Tom Lyford, Dover-Foxcroft's own Self-Appointed Rogue Poet Laureate By Force For Life, will be shadow-lurking like Where's Waldo among the denizens of Whoopie Pie Festers flash-flooding the back alleys, boulevards, and by-ways of beautiful, balmy, suburban downtown D-F this day... if you spot him... say Hey, and maybe he'll take your picture. And who knows... it might end up on this blog tomorrow...
After only an hour of ‘Testing’ for any intelligence
even conceivably useful to the military, I can
no longer focus or think straight, and sure as hell
can't do seven more hours without going nuts...
my bloodstream, now a Yangtze of yellow fever,
smallpox, and plague vaccines, I’m a lock-jawed yawning
hippo, my fevered, sleep-deprived brain no more alive
than a bowl of scorched oatmeal, and all these A B C D
columns of fill-in-the-answer ‘bubbles’ converging and
retreating on the pages like dance partners in a Virginia-
freaking-reel while the High Noon clock on the wall nickels
and dimes away the seconds, and my sanity packs its
AWOL bag and books a seat on the next flight out--
leaving me languishing in this honeycomb of plywood
testing cubicles (the ‘test-icles’) surrounded but existentially
alone, not allowed to talk, and no one to talk to, complain
to, yell to, ‘Going nuts over here, boss! ’ nothing to look at
but a test, a standard #2, and oh, this one tiny snippet of
olive-drab thread folded over on itself like a cursive e
insubstantial as a strand of hair lying there with the
pocket-lint that eddies up into future dust bunnies in the
corner between the desk’s surface and the upright panels and...
it IRRITATES me, man, just infuriates the hell out of me
like some damned housefly on my dinner plate... so I just
blow that filament, PHUHH! outta sight outta mind, right
out through the crack... and get back to chewing on what’ll
become of me if I flunk this freakin’ test, when suddenly,
pssshwt! it just tumbles itself right back out into its former
place, lounging now in the lazy form of an S like it’s
just basking there in a chaise lounge (No thanks—I like it
just fine right here) ...prompting that exhausted little nervous
bug-zapper tic in my eyelid that’s been driving me nuts
to crank up the bass in my brain another notch. So
I go feeling along the seams to see if there’s some
draft that might’ve blown it back through, but not
finding one, so: PHUHH! blast it once again right under
the wall and sit back to eyeball that corner like some cat
listening to something tickity-scratching on the other side...
and sure enough: pssshwit! she comes side-windering
back onto my desktop again TA-DAH! like a breeze- blown
acrobatic tumbleweed... So: PHUHH! back it goes,
and pssshwit! back it comes (and something’s begun to
‘happen’ inside me, something warm and fuzzy... PHUHH!
some little filling-of-The-Big-Void, Pssshwit! a therapeutic
playfulness, a putting it into perspective that I’m not
alone, that I have this invisible ‘friend’ on the other side,
an ‘opponent of friendly fire’... and a crooked smile stitches
itself across my face as I roll the tiny strand up into a
booger-ball and position it in the opposite, unexpected
corner (Ha-hah! Nobody expects the unexpected corner!)
...take a deep breath, and PHUHH! drive that sucker
straight in past the goalie! SCORE! And the crowd goes
wild, the ‘stadium’ rocking from the stifled belly-laugh
on the other side... over there. I can feel him (and he
feels good) Pssshwit! String-ball rockets back out
the center of the front panel (what the...? ) practically
bowling me over and... CRAP! I wasn’t ready yet!
I was scouting the corners! OK, mister...game’s tied,
one-all! But... it’s my serve, and...
PHUHH! Right down your throat, fella!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A decade before the advent of personal computers,
and long before the world wide web or the first
video game... an imaginary ‘friend’ and I kick the crap
out of each other in a rousing little game of Thread,
two good ol’ ‘boys’ destined never meet
face-to-face, but spiritually touching one another...
two incarcerated ‘prisoners’ communicating
through the wall dividing our adjacent cells...
In 2005, I attended a poetry presentation at Borders Books in Bangor, Maine. The featured poet was to be a man from New Hampshire named Robert J. Duffy. I arrived five minutes before the introduction, and scanned the gathering to see if I might spot our poet du jour.
Ah hah! Man in the front row... wearing an Oxford shirt and tie! Bingo! Poets... you can spot'em a mile away. They're going to show up dressed all in black, with maybe even a matching beret... or they'll be otherwise flamboyantly 'artsy,'... or they'll be impeccably neat. Hell, I told myself. Maybe I was an FBI profiler in my last life.
At last, the M.C. stood up at the podium, highlighted a few salient points of our guest speaker's bio, and gave up the floor to Mr. Duffy... who approached in (almost-)grungy workboots, faded out work-blue-jeans, and a a worn-out navy tee-shirt emblazoned with a "Granite State Plumbing & Heating" logo on the chest. I pretty much expected the man to interrupt our proceedings with something like, "Uhmmm... Somebody called about the backed-up toilet...? Which way...?"
