexual addiction.  Separation headed toward divorce.  But, of course, there have been the miracles of our kids.  Trips to New York City.  Family vacations at wonderful resorts.  Laughter and, always, love.

I suppose that's what really counts tonight.  It isn't whether I could buy the most expensive Hallmark card or creamiest cheesecake.  Or whether I could hand her a jewelry box with a diamond ring.  It's all about those small moments.  Saying prayers with our son at night.  Watching our daughter sing in her Christmas concert.  Holding hands as we go for a walk.  Finding each other in the dark after waking from a nightmare.

Saint Marty is so thankful tonight for his beautiful wife on the day of her birth.

October 30: Wesley McNair, "For My Wife," Happy Birthday

For My Wife

by:  Wesley McNair

How were we to know, leaving your two kids
behind in New Hampshire for our honeymoon
at twenty-one, that it was a trick of cheap
hotels in New York City to draw customers
like us inside by displaying a fancy lobby?
Arriving in our fourth-floor room, we found
a bed, a scarred bureau, and a bathroom door
with a cut on one side the exact shape
of the toilet bowl that was in its way
when I closed it. I opened and shut the door,
admiring the fit and despairing of it. You
discovered the initials of lovers carved
on the bureau’s top in a zigzag, breaking heart.
How wrong the place was to us then,
unable to see the portents of our future
that seem so clear now in the naiveté
of the arrangements we made, the hotel’s
disdain for those with little money,
the carving of pain and love. Yet in that room
we pulled the covers over ourselves and lay
our love down, and in this way began our unwise
and persistent and lucky life together.


I am the luckiest guy in the world because I have the most supportive, loving partner in my life.

That's about all Saint Marty has to say about that.  Happy birthday to this beautiful person.

Monday, October 29, 2018

October 29: Rabbi Allen S. Maller, "When All That's Left Is Love," Pittsburgh Shooting

When All That's Left Is Love

by:  Rabbi Allen S. Maller

When I die
If you need to weep
Cry for someone
Walking the street beside you.
You can love me most by letting
Hands touch hands, and
Souls touch souls.
You can love me most by
Sharing your Simchas (goodness) and
Multiplying your Mitzvot (acts of kindness).
You can love me most by
Letting me live in your eyes
And not on your mind.
And when you say
Kaddish for me
Remember what our
Torah teaches,
Love doesn’t die
People do.
So when all that’s left of me is love
Give me away.


I am tired of hatred.  Tired of guns and violence.  Tired of leaders who send thoughts and prayers with one breath, and call Nazis and white supremacists "good people" in the next breath.

Make no mistake:  what happened in Pittsburgh is a direct result of the 2016 presidential election.  Hatred has become acceptable in America.  Pipe bombs and shootings at synagogues, simply political inconveniences.

I am heartbroken for the Jewish community.  I am terrified for my country.

Saint Marty has no other words. 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

October 27: The Symphony, Man in McDonald's, Republicans

It was a clear steel-blue day. The firmaments of air and sea were hardly separable in that all-pervading azure; only, the pensive air was transparently pure and soft, with a woman's look, and the robust and man-like sea heaved with long, strong, lingering swells, as Samson's chest in his sleep.
Hither, and thither, on high, glided the snow-white wings of small, unspeckled birds; these were the gentle thoughts of the feminine air; but to and fro in the deeps, far down in the bottomless blue, rushed mighty leviathans, sword-fish, and sharks; and these were the strong, troubled, murderous thinkings of the masculine sea.

But though thus contrasting within, the contrast was only in shades and shadows without; those two seemed one; it was only the sex, as it were, that distinguished them.

Aloft, like a royal czar and king, the sun seemed giving this gentle air to this bold and rolling sea; even as bride to groom. And at the girdling line of the horizon, a soft and tremulous motion- most seen here at the Equator- denoted the fond, throbbing trust, the loving alarms, with which the poor bride gave her bosom away.

Tied up and twisted; gnarled and knotted with wrinkles; haggardly firm and unyielding; his eyes glowing like coals, that still glow in the ashes of ruin; untottering Ahab stood forth in the clearness of the morn; lifting his splintered helmet of a brow to the fair girl's forehead of heaven.

Oh, immortal infancy, and innocency of the azure! Invisible winged creatures that frolic all round us! Sweet childhood of air and sky! how oblivious were ye of old Ahab's close-coiled woe! But so have I seen little Miriam and Martha, laughing-eyed elves, heedlessly gambol around their old sire; sporting with the circle of singed locks which grew on the marge of that burnt-out crater of his brain.

Slowly crossing the deck from the scuttle, Ahab leaned over the side and watched how his shadow in the water sank and sank to his gaze, the more and the more that he strove to pierce the profundity. But the lovely aromas in that enchanted air did at last seem to dispel, for a moment, the cankerous thing in his soul. That glad, happy air, that winsome sky, did at last stroke and caress him; the step-mother world, so long cruel- forbidding- now threw affectionate arms round his stubborn neck, and did seem to joyously sob over him, as if over one, that however wilful and erring, she could yet find it in her heart to save and to bless. From beneath his slouched hat Ahab dropped a tear into the sea; nor did all the Pacific contain such wealth as that one wee drop.

Starbuck saw the old man; saw him, how he heavily leaned over the side; and he seemed to hear in his own true heart the measureless sobbing that stole out of the centre of the serenity around. Careful not to touch him, or be noticed by him, he yet drew near to him, and stood there.
Ahab turned.



