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  • Poems Written on the 38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan
  • Elizabeth Schultz


The ship’s maw, once filledwith bones and blubber,oozing and rotting, a denseand oily stench, waiting to bedigested and boiled in the try-pots on deck, now smells ofland and trees just trimmedand planed. By day, the ship’sdiurnal commotion, its clicksand clatter, echo here. Linedwith compact sailors’ chests,hawsers coiled and piled liketidy intestines, and spareanchors, this low, confinedspace hums and chortles likea shoreline’s contented bovine.

But walking throughthe blubber room at midnight,the ship’s ribs outlinedin shadow by one lightswaying, I am Ishmael,sleepless, far from land andlistening to the sea’s gargleagainst the ship, the tremorsof whales reverberatingthrough hull and keel.


Not in sight: my bosomcompanion, that tall man,speaking English withan island lilt, his headtattooed in purple andyellow squares, his legsin green frogs, and on hisback a mystical treatiseon the art of attaining truth. [End Page 136] You could not mistakehim. He signed his paperswith a clam’s name anddotted his I’s with a harpoontossed the ship’s length.There’s just a whisperof him when the windcomes in over the transom.

Once his coffin life-buoysaved me, but in thisnew story, I depend onorange life-preserversand the quick thinkingof strangers.

This crowd is European,salty, but blanched, noislanders among them.They’ve met their whalesin tracts, encyclopedias,as well as speedy Zodiacs.But Queequeg wrestledwith his in the ocean’sbowels and faced themeye-to-eye as newborns,coiled and pearly.


Starbuck rememberedhis Mary, and Stubbhis old mother. We knewthe blacksmith was doingpenance for the sufferinghe’d laid on his sad wife.But girls weren’t a palpablepresence on the Pequodthough we might havelonged for them at nightand while squeezingspermaceti. Though wewatched the amorousways of whales, no sweetPolynesian maids ever swamout to greet us. It was allunder covers on the Pequod. [End Page 137] But Clara Tinkham’sbedroom cozies right upto the captain’s quarterson the Morgan. She couldbe seen fanning herselfwith soft sea breezes onher sofa. Other captainsbrought their wives, whoearned their way, assistingwith the navigation andmedication, but the Morgan,restored, has girls flyingfrom the rigging—a Cirquedu Soleil—lowering whaleboats, mounting the masthead,taking Flask’s place as Mate,federating the whale ship,at last, along its keel.

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Crewmember Joee Patterson working on the bowsprit of the Charles W. Morgan.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Porter.

[End Page 138]


We sailed amidst them,out on Stellwagen Bank,the old ship, no longerarmed with barbs or trickedout with lances, but newlyrigged, spreading freshcanvas on all masts, risingup, up, upon the waves,joyous and reborn and soaring.

We met them on theirplayground, a minke first,arched and glistening,forerunner for the humpbacks,who frolicked in a pod,splashing, somersaulting,making waves, their fins,long white angels’ wings,gyrating, beating upwardout of the sea, before divingdown, down, their signaturetails following them, curvedand hovering, heart-shaped,shimmering, before dissolvinginto depths, the flukes nowphantasmagoric shadows,leaving shearwaters and terns,circling like visible echoesabove their churning,while we leaned outon the ship’s rail, intenton a second coming,awed by such exuberance,yearning for forgiveness.


Once on Stellwagen, I sawa sperm whale breach. Shethrew herself high againstthe sky, glistening grey, andour boat swayed in herchurning. At the railing,we applauded our diva divine,gasping when she crashed [End Page 139] back into the sea, showeringus, pelting us with salt watercrystals, encircling us withshit, streaming, steaming,with turds, spinning, swirling.Who had ever seen suchfabulous flatulence? Our...


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