But the ordinary guy carried no heavy tool chest... only a slender, pale blue volume entitled Ordinary Lies...
Our ordinary guy turned out to be extraordinarily... eloquent. His poetry belied a classical education; his poems that evening abounded with Biblical ("Simon on the Cross," "Divine Manifestations") and mythological ("My Telemachus," "Daedalus") allusions and images. He was a master of oral interpretation... he read with dramatic enthusiasm... and volume and mood shifts. And, damn it, he had MEMORIZED everything in his book, something I could never do, since my hard-drive-brain got filled up.
And his poetry was serious:
As she could, with just her eyes,
increase by half the sun,
be careless with her joy
and laugh to no advantage;
so then could I, as one
with finger tries an iron,
be daring and not wise.
Fall of Snow
Excommunicant angels, they circle and sink,
pausing here and there as though to think
where and if they might consent to fall,
hesitate at their first sight of such a place,
too coarse and dark for things so small
to soften with their slow descending grace,
their white benediction spun from silent air
as music is wrung out of a twisted string.
So few and slight at first they're hardly there,
but congregate into an overwhelming thing,
as chill and lucid as a memory laid bare
to unforgiving eyes that follow and stare
without remark your turning and your going,
your shabby pretense of not quite knowing.
But often it was humorous...
In "Disingenuous" (about how the public tends to exaggerate the lives of people in their memorial statuary, etc. after they've passed away)... he says at the conclusion, in essence, Go ahead! And with MY statue...:
Tell them I was twice their size.
Tell them I did crimes
they'll never dream nor dare.
Or tell them I was crazy. Or tell them
I was queer. Only leave a little space
somewhere on it to scratch the truth,
that as far as really matters I was
never here. And I, meanwhile, if dead's
not too late for me to change religion,
will be looking into the possibility
of coming back--- as a pigeon.
and then there is...
The gods have walked among us; that's
certain. We've only to look around
and study the ground
to find their scats.
So...here I was, the terminally impractical guy who can't change the washer in a dripping faucet (Is it a 'washer'? Did I get that right at least?), a poet wannabe by default, pretty much, coming to the poetry reading and thinking to myself that the lines have been drawn: poets are like the Alpha's in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World,(i.e., Walter Mitty-ish gods on pedestals who really don't have to know how to change a tire... impractical gods)... and that if I just keep telling myself I'm glad that I'm an Alpha, I'm glad that I'm an Alpha... then maybe I'll actually become one, instead of the useless Beta, or (shudder) Gamma I suspect myself to be... and that, oh well... at least I have a way with words, so maybe, if I just keep studying poetry in books long enough, I can (in some Pinnochio-ish way) become a real live poet...
And there was Mr. Duffy holding his slender collection in his calloused, working-man's hands, waxing eloquently and philosophically... and whether he knew it or not, he was teaching me that poetry does not come from the imitation of what can be found in a book; that a poet is just a soul, just any soul who happens to want to use the brain God gives him to share his life; his experience; what he's seen, felt, and learned during his time on earth... that real poets are just people and that, if I want to be one, all I have to do is re-focus myself inwardly on those things...
Ever since that evening at Borders, I've been writing like a plumber on fire! So thanks, Robert...
This morning, I happened to look up Robert J. Duffy on-line, and was saddened to discover that he had passed away at the end of May this year. So I took down my copy of Ordinary Lies from my poetry shelf, and have been re-living that very special evening where I decided to incorporate Popeye the Sailor Man's signature quotation, I yam what I yam, into my own definition of me as the poet...
His book is still for sale on-line. I've got mine. I recommend that you pick up one for yourself...
Whoa! Check THIS out! State-of-the-art... or WHAT?!?
The real black magic of my youth? The music
from the ‘phonograph,’ the medium of the séance…
lights all lowered for atmosphere, the campy
ember-burn of the vacuum tubes casting their
gypsy candleglow upon the wall behind… and
me, sitting there in the dark all by my little
lonesome, letting the instruments and voices
snake-charm me down into those midnight
grooves right into someone else’s jealousy…
letting them conjure up in me somebody
else’s pain and blues… letting them possess me
with someone else’s yearning… and then, well…
I’d find myself in somebody else’s skin… in
somebody else’s emotional blue suede shoes…
in somebody else…
so yeah, small fry
though I was, it was
me giving Peggy Lee that...
"Fe-ver… in the morning, yeah…
fever all through the night…"
Kids today... are born right into this 'There's-an-App-for-That World'... where there's a TV in every room, where everything is instantaneosly Google-able, and every one of their friends is always just a few texting strokes away. I'm pretty certain that they must look upon us of my generation (I'm mere days away from sixty-four!!!) as Neanderthals right out of Gary Larson's The Far Side (even though I'm probably just kidding myself there, as it's possible kids today no longer know what The Far Side is/was). And I'm pretty sure that they pity us, who had 'nothing to do' back in the old-timers' days...