"Oh, Starbuck! it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky. On such a day- very much such a sweetness as this- I struck my first whale- a boy-harpooneer of eighteen! Forty- forty- forty years ago!- ago! Forty years of continual whaling! forty years of privation, and peril, and storm-time! forty years on the pitiless sea! for forty years has Ahab forsaken the peaceful land, for forty years to make war on the horrors of the deep! Aye and yes, Starbuck, out of those forty years I have not spent three ashore. When I think of this life I have led; the desolation of solitude it has been; the masoned, walled-town of a Captain's exclusiveness, which admits but small entrance to any sympathy from the green country without- oh, weariness! heaviness! Guinea-coast slavery of solitary command!- when I think of all this; only half-suspected, not so keenly known to me before- and how for forty years I have fed upon dry salted fare- fit emblem of the dry nourishment of my soul!- when the poorest landsman has had fresh fruit to his daily hand, and broken the world's fresh bread to my mouldy crusts- away, whole oceans away, from that young girl-wife I wedded past fifty, and sailed for Cape Horn the next day, leaving but one dent in my marriage pillow- wife? wife?- rather a widow with her husband alive? Aye, I widowed that poor girl when I married her, Starbuck; and then, the madness, the frenzy, the boiling blood and the smoking brow, with which, for a thousand lowerings old Ahab has furiously, foamingly chased his prey- more a demon than a man!- aye, aye! what a forty years' fool- fool- old fool, has old Ahab been! Why this strife of the chase? why weary, and palsy the arm at the oar, and the iron, and the lance? how the richer or better is Ahab now? Behold. Oh, Starbuck! is it not hard, that with this weary load I bear, one poor leg should have been snatched from under me? Here, brush this old hair aside; it blinds me, that I seem to weep. Locks so grey did never grow but from out some ashes! But do I look very old, so very, very old, Starbuck? I feel deadly faint, bowed, and humped, as though I were Adam, staggering beneath the piled centuries since Paradise. God!  God! God!- crack my heart!- stave my brain!- mockery! mockery! bitter, biting mockery of grey hairs, have I lived enough joy to wear ye; and seem and feel thus intolerably old? Close! stand close to me, Starbuck; let me look into a human eye; it is better than to gaze into sea or sky; better than to gaze upon God. By the green land; by the bright hearthstone! this is the magic glass, man; I see my wife and my child in thine eye. No, no; stay on board, on board!- lower not when I do; when branded Ahab gives chase to Moby Dick. That hazard shall not be thine. No, no! not with the far away home I see in that eye!"

"Oh, my Captain! my Captain! noble soul! grand old heart, after all! why should any one give chase to that hated fish! Away with me! let us fly these deadly waters! let us home! Wife and child, too, are Starbuck's- wife and child of his brotherly, sisterly, play-fellow youth; even as thine, sir, are the wife and child of thy loving, longing, paternal old age! Away! let us away!- this instant let me alter the course! How cheerily, how hilariously, O my Captain, would we bowl on our way to see old Nantucket again! I think, sir, they have some such mild blue days, even as this, in Nantucket."

"They have, they have. I have seen them- some summer days in the morning. About this time- yes, it is his noon nap now- the boy vivaciously wakes; sits up in bed; and his mother tells him of me, of cannibal old me; how I am abroad upon the deep, but will yet come back to dance him again."

"'Tis my Mary, my Mary herself! She promised that my boy, every morning, should be carried to the hill to catch the first glimpse of his father's sail! Yes, yes! no more! it is done! we head for Nantucket! Come, my Captain, study out the course, and let us away! See, see! the boy's face from the window! the boy's hand on the hill!"

But Ahab's glance was averted; like a blighted fruit tree he shook, and cast his last, cindered apple to the soil.

"What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike. And all the time, lo! that smiling sky, and this unsounded sea! Look! see yon Albicore! who put it into him to chase and fang that flying-fish? Where do murderers go, man! Who's to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar? But it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky; and the airs smells now, as if it blew from a far-away meadow; they have been making hay somewhere under the slopes of the Andes, Starbuck, and the mowers are sleeping among the new-mown hay. Sleeping? Aye, toil we how we may, we all sleep at last on the field. Sleep? Aye, and rust amid greenness; as last year's scythes flung down, and left in the half-cut swarths- Starbuck!"

But blanched to a corpse's hue with despair, the Mate had stolen away.

Ahab crossed the deck to gaze over on the other side; but started at two reflected, fixed eyes in the water there, Fedallah was motionlessly leaning over the same rail.

Starbuck makes one final plea for Ahab to give up his hunt for the white whale, to chart a course for Nantucket, to wife and children and family.  It seems, for a few moments, as if Ahab is wavering, recognizing the danger of his Moby-Dick mission.  And then the moment passes.  Starbuck gives up, leaving Ahab to the dark seawater and what lies beneath it.

I just spent over an hour talking to a man in McDonald's.  A complete and total stranger who was sitting at a table beside me, scrolling through his phone.  He was older, retired.  His face was covered in gray stubble.  I had no intention of having this conversation, as most men of his age and appearance are pretty much diametrically opposed to almost every belief I hold.  Yet, I sat and listened, thinking of this scene between Ahab and Starbuck.

My Ahab was a retired corrections officer.  Diabetic.  Almost lost a leg a year ago.  His mother died four months ago.  He goes to my church, likes our new priest.  Didn't know I was the Saturday organist at church.  Knows A LOT about historic snowstorms and weather.  I'm not sure he believes in climate change.  He made comments along the lines of "weather goes in 70-year cycles," which leads me to believe that he's a pseudo-scientist.  And, sometime during the course of our conversation, said, "Trump's doing a good job, even though he's a little rough around the edges."

My wife, who was sitting beside me, noticed me sit up straighter when he made that last comment.

I shouldn't have been surprised, really.  McDonald's on Saturday morning is full of older retired guys who sit in their coffee cliques, solving the world's problems.  Donald Trump, with his rejection of hard science and suspicion of everyone with a different skin color/sexual orientation/gender, would fit right in.  It's Trump land.

So, I did my Starbuck best to be reasonable.  I made comments like "Donald Trump has a LOT of rough edges" and "America was in pretty good shape before Donald Trump" and "I think the stock market dropped over 1000 points a week or so ago."  I just couldn't keep my mouth shut and nod politely.  It didn't make a difference, though.  My Ahab went sailing right past those comments.

The thing is, he seemed like a really nice guy, despite his wrong-headed political and scientific beliefs.  Hard-working.  Struggling with his health.  The kind of guy you want around if your car gets stuck in a snowbank or you get a flat tire.  I'm sure he would stop to help if he saw me on the side of the road, struggling.

After about an hour, my Ahab left for home, to cut up some trees for firewood this winter.  And I sat at my table, breathing deeply, wishing that his life was a little easier as he limped away.  Nothing is going to change his mind about Donald Trump or Republicans.  I know that.  He's white.  A man. Retired corrections, so he's probably seen some pretty terrible things in his life.  Donald Trump is his antidote for all the troubles in his life.  Until his Medicare gets reduced or taken away or his pension from the state evaporates.

When my daughter was in Head Start, her teacher used to go through the attendance sheet.  If a student was missing, she would say, "Oh, Tommy isn't here today.  We wish him well."  Today, I wish my Ahab well.  Hope that he gets his firewood cut and that his leg stops bothering him.  And I hope that the Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives don't take away his Medicare.  And that the pharmaceutical companies don't raise the cost of his medications so much that he can't afford them.

Saint Marty wishes him well.

October 27: Robert Cording, "Hummingbird Annunciation," Uncontrollables

Hummingbird Annunciation

by:  Robert Cording

It's no wonder Gabriel appears
At my elbow, flashing his ruby throat, levitating,
And holding steady a foot or so
From a blooming orange azalea.  It's not me
He wants but those trumpeting petals.

