I. The Cornucopia Emerging cold and desperate, his whiting breath Trails behind him like the old ship’s own signature Disgorged in blunt belchings of smoke from its belly Through a single squat stack piping up the trying pots. The wit-starved whaler tells his hunger-angry crew: Sing a tune from groggy memory; desires supply the words. There’s the sea and he scans it like a line of poetry With neither depth nor texture, but the hum drum Of fine syntax, the cadence of experience drawing out The harpoon’s path, each tine glinting malice and ice. Fire in the chimney! With gaff hooks, the laying to, the flensing– Where the dribble of blood and blubber fills boots and slicks The crannies between the ship’s planks–each step Comes like a downfall, each needle sting of north wind Shreds a sail’s whitewashed wish, each strums the rigging. This would be a whaling expedition to earth’s end, Far from Mystic, Sag Harbor, New Bedford, where scrimshaw Shines its dull puritan shine, blued as fingers yanked From knuckles. Limbs and skulls pay to name the price In coiled lines that jerk alive, cracking gunwale and spine, In oaken booms that level the wind at a single swing And in fathoms that lie in wait for the call to overhaul.
II. The Troubadour Emerging hot and desperate, his grizzled breath Poisons the air in front of him; sweating, half-naked, So drunk so long on rum, his eyes only know a blur And night’s dark relief from sunlight. Doldrums Dead ahead, sirrah! And a cabined retreat, so sweet . . . The jarring chains and cuffed bangles are singing out, Bling bling bling and sound tracks up from down Below, rhythm carried queer on a flat sea yo yo yo. Every voyage sheers the braided cordage of his will, Enslaved to gold coin that collects religious dust At the counting house upwind from every port— Typhoons dash his chances like a prow swallowed Under full rage of sail. The ranks of human passage draw A belt across the ocean’s belly, taut as patience At its breaking point. The slaver captain’s mind So used to its own state of mutiny, economically Discounts at once the black hurricane that broils Beneath him, dismissed, dispatched by muskets, pistols In sudden volleys of unceasing sulfur prayer To incense the fetid hold with its trenchant stench. Meanwhile, the astrolabe turns on a lazy pivot Like a ship in irons, dangling food for Leviathan.
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