The one thing though that all generations have in common is that each one has their own brand of music. The kids can usually 'buy' that, even though they look upon their elders' music preferences as... way beyond pathetic (as did I once... when I was a kid).
As a high school English teacher I often exploited the topic of music in the attempt to bridge the generation gap, and that worked to an extent... even though I was talking to a bunch of souls that seemed to have no way of imagining (or 'grokking') a Pre-Stereo World... the world I hailed from.
I used to entertain myself (at their expense) mostly to maintain my sanity. For instance, I would make it a point to tell the ever-gullible freshmen, "Yeah. We had CD's when I was a kid, too. Only thing was though... they were made out of wood, so you had to be careful, because you could get splinters..." The oddest look would invariably come over them... and eventually somebody usually asked, "But... I don't get it-- I mean, how did they work, though?"
I will never forget the night that Stereo came to my town of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. My dad was a radio/TV repairman at a department store in town called A.T. Gellerson's. I write about it in a chapter of my upcoming memoir, due out who knows when? Here's a little excerpt...
All right— one last memory:
Us kids, Mom even, and Dad back once again behind the locked doors of Gellerson’s two hours after closing, this time to witness the new wonder called Stereo Sound. Some of the store salesmen have brought their families along to this unadvertised event, as well. I’m wondering what this new-fangled phenomenon really is, and if it deserves all the hype it’s been getting in the press and the influx of ads in the papers. I’m skeptical. How good can it be? Is it even necessary? After all, we’ve already come as far as we can come, right? Because everybody knows Hi-Fi’s the cutting edge. I mean, after Hi-Fi…what’s left? Can you improve clarity past perfection?
We ‘invitees’ shuffle around the coffin-size console ensconced in the middle of the showroom floor, waiting for the demonstration to begin. Tip-toeing about in a store locked up for the night puts a delicious, almost-criminal edge on the evening. The fact that it’s dark out adds a spooky flavor. We whisper while we wait, as if at the library.
She is a beautiful piece of furniture, the ultimate mahogany centerpiece for any living room… far too expensive to ever find a home in our house. I’m feeling pretty privileged to be here, realizing that tomorrow at school I’m going to be the exclusive ‘authority’ on all things stereophonic.
Finally, the festivities begin. “We ready?” asks a salesman. People nod, and some mutter that we are. We’re definitely not a game show audience. “Well then, ladies and gentlemen… hold onto your hats!” Yeah, I’m thinking, sure, right, bring it on, as the man plops the demo record down onto the turntable, drops the needle, and…
The Voice from the speakers suggests that we all “close our eyes and enjoy a game of ping-pong, already in progress…” Oh yeah, like, THAT’LL be a blast, listening to ping-pong, for crying out loud. Well… might be a little better than GOLF, but…
PLOK!the inimitable sound of a hollow plastic ball swatted by a ping-pong paddle left…
…then, striking the right side of the green wooden table, and back-handed… KaPLOK!
kaPLOK! …backhanded from way over here at the left
now right side … kaPLOK!
kaPLOK!over here on the left…
Unable to believe what our busy ears are ‘doing,’ most of us pop our eyes right back open to discover… our own, eerily-grinning heads swiveling back and forth in unison as if by remote control… first left, then right, then left, then right… and it feels… I don’t know… creepy… sort of like that scene from The Body Snatchers where Kevin McCarthy watches from his hotel window as the zombies gather mindlessly in the town square after dark to receive the next truckload of body-snatching ‘pods’ from outer space. Well, that’s a stretch, but we have gathered… our heads are being controlled… and the whole shebang feels pretty ‘extranormal.’
Stereo, however, has arrived in central Maine with a flourish, and suddenly we are, to a man, instant stereo zealots!
See, to me, technology is like magic. Or if not magic, then at least science fiction. It’s practically the only source of real wonder in my life, and it gives me a reason to think… to hope that, yes, anything is possible. I mean, what will technology give us ten… twenty-five years from now?
Just consider the simple record player, for instance. It’s an audio time machine. You lower some needle down onto a rotating vinyl platter and Elvis’s voice, recorded in a studio two years ago, sings right out, “You ain’t nuthin’ but a houn’ dog… jus’ a-cryin’ alla time!” like he’s right in the room… like an echo trapped for all eternity in a bottle…
Our home’s always had a phonograph. Ours is an ancient box filled with glowing, cucumber-size vacuum tubes, and a 78-rpm turntable as wide as a dinner plate fitted on top. It’s no hi-fi, and definitely no stereo. There’s always been the set of records too: big black ones for Mom and Dad, and the smaller yellow or red plastic ones for us. I’ve grown up pretty much wiling away the hours listening to the bottled-up echoes from people and times past and, like that famous RCA dog, eyeballing the needle surfing the endless grooves. Consequently, I’ve developed quite a habit, a lifetime dependence on recorded music. Of course, I’ve moved on past the little-kiddy musical soundtracks of Disney’s Peter Pan and the like.