Earlier this morning, I looked at a book
Of annunciation paintings, the curve
Of Mary's body finding a graceful equipoise
Between fear and acceptance as she holds herself
Open to awful wonder of an angel

Who tells her the good news
And also that her child's silent partner
Will be death.  Perhaps all annunciations
Involve the infernal terms living asks of us all.
My dear friend must decide today

Whether her husband of forty years should be
Removed from life support.  She gave herself
To the next thing that needed doing
When her husband's slow, terrible dying
Became unredeemable.  And me?

I've often shrunk the world to my desire
That everything will be alright,
A crude defense meant to exclude whatever
Is uncontrollable.  I turn away, afraid to be
Empty enough for something to enter.

Except perhaps something as small
As this tiny whirlwind, this sheen
Of emerald and ruby darting in and out
Of blooms, buzzing at my elbow as if with news
I can choose or not choose to hear.


Yes, I'm dealing with a lot of uncontrollables in my life right now.  Money and job worries.  Health insurance worries.  High school graduation worries for my daughter, with the attendant college tuition and scholarship worries.  Hopes and dreams and worries.

I know that I'm no different from any other adult with school-age children.  It just feels a little like a crossroads for me at the moment.  I would pay good money (if I had any) for some angel to appear and make some kind of annunciation about the future.

I think it would have been wonderful to live at a time when angels appeared with messages from God.  When prophets were around to heal leprosy and cancer.  When God made personal appearances on this planet.  I think it would make difficult times a little less difficult.  Hard decisions a little easier.

So, if you see an angel today, would you send her my way?  Tell her I have a few questions that need some annunciations.

Saint Marty is thankful today for prayer, which, at the moment is the currency of his life.

Friday, October 26, 2018

October 26: The Pequod Meets The Delight, Update, Sister's Legacy

The intense Pequod sailed on; the rolling waves and days went by; the life-buoy-coffin still lightly swung; and another ship, most miserably misnamed the Delight, was descried. As she drew nigh, all eyes were fixed upon her broad beams, called shears, which, in some whaling-ships, cross the quarter-deck at the height of eight or nine feet; serving to carry the spare, unrigged, or disabled boats.

Upon the stranger's shears were beheld the shattered, white ribs, and some few splintered planks, of what had once been a whale-boat; but you now saw through this wreck, as plainly as you see through the peeled, half-unhinged, and bleaching skeleton of a horse.

"Hast seen the White Whale?"

"Look!" replied the hollow-cheeked captain from his taffrail; and with his trumpet he pointed to the wreck.

"Hast killed him?"

"The harpoon is not yet forged that ever will do that," answered the other, sadly glancing upon a rounded hammock on the deck, whose gathered sides some noiseless sailors were busy in sewing together.

"Not forged!" and snatching Perth's levelled iron from the crotch, Ahab held it out, exclaiming- "Look ye, Nantucketer; here in this hand I hold his death! Tempered in blood, and tempered by lightning are these barbs; and I swear to temper them triply in that hot place behind the fin, where the White Whale most feels his accursed life!"

"Then God keep thee, old man- see'st thou that"- pointing to the hammock- "I bury but one of five stout men, who were alive only yesterday; but were dead ere night. Only that one I bury; the rest were buried before they died; you sail upon their tomb." Then turning to his crew- "Are ye ready there? place the plank then on the rail, and lift the body; so, then- Oh! God"- advancing towards the hammock with uplifted hands- "may the resurrection and the life-"

"Brace forward! Up helm!" cried Ahab like lightning to his men.

But the suddenly started Pequod was not quick enough to escape the sound of the splash that the corpse soon made as it struck the sea; not so quick, indeed, but that some of the flying bubbles might have sprinkled her hull with their ghostly baptism.

As Ahab now glided from the dejected Delight, the strange life-buoy hanging at the Pequod's stern came into conspicuous relief.

"Ha! yonder! look yonder, men!" cried a foreboding voice in her wake. "In vain, oh, ye strangers, ye fly our sad burial; ye but turn us your taffrail to show us your coffin!"

Friday night.  Finally.  After a week of really long days, I'm ready to relax, kick up my feet for a few minutes, and . . . clean my house, grade papers, and get ready for next week.  That's what I do.  I move from week to week, work to work.  Sometimes it feels like I never get ahead.  I'm the Pequod, always on the move in search of the white whale.  My white whale just happens to be a nap.

I have an update on my job situation at the medical office.  The doctors who do surgery at the facility where I work are jumping ship.  After December 31, they are taking all their cases to a hospital down the road.  The nurses are hunting for other positions within the health system.  Every day I work there is full of black clouds--again like the Pequod, sailing across the ocean, carrying a casket on its deck.  All of these things are occurring because of rumor and supposition.

Yes, I'm upset about the idea of losing a job that I've held for nearly 20 years.  Worried about the possible loss of income and health insurance.  But all that isn't what's really bothering me the most. 

My sister built the surgery center where I work.  I remember her sitting in a square space, roughed in by metal beams, the blueprints spread out on a folding table in front of her.  She wrote the policies and procedures.  Ordered the equipment.  Hired every single staff member.  Contacted the doctors.  Went through the accreditation process with the state and Joint Commission (a national organization that surveys all hospitals and medical facilities).  She was there to cut the ribbon on opening day.  And, for 25 years, she kept the place running through some very rough seas.  She really cared about the people and the place.  She built a family.  And she worked herself to death.  Literally.

Now, everyone is throwing up their hands, turning their backs, giving up.  My sister could have done that so many times during the quarter century she ran the place.  She could have taken easier, better-paying jobs.  She didn't do that, because she believed in something better.  It wasn't about money or power.  It was about doing something she really loved and trying to pass that love along to the nurses and office staff and scrub techs and surgeons.

So, I'm a little upset at the doctors and administration and coworkers who are making this rumor a self-fulfilling prophecy.  They are planning for doomsday, and their actions are probably going to cause doomsday.  They are killing my sister's legacy.  She won't even be a footnote in healthcare in this area.  All the policies and procedures she wrote (her signatures are still on the pages) will be thrown out.  And she will be gone.

I want to see the place stay open for selfish reasons:  when I'm there, I can still feel my sister close by.

Saint Marty is thankful today for what his sister built. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

October 24: Short Greeting, Still Alive, Series of Unfortunate Events

Greetings all!

I just wanted to post something short to let you know that I'm still alive (for the most part) and kicking.  I am experiencing one of those crazy confluence weeks where all kinds of things happen within a short period of time.  As I sit in my university office, wolfing down a cold piece of pizza before I teach my evening class, I'm feeling a little exhausted of work place drama and uncertainty.

