Knights and Squires: A Treatise on Whaling
I saw Queequeg the other day
He was perched on a stool
in a coffee bar near Boston harbor,
nursing a Café Americano,
staring at a glass-framed print
of the yankee whaler Charles Morgan.
I could see his face reflected in the glass —
and mine too, impaled like a pale balloon
on the jutting bowsprit.
He had on a well-cut, wool Italian suit,
expensive shoes, and a blue and silver paisley
tie to complement the dark whorls tattooed
into his cheeks and across his forehead —
harpooners still make good money, I guess.
I drank my látte, considering as I did
the horrible harpoon telescoped to fit
inside his ox-hide attaché: an ancient
conspiracy of fire, iron, wood and
clever Yankee hands — mechanic's tool
of the lamp-oil Mafia, hard-hurled
leviathan catcher, double-barbed
back-stabber, slayer of the ocean gods.
Screw the whales, and thar she blows —
let there be light! and lubricants! and
perfume! and hoop skirts for the masses!
That is one perspective — there are others.
I watched him set aside his coffee cup,
leave a five-spot on the bar, check his watch,
grab his briefcase and a stylish raincoat
from the stool next to him, and rush out.
I don't think he noticed me.
Call me Ishmael. Or Starbuck. Or Pip.
Call me Ahab, or Queequeg the harpooner —
it doesn't really matter anyway: we all
are partners in the business of killing
and being killed by whales, dragged down
through waters dark and cold.
Curse of the White Whale: A Verse Play in One Act
[Enter] CAPTAIN AHAB, wearing a dark, conservative suit,
with a heavy, black briefcase. He hails a taxicab in the uptown
district of a large, coastal New England city and get into the
back seat. The cab pulls away from the curb into midday traffic.
AHAB. Well hello, Starbuck,
don't look so damned surprised. I knew
it was you the moment I saw your eyes
in the rearview mirror, those eyes
like dark, dreadful seas. Were I canvas,
those squalls would ribbon me for certain.
Gripping the front seat edge, he pulls himself toward the driver.
But what gives you the right to be angry?
my sin was great, but yours was grave —
you knew me, knew how tight had grown
the tarry coils around my heart, knew
that they would drag me, and all around me,
into darkness. You should have killed me.
Gripping the driver's headrest in both hands, he draws closer.
You could have done it, Starbuck —
not a soul would have tried to stop you.
You could have thrown me overboard
in chains, and if you had, the rest might all
have been spared; but you, false heart, did nothing —
your complacence damned and double-damned us.
He gestures sweepingly out the cab's windows.
Look around you — all save one of us are here,
puked up like clots of ambergris, condemned
to wretched little lives as bankers, lawyers,
grocery clerks and longshoremen, cab drivers
sour and pathetic men with sad, frustrated wives,
fathers whose children will never love us.
He settles back into his seat and stares out his window.
If I could pity you, Starbuck, I would.
But pity is the Devil's milk; I long ago
was weaned from that infected breast —
it is dry and useless, withered as the other one
I sucked so greedily when I was young.
Yes, if I could pity, Starbuck, I would pity you.
He leans forward again, speaking sardonically.
But you still suck those dried-out bags, don't you?
Yes, I see it in your eyes — you kick and clutch
and wail for vengeance, or forgiveness, or at least
for quick obliteration beneath those awful flukes.
Well, I'll tell you this much, Starbuck — he mocks.
Leviathan mocks all of us, and will not come.
He leans back once more, laughing maniacally.
[Exeunt] Lights dim to black. The noise of traffic and voices rises above the laughter, then fades
to silence as the curtains close.