For a person who is not a big fan of change, I have created a life for myself that seems to attract upheaval on a nearly constant basis.  When one part of my life is going well, another part is crumbling.  My teaching life and poet life is great at the moment.  My work days in the medical office have become a series of unfortunate events and rumors.  All of my coworkers are walking around with dark clouds above their heads.

So, that is my life at the moment.  Poetry.  Classes.  Doomsday.  Poetry.  More doomsday.  Classes.

Saint Marty will be thankful tonight for bed.

Monday, October 22, 2018

October 22: The Hat, Best Intentions, Success

And now that at the proper time and place, after so long and wide a preliminary cruise, Ahab,- all other whaling waters swept- seemed to have chased his foe into an oceanfold, to slay him the more securely there; now, that he found himself hard by the very latitude and longitude where his tormenting wound had been inflicted; now that a vessel had been spoken which on the very day preceding had actually encountered Moby Dick;- and now that all his successive meetings with various ships contrastingly concurred to show the demoniac indifference with which the white whale tore his hunters, whether sinning or sinned against; now it was that there lurked a something in the old man's eyes, which it was hardly sufferable for feeble souls to see. As the unsetting polar star, which through the livelong, arctic, six months' night sustains its piercing, steady, central gaze; so Ahab's purpose now fixedly gleamed down upon the constant midnight of the gloomy crew. It domineered above them so, that all their bodings, doubts, misgivings, fears, were fain to hide beneath their souls, and not sprout forth a single spear or leaf.

In this foreshadowing interval, too, all humor, forced or natural, vanished. Stubb no more strove to raise a smile; Starbuck no more strove to check one. Alike, joy and sorrow, hope and fear, seemed ground to finest dust, and powdered, for the time, in the clamped mortar of Ahab's iron soul. Like machines, they dumbly moved about the deck, ever conscious that the old man's despot eye was on them.

But did you deeply scan him in his more secret confidential hours when he thought no glance but one was on him; then you would have seen that even as Ahab's eyes so awed the crew's, the inscrutable Parsee's glance awed his; or somehow, at least, in some wild way, at times affected it. Such an added, gliding strangeness began to invest the thin Fedallah now; such ceaseless shudderings shook him; that the men looked dubious at him; half uncertain, as it seemed, whether indeed he were a mortal substance, or else a tremulous shadow cast upon the deck by some unseen being's body. And that shadow was always hovering there. For not by night, even, had Fedallah ever certainly been known to slumber, or go below. He would stand still for hours: but never sat or leaned; his wan but wondrous eves did plainly say- We two watchmen never rest.

Nor, at any time, by night or day could the mariners now step upon the deck, unless Ahab was before them; either standing in his pivot-hole, or exactly pacing the planks between two undeviating limits,- the main-mast and the mizen; or else they saw him standing in the cabin-scuttle,- his living foot advanced upon the deck, as if to step; his hat slouched heavily over his eyes; so that however motionless he stood, however the days and nights were added on, that he had not swung in his hammock; yet hidden beneath that slouching hat, they could never tell unerringly whether, for all this, his eyes were really closed at times; or whether he was still intently scanning them; no matter, though he stood so in the scuttle for a whole hour on the stretch, and the unheeded night-damp gathered in beads of dew upon that stone-carved coat and hat. The clothes that the night had wet, the next day's sunshine dried upon him; and so, day after day, and night after night; he went no more beneath the planks; whatever he wanted from the cabin that thing he sent for.

He ate in the same open air; that is, his two only meals,- breakfast and dinner: supper he never touched; nor reaped his beard; which darkly grew all gnarled, as unearthed roots of trees blown over, which still grow idly on at naked base, though perished in the upper verdure. But though his whole life was now become one watch on deck; and though the Parsee's mystic watch was without intermission as his own; yet these two never seemed to speak- one man to the other- unless at long intervals some passing unmomentous matter made it necessary. Though such a potent spell seemed secretly to join the twain; openly, and to the awe-struck crew, they seemed pole-like asunder. If by day they chanced to speak one word; by night, dumb men were both, so far as concerned the slightest verbal interchange. At times, for longest hours, without a single hail, they stood far parted in the starlight; Ahab in his scuttle, the Parsee by the main-mast; but still fixedly gazing upon each other; as if in the Parsee Ahab saw his forethrown shadow, in Ahab the Parsee his abandoned substance.
And yet, somehow, did Ahab- in his own proper self, as daily, hourly, and every instant, commandingly revealed to his subordinates,- Ahab seemed an independent lord; the Parsee but his slave. Still again both seemed yoked together, and an unseen tyrant driving them; the lean shade siding the solid rib. For be this Parsee what he may, all rib and keel was solid Ahab.

At the first faintest glimmering of the dawn, his iron voice was heard from aft,- "Man the mast-heads!"- and all through the day, till after sunset and after twilight, the same voice every hour, at the striking of the helmsman's bell, was heard- "What d'ye see?- sharp! sharp!"

But when three or four days had slided by, after meeting the children-seeking Rachel; and no spout had yet been seen; the monomaniac old man seemed distrustful of his crew's fidelity; at least, of nearly all except the Pagan harpooneers; he seemed to doubt, even, whether Stubb and Flask might not willingly overlook the sight he sought. But if these suspicions were really his, he sagaciously refrained from verbally expressing them, however his actions might seem to hint them.

"I will have the first sight of the whale myself,"- he said. "Aye! Ahab must have the doubloon! and with his own hands he rigged a nest of basketed bowlines; and sending a hand aloft, with a single sheaved block, to secure to the mainmast head, he received the two ends of the downwardreeved rope; and attaching one to his basket prepared, pin for the other end, in order to fasten it at the rail. This done, with that end yet in his hand and standing beside the pin, he looked round upon his crew, sweeping from one to the other; pausing his glance long upon Daggoo, Queequeg, Tashtego; but shunning Fedallah; and then settling his firm relying eye upon the chief mate, said,- "Take the rope, sir- I give it into thy hands, Starbuck." Then arranging his person in the basket, he gave the word for them to hoist him to his perch, Starbuck being the one who secured the rope at last; and afterwards stood near it. And thus, with one hand clinging round the royal mast, Ahab gazed abroad upon the sea for miles and miles,- ahead astern, this side, and that,- within the wide expanded circle commanded at so great a height.

When in working with his hands at some lofty almost isolated place in the rigging, which chances to afford no foothold, the sailor at sea is hoisted up to that spot, and sustained there by the rope; under these circumstances, its fastened end on deck is always given in strict charge to some one man who has the special watch of it. Because in such a wilderness of running rigging, whose various different relations aloft cannot always be infallibly discerned by what is seen of them at the deck; and when the deck-ends of these ropes are being every few minutes cast down from the fastenings, it would be but a natural fatality, if, unprovided with a constant watchman, the hoisted sailor should by some carelessness of the crew be cast adrift and fall all swooping to the sea. So Ahab's proceedings in this matter were not unusual; the only strange thing about them seemed to be, that Starbuck, almost the one only man who had ever ventured to oppose him with anything in the slightest degree approaching to decision- one of those too, whose faithfulness on the look-out he had seemed to doubt somewhat; it was strange, that this was the very man he should select for his watchman; freely giving his whole life into such an otherwise distrusted person's hands.

Now, the first time Ahab was perched aloft; ere he had been there ten minutes; one of those red-billed savage sea-hawks which so often fly incommodiously close round the manned mast-heads of whalemen in these latitudes; one of these birds came wheeling and screaming round his head in a maze of untrackably swift circlings. Then it darted a thousand feet straight up into the air; then spiralized downwards, and went eddying again round his head.

But with his gaze fixed upon the dim and distant horizon, Ahab seemed not to mark this wild bird; nor, indeed, would any one else have marked it much, it being no uncommon circumstance; only now almost the least heedful eye seemed to see some sort of cunning meaning in almost every sight.
"Your hat, your hat, sir!" suddenly cried the Sicilian seaman, who being posted at the mizen-mast-head, stood directly behind Ahab, though somewhat lower than his level, and with a deep gulf of air dividing them.

But already the sable wing was before the old man's eyes; the long hooked bill at his head: with a scream, the black hawk darted away with his prize.

An eagle flew thrice round Tarquin's head, removing his cap to replace it, and thereupon Tanaquil, his wife, declared that Tarquin would be king of Rome. But only by the replacing of the cap was that omen accounted good. Ahab's hat was never restored; the wild hawk flew on and on with it; far in advance of the prow: and at last disappeared; while from the point of that disappearance, a minute black spot was dimly discerned, falling from that vast height into the sea.

Six chapters from the end of the book.  Ahab is closer to the white whale than he's been in over 600-plus pages.  He's not sleeping much.  Believes most of his crew has turned against him (which they have).  All of Ahab's layers have worn away.  Now, he's pure obsession, blind to everything but an albino hump, a snowy fluke, on the horizon.

Welcome to Monday evening.  I woke up this morning with the best intentions.  Grading papers.  Putting together medical charts.  Grading more papers.  Creating a brilliant lesson plan.  Posting something on Facebook that would go viral.  Then, the rough draft of a new poem before bed.  With any extra time, maybe going for a long walk.  Three miles at least.

All of that quickly went out the window when I couldn't find my car keys at 5:20 a.m., followed by a frantic 15-minute search.  When I got to work, five minutes late, I had a pile of work sitting on my desk that I hadn't anticipated.  Two hours later, I was already three hours behind in my best intentions list.  I never recovered.

So much for my Ahab-like monomaniacal focus.  As of 6:45 this evening, I have eight more papers to grade.  My lesson plan was mediocre, at best.  I've spent a few minutes simply "liking" other people's Facebook posts, and I'm in sweat pants with just enough energy to walk to the refrigerator for a bottle of water.  Monday-1, Best Intentions-0. 

Perhaps I'll get the rest of those papers graded.  If I do, I'll count that as a victory.  I'll probably also fantasize for a few minutes about winning the $1.6 billion Mega Millions jackpot.  Aside from that, my mind is pretty much oatmeal.

It's sad that I measure my daily success by work completed or not completed.  I'm a daily list-maker, but those daily lists frequently accomplish only one thing--making me feel like a failure.  I need to come up with a better measure for success.  Like, I played chess with my son for two hours tonight.  My daughter sent me a text this morning, out of the blue, that simply said, "I love you."  I had a great salted caramel this afternoon that made me believe in God again.

That's going to be my new obsession:  redefining what success is.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for a cold glass of water and maybe another salted caramel.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

October 20: The Cabin, My Son, Leatherface

(Ahab moving to go on deck; Pip catches him by the hand to follow.)

Lad, lad, I tell thee thou must not follow Ahab now. The hour is coming when Ahab would not scare thee from him, yet would not have thee by him. There is that in thee, poor lad, which I feel too curing to my malady. Like cures like; and for this hunt, my malady becomes my most desired health. Do thou abide below here, where they shall serve thee, as if thou wert the captain. Aye, lad, thou shalt sit here in my own screwed chair; another screw to it, thou must be."

"No, no, no! ye have not a whole body, sir; do ye but use poor me for your one lost leg; only tread upon me, sir; I ask no more, so I remain a part of ye."

"Oh! spite of million villains, this makes me a bigot in the fadeless fidelity of man!- and a black! and crazy!- but methinks like-cures-like applies to him too; he grows so sane again."

"They tell me, sir, that Stubb did once desert poor little Pip, whose drowned bones now show white, for all the blackness of his living skin. But I will never desert ye, sir, as Stubb did him. Sir, I must go with ye."

"If thou speakest thus to me much more, Ahab's purpose keels up in him. I tell thee no; it cannot be."

"Oh good master, master, master!

"Weep so, and I will murder thee! have a care, for Ahab too is mad. Listen, and thou wilt often hear my ivory foot upon the deck, and still know that I am there. And now I quit thee. Thy hand!- Met! True art thou, lad, as the circumference to its centre. So: God for ever bless thee; and if it come to that,- God for ever save thee, let what will befall."

(Ahab goes; Pip steps one step forward.)

"Here he this instant stood, I stand in his air,- but I'm alone. Now were even poor Pip here I could endure it, but he's missing. Pip! Pip! Ding, dong, ding! Who's seen Pip? He must be up here; let's try the door. What? neither lock, nor bolt, nor bar; and yet there's no opening it. It must be the spell; he told me to stay here: Aye, and told me this screwed chair was mine. Here, then, I'll seat me, against the transom, in the ship's full middle, all her keel and her three masts before me. Here, our old sailors say, in their black seventy-fours great admirals sometimes sit at table, and lord it over rows of captains and lieutenants. Ha! what's this? epaulets! epaulets! the epaulets all come crowding. Pass round the decanters; glad to see ye; fill up, monsieurs! What an odd feeling, now, when a black boy's host to white men with gold lace upon their coats!- Monsieurs, have ye seen one Pip?- a little negro lad, five feet high, hang-dog look, and cowardly! Jumped from a whale-boat once;- seen him? No! Well then, fill up again, captains, and let's drink shame upon all cowards! I name no names. Shame upon them! Put one foot upon the table. Shame upon all cowards.- Hist! above there, I hear ivory- Oh, master! master! I am indeed down-hearted when you walk over me. But there I'll stay, though this stern strikes rocks; and they bulge through; and oysters come to join me."

Ahab recognizes his own insanity in this chapter.  Does that make him sane?  He knows that his obsession spells doom for the crew of the Pequod, so he pushes Pip away.  Ahab has become attached to the boy, and Ahab knows that attachment might change his mind, make him more cautious.  In a way, Ahab, I think, sees himself in Pip.  They both suffer from mental illness.  Pip has become a surrogate son to him.

I'm staring at my green-haired son right now.  My son, who sometimes has the patience of Saint Francis and sometimes the patience of an angry hive of bees.  I know I haven't really written about him much in the last few months.  It's because he hasn't had many issues at school or home or dance.  He hasn't punched any kid in the face or brandished scissors at a teacher or kicked a tree down on the playground.

Instead, he's learned to play chess, gotten into VR gaming, and collects PoP figures.  He goes to dance.  Runs around outside.  Plays with his aunts' dogs.  Goes on shopping trips.  Reads.  Watches Impractical Jokers.  Swims.  Pretty much, he's a normal ten-year-old boy.  I never thought I'd be able to say that.

Of course, he has some bad days, but we all deserve those every once in a while.  He's learned to deal with his bad moods much less . . . violently.  He hasn't thrown any buckets at the TV and broken the screen in a long time.  This Halloween, he's chosen to go as Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Yes, they make a Leatherface costume small enough for a ten-year-old, which I find a little alarming.  Even that thought seems pretty normal.  Boys his age like gore and monsters.  I did.

So today, I celebrate my little Leatherface.  It's snowing out right now.  I'm sure he'll be outside in his snow pants this afternoon, rolling around, trying to make snowballs, getting drenched.  Tonight, I plan to take him and his sister to a Haunted Hayride.  Not really sure how he's going to react to that.  He doesn't really like to be scared.  But, he asked to go.  This morning, my teenage daughter said to me, "If he freaks out, I'm going to kill him."

Saint Marty is thankful this morning for having a son with a chainsaw.

October 20: Joseph Millar, "Night," Writing practice


by:  Joseph Millar

Nobody wants to fall sleep
watching the stars burn like trash fires
listening to the big waves smoke
down the rocks,
nobody wants to sleep.

My Pelikan 800 fountain pen,
green with a faint gold stripe,
lost with my hundred-proof memory,
my sea flat as glass,
its kelp leaves and poppies.

Now I watch the women
dressed in black--black shoes,
black pants, long hair falling
over their hands and wrists.
They star awake far into the night
writing their scattered poems,
sisters of the half-empty wine jar,
of childhood lost
in the coastal fog and the lapsed
Catholic funeral flowers.

Nobody thinks of going to sleep
now that the streetcars are silent,
now that the dew seeps
into the grass.
I came west in my twenties
looking for work,
driving straight into the setting sun
and now I'll take anything:
a pencil stub and a cheap
cardboard notebook
somebody gave me for nothing.


I love the images in this poem of all these people, refusing sleep, writing in the night.  It's something I'm familiar with.  As I've said before, my writing time is squeezed between moments of registering patients and teaching classes.  A stolen ten minutes in the morning office, before everyone else shows up and fills the place with noise and distraction.  An hour between classes, when I close my office door and pretend that I'm Keats coughing my lungs out.

This is my writing practice.  Probably the writing practice of millions of poets.  William Carlos Williams scribbling verse on his prescription pads in between house calls.  Wallace Stevens printing lines on the back of a customer's insurance policy.  That's the working life of most poets.  Poetry doesn't pay the bills.  Its rewards are not tangible in any way.

Yet, poems save my life.  They help me make sense of a world that makes no sense to me at times.  They fill me with compassion and understanding.  They puncture balloons and anger and resentment I sometimes carry around.  They make me appreciate being a part of the universe.

I know all of this sounds very highfalutin.  But it's true for me.  Tuesday, I worked all day on a poem.  Line by line.  I couldn't stop.  The idea came to me as I was taking a shower in the morning.  On my drive in to the medical office, I wrote the first stanza in my head.  In between patients, I swam in words, plucking them from the kelp and seaweed.  By the time I'd scanned the last medical chart, entered the last charge, I had a new poem.

Poems are around me all the time.  I just have to look around and write them down.

Friday, October 19, 2018

October 19: The Pequod Meets the Rachel, Calculators, Holly

Next day, a large ship, the Rachel, was descried, bearing directly down upon the Pequod, all her spars thickly clustering with men. At the time the Pequod was making good speed through the water; but as the broad-winged windward stranger shot nigh to her, the boastful sails all fell together as blank bladders that are burst, and all life fled from the smitten hull.

"Bad news; she brings bad news," muttered the old Manxman. But ere her commander, who, with trumpet to mouth, stood up in his boat; ere he could hopefully hail, Ahab's voice was heard.

"Hast seen the White Whale?"

"Aye, yesterday. Have ye seen a whale-boat adrift?"

Throttling his joy, Ahab negatively answered this unexpected question; and would then have fain boarded the stranger, when the stranger captain himself, having stopped his vessel's way, was seen descending her side. A few keen pulls, and his boat-hook soon clinched the Pequod's main-chains, and he sprang to the deck. Immediately he was recognized by Ahab for a Nantucketer he knew. But no formal salutation was exchanged.

"Where was he?- not killed!- not killed!" cried Ahab, closely advancing. "How was it?"

It seemed that somewhat late on the afternoon of the day previous, while three of the stranger's boats were engaged with a shoal of whales, which had led them some four or five miles from the ship; and while they were yet in swift chase to windward, the white hump and head of Moby Dick had suddenly loomed up out of the water, not very far to leeward; whereupon, the fourth rigged boat- a reserved one- had been instantly lowered in chase. After a keen sail before the wind, this fourth boat- the swiftest keeled of all- seemed to have succeeded in fastening- at least, as well as the man at the mast-head could tell anything about it. In the distance he saw the diminished dotted boat; and then a swift gleam of bubbling white water; and after that nothing more; whence it was concluded that the stricken whale must have indefinitely run away with his pursuers, as often happens. There was some apprehension, but no positive alarm, as yet. The recall signals were placed in the rigging; darkness came on; and forced to pick up her three far to windward boats- ere going in quest of the fourth one in the precisely opposite direction- the ship had not only been necessitated to leave that boat to its fate till near midnight, but, for the time, to increase her distance from it. But the rest of her crew being at last safe aboard, she crowded all sail- stunsail on stunsail- after the missing boat; kindling a fire in her try-pots for a beacon; and every other man aloft on the look-out. But though when she had thus sailed a sufficient distance to gain the presumed place of the absent ones when last seen; though she then paused to lower her spare boats to pull all around her; and not finding anything, had again dashed on; again paused, and lowered her boats; and though she had thus continued doing till daylight; yet not the least glimpse of the missing keel had been seen.

The story told, the stranger Captain immediately went on to reveal his object in boarding the Pequod. He desired that ship to unite with his own in the search; by sailing over the sea some four or five miles apart, on parallel lines, and so sweeping a double horizon, as it were.

"I will wager something now," whispered Stubb to Flask, "that some one in that missing boat wore off that Captain's best coat; mayhap, his watch- he's so cursed anxious to get it back. Who ever heard of two pious whale-ships cruising after one missing whale-boat in the height of the whaling season? See, Flask, only see how pale he looks-pale in the very buttons of his eyes- look- it wasn't the coat- it must have been the-"

"My boy, my own boy is among them. For God's sake- I beg, I conjure"- here exclaimed the stranger Captain to Ahab, who thus far had but icily received his petition. "For eight-and-forty hours let me charter your ship- I will gladly pay for it, and roundly pay for it- if there be no other way- for eight-and-forty hours only- only that- you must, oh, you must, and you shall do this thing."

"His son!" cried Stubb, "oh, it's his son he's lost! I take back the coat and watch- what says Ahab? We must save that boy."

"He's drowned with the rest on 'em, last night," said the old Manx sailor standing behind them; "I heard; all of ye heard their spirits."

Now, as it shortly turned out, what made this incident of the Rachel's the more melancholy, was the circumstance, that not only was one of the Captain's sons among the number of the missing boat's crew; but among the number of the other boats' crews, at the same time, but on the other hand, separated from the ship during the dark vicissitudes of the chase, there had been still another son; as that for a time, the wretched father was plunged to the bottom of the cruellest perplexity; which was only solved for him by his chief mate's instinctively adopting the ordinary procedure of a whaleship in such emergencies, that is, when placed between jeopardized but divided boats, always to pick up the majority first. But the captain, for some unknown constitutional reason, had refrained from mentioning all this, and not till forced to it by Ahab's iciness did he allude to his one yet missing boy; a little lad, but twelve years old, whose father with the earnest but unmisgiving hardihood of a Nantucketer's paternal love, had thus early sought to initiate him in the perils and wonders of a vocation almost immemorially the destiny of all his race. Nor does it unfrequently occur, that Nantucket captains will send a son of such tender age away from them, for a protracted three or four years' voyage in some other ship than their own; so that their first knowledge of a whaleman's career shall be unenervated by any chance display of a father's natural but untimely partiality, or undue apprehensiveness and concern.

Meantime, now the stranger was still beseeching his poor boon of Ahab; and Ahab still stood like an anvil, receiving every shock, but without the least quivering of his own.

"I will not go," said the stranger, "till you say aye to me. Do to me as you would have me do to you in the like case. For you too have a boy, Captain Ahab- though but a child, and nestling safely at home now- a child of your old age too- Yes, yes, you relent; I see it- run, run, men, now, and stand by to square in the yards."

"Avast," cried Ahab- "touch not a rope-yarn"; then in a voice that prolongingly moulded every word- "Captain Gardiner, I will not do it. Even now I lose time, Good-bye, good-bye. God bless ye, man, and may I forgive myself, but I must go. Mr. Starbuck, look at the binnacle watch, and in three minutes from this present instant warn off all strangers; then brace forward again, and let the ship sail as before."

Hurriedly turning, with averted face, he descended into his cabin, leaving the strange captain transfixed at this unconditional and utter rejection of his so earnest suit. But starting from his enchantment, Gardiner silently hurried to the side; more fell than stepped into his boat, and returned to his ship.

Soon the two ships diverged their wakes; and long as the strange vessel was in view, she was seen to yaw hither and thither at every dark spot, however small, on the sea. This way and that her yards were swung around; starboard and larboard, she continued to tack; now she beat against a head sea; and again it pushed her before it; while all the while, her masts and yards were thickly clustered with men, as three tall cherry trees, when the boys are cherrying among the boughs.

But by her still halting course and winding, woeful way, you plainly saw that this ship that so wept with spray, still remained without comfort. She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not.

Okay, Ahab is a bastard.  Let's just put that out there.  He will not be swayed from his white whale course, even to aid in the search for a young boy lost at sea.  It's a terrible chapter, full of heartbreak.  The figure of the Rachel in the final paragraph, "weeping for her children," fills me with melancholy.  Melville succeeds in this chapter to make the reader turn against Ahab once and for all.  Ahab, not Moby-Dick, becomes the villain of the book.  And a twelve-year-old boy is left to drift off the face of the world.

I had the pleasure of teaching Bigfoot poetry to a class of fifth graders today.  It was a great time.  The kids were full of ten-year-old energy, and I had them yelling and laughing and jumping in their seats.  All except for "Holly."

Holly sat in her seat, unimpressed and argumentative.  I quickly realized that Holly was a really bright child.  She was throwing out scientific facts, correcting her classmates.  She wasn't doing it to be a showoff.  She was doing it because she sees the world a certain way, and she wants everyone else to have that same vision.

Holly was sort of obsessed with planets and the solar system, sort of like Ahab is obsessed with the white whale.  Holly asked me questions like, "Do you know what the hottest planet in the solar system is?"  (If you think it's Mercury, you would be wrong, according to Holly.)  And Holly also told me that Bigfoot was probably a branch off the evolution of humankind.  She may have even used the term "Gigantopithecus."  This kid had game.

Well, at the end of class, we all read the poems we had written about Bigfoot.  All the students wanted me to read mine.  One of the lines in my poem was "Bigfoot is as smart as a calculator."  As soon as I was done reading my poem, Holly's hand shot up.

"A calculator isn't smart," she said.  "It's a machine.  It has no intelligence."

"Yes," I said, "I know that, Holly.  But it's what the calculator represents to me.  It represents smart people, using it to do math calculations and physics and stuff."

"But," she pressed, "calculators can't think."

"I know," I said.  "But it's what a calculator represents."

Holly started talking over me.  "But calculators can't make decisions or have ideas or--"

"Yes," I said.  "I understand, but--"

"Please don't interrupt me," she said.  "Calculators aren't--"

"Holly," I said, "you need to listen to me now."

Holly stopped talking.

"The calculator is a symbol in the poem, Holly.  Do you know what a symbol is?"

Holly said, "It's something that stands in for something else."

"Exactly.  Now, do you know what the Periodic Table of Elements is?"

Holly nodded.

"Good.  What does 'O' represent on the Periodic Table?"

"It represents oxygen."

I nodded.  "Exactly!" I stepped back a little bit.  "Now Holly, is 'O' actually oxygen?"

She shook her head.  "No, it represents oxygen on the Periodic Table."

I clapped my hands.  "Yes!  Good!  Just like 'O' represents oxygen on the Periodic Table, 'calculator' represents 'smart' in my poem.  Do you get it?"

Holly nodded.

I leaned over Holly a little bit.  "It's okay for people to think different things.  Believe different things.  It's okay to be different."  I looked at her very seriously.  "It would be a really boring world if there were only Hollys in it."  I looked around at the rest of the class.  "Just like it would be boring if there were only Martys in it."  I looked back at Holly.  "That's what's so great.  We can all believe different things.  Love different things.  Planets or poetry.  Bigfoot or the Sea of Tranquility on the moon."  I nodded at Holly.  "It's what makes us who we are."

Holly sat at her desk, staring at me with large, dark eyes.

"So," I said, "for me, calculators are smart."

I'm not sure if I made any kind of impact on Holly.  She probably still thinks I'm an idiot for saying that "Bigfoot is as smart as a calculator."  That's okay.  I think Holly is as smart as a supernova.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight that the solar system has Holly in it, to tell me what planet in the solar system is the coldest and why.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

October 18: The Deck, Out Loud, Balm

The coffin laid upon two line-tubs, between the vice-bench and the open hatchway; the Carpenter caulking its seams; the string of twisted oakum slowly unwinding from a large roll of it placed in the bosom of his frock.- Ahab comes slowly from the cabin-gangway, and hears Pip following him.

"Back lad; I will be with ye again presently. He goes! Not this hand complies with my humor more genially than that boy.- Middle aisle of a church! What's here?"

"Life-buoy, sir. Mr. Starbuck's orders. Oh, look, sir! Beware the hatchway!"

"Thank ye, man. Thy coffin lies handy to the vault."

"Sir? The hatchway? oh! So it does, sir, so it does."

"Art not thou the leg-maker? Look, did not this stump come from thy shop?"

"I believe it did, sir; does the ferrule stand, sir?"

"Well enough. But art thou not also the undertaker?"

"Aye, sir; I patched up this thing here as a coffin for Queequeg; but they've set me now to turning it into something else."

"Then tell me; art thou not an arrant, all-grasping, intermeddling, monopolizing, heathenish old scamp, to be one day making legs, and the next day coffins to clap them in, and yet again life-buoys out of those same coffins? Thou art as unprincipled as the gods, and as much of a jack-of-all-trades."

"But I do not mean anything, sir. I do as I do."

"The gods again. Hark ye, dost thou not ever sing working about a coffin? The Titans, they say, hummed snatches when chipping out the craters for volcanoes; and the grave-digger in the play sings, spade in hand. Dost thou never?"

"Sing, sir? Do I sing? Oh, I'm indifferent enough, sir, for that; but the reason why the grave-digger made music must have been because there was none in his spade, sir. But the caulking mallet is full of it. Hark to it."

"Aye, and that's because the lid there's a sounding-board; and what in all things makes the sounding-board is this- there's naught beneath. And yet, a coffin with a body in it rings pretty much the same, Carpenter. Hast thou ever helped carry a bier, and heard the coffin knock against the churchyard gate, going in?

"Faith, sir, I've-"

"Faith? What's that?"

"Why, faith, sir, it's only a sort of exclamation-like- that's all, sir."

"Um, um; go on."

"I was about to say, sir, that-"

"Art thou a silk-worm? Dost thou spin thy own shroud out of thyself? Look at thy bosom! Despatch! and get these traps out of sight."

"He goes aft. That was sudden, now; but squalls come sudden in hot latitudes. I've heard that the Isle of Albermarle, one of the Gallipagos, is cut by the Equator right in the middle. Seems to me some sort of Equator cuts yon old man, too, right in his middle. He's always under the Line- fiery hot, I tell ye! He's looking this way- come, oakum; quick. Here we go again. This wooden mallet is the cork, and I'm the professor of musical glasses- tap, tap!"

(Ahab to himself)

"There's a sight! There's a sound! The greyheaded wood-pecker tapping the hollow tree! Blind and dumb might well be envied now. See! that thing rests on two line-tubs, full of tow-lines. A most malicious wag, that fellow. Rat-tat! So man's seconds tick! Oh! how immaterial are all materials! What things real are there, but imponderable thoughts? Here now's the very dreaded symbol of grim death, by a mere hap, made the expressive sign of the help and hope of most endangered life. A life-buoy of a coffin! Does it go further? Can it be that in some spiritual sense the coffin is, after all, but an immortality-preserver! I'll think of that. But no. So far gone am I in the dark side of earth, that its other side, the theoretic bright one, seems but uncertain twilight to me. Will ye never have done, Carpenter, with that accursed sound? I go below; let me not see that thing here when I return again. Now, then, Pip, we'll talk this over; I do suck most wondrous philosophies from thee! Some unknown worlds must empty into thee!"

Ahab reflects on quite a few things in this short chapter--mortality, immortality, music, wisdom, philosophy.  There is a sense of impending doom, with the ship's carpenter ordered to transform a coffin into a life-preserver (or, as Ahab says, an immortality preserver).  Ahab cannot stand the sight of the coffin.  Perhaps it's superstition.  Perhaps it's premonition.  He retreats from the sight, seeking the company and counsel of Pip, who lost his sanity many chapters ago.

It's pretty much the end of the week for me.  I work tomorrow.  Teach poetry to a group of fifth graders.  Tomorrow evening, I will go out to eat with my wife and daughter and my daughter's boyfriend.  It will be a welcome respite from the turmoil and uncertainty of these last couple weeks.  Like Ahab, I retreat below decks tomorrow.  Become a hermit for a few days. 

Tonight, however, is also respite for me.  I'm attending an event called Out Loud at the Joy Center here in my home town of Ishpeming.  It's a time for writers and poets and musicians and artists to come together, share stories, poems, songs, paintings.  I've been attending Out Loud almost every month for the last year or so.

There's something very comforting and safe in the evening.  Sometimes, ten people attend.  Other times, it's just me and the owner of the Joy Center, my good friend, Helen.  The evening sort of shapes itself.  There's never a plan or theme.  It's not that organized.  Yet, somehow, all the stories and poems and songs connect in a strange and miraculous way.

And I always find a kind of healing taking place inside me as I sit and listen and share.  As Ahab says about Pip, some unknown worlds empty into this safe space, and it's a balm to my weary mind.  Whenever I'm around poets and artists like this, I always come away feeling mended.  Rejuvenated.  Ready to face the world again.  That is why the arts are so important in society.  They are able to stitch a broken world back together.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the healing and light of poetry.