So when Dad, one day, comes toting somebody’s recently-repaired, unbelievably swank stereo into my bedroom and orders me to play it, I don’t have to be told twice. In fact, I go right out and buy Johnny Otis’s new 45, “Willie and the Hand-Jive,” kicking off the Golden Days of Dad using me to test his customer’s record players, to make sure he’s gotten all of the bugs out. I’m no technology wonder boy, not by any stretch of the imagination. All I know how to do is plug them in and play them. “Play this for a few hours,” he’ll say. “See if the sound cuts out.” To me, he says this, the lazy son who obsesses on rock and roll. He’s just getting me off his back about buying us a decent stereo. Keep bringing home these super-duper ones, and what’ll I have to complain about? (But anyway, if you’ve ever hauled your ailing, high-fidelity pride and joy off to his shop, chances are pretty good that it ended up in my bedroom for a day or two before you got it back. If that is the case, then thank you very much because I’ve got a pretty good collection 45’s and LP’s going— just nothing else to play them on.)
So Dad’s job keeps me in the thick of things electronic, and there’s always new and better stuff coming out by the month: hi-fi, then stereo, television, then maybe someday color television, tape recorders… Dad gets to do the work. I get to play.
THE LOST WEEKEND
A puppet on somebody else’s strings,
but longing to be a real live boy, I
told my long-nosed lies, conned my
fairy godmother and, before you knew
it, was a half-assed fugitive running
from the lights and delights of
Pleasure Island… Lying low, I
took me a room at The Belly of the
Whale Inn and began playing a
waiting game with Time… but
Time never gives an inch, and all
I won was a bad case of the
rock-bottom-blues bends so bad,
I bobbed up under the stark sun
like a bone dry champagne cork…
later coming tostrapped to a bed
in the… decompression ward?
(…or the de-something ward)
What men dwell on when they go to sea...
JAWS (for Officer Brody)
We’re gonna need a bigger boat…
is what I say to Phyl… us, surrounded
by the circus of breaching leviathans, fantails
wider than the Orca’s deck on this whale watch
I swore she’d never drag me on after twice reading
Moby Dick and watching Jaws a few too many times
(if that’s possible)…
her seeing me as The Clown, my familiar humor
only a fleeting distraction— my sole purpose on earth:
keeping this woman in smiles— but me, seriously
identifying with Jaws' hydrophobic Brody, me weak
in the knees with vertigo at the thought of
twenty thousand leagues of watery grave looming
below us and patiently trolling the surface… waiting on
Ol’ Man Gravity to reel us down… and so, humor being
my best coping skill, like whistling through the cemetery
at midnight, I kill both gulls with one stone, leaning
into her as we brace for the next swell on rubbery
sea legs, and me plucking the invisible Chesterfield
out of my mug and crushing it under the toe of my
boat shoe while muttering in my best Bogart…
When this tub goes belly-up, kid, shtick with me, see?
I got us a plan. “And what’s the big plan, Ahab?”
Party balloons, shweetheart… “Party balloons?”
That’s right, beautiful: I’m packin’— The way I see it,
when this floating coffin rolls over, I give you half, see?
That’s when we start blowin’em up ‘n stuffin’ our shirts…
But sudden flukes slap surf off the starboard and
I lose her to the spectacle--
so I, too, marvel for a while…
secretly fingering that very
real packet of red, green,
yellow and blue birthday
balloons nesting in
my jacket pocket...
from MOBY DICK...
Elijah: At sea one day, you'll smell land where there'll be no land, and on that day Ahab will go to his grave, but he'll rise again within the hour. He will rise and beckon. Then all -- all save one-- shall follow. (Slinking away with a smile on his face) Mornin', lads... mornin'. May the heavens bless you.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Starbuck: To be enraged with a dumb brute that acted out of blind instinct is blasphemous.
CaptainAhab: Speak not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
THAR SHE BLOWS!
Hi! My name's TOM, and I'm a Dickaholic...
It's funny, but three years ago I discovered one of my favorite contemporary poets, Tony Hoagland, simply because he had chosen to insert 'Moby Dick' into the title of one of his poems. See, 'Moby Dick' is one of the big buzz-words in my brain... has been since I was a ten-year-old in 1956. (I mean, if I see a reference to 'Moby Dick'...? I look. Can't help it! Any more than the frog who spies a lady bug flitting past his eyes can keep his switch-blade tongue in check and in cheek. It's automatic...).
In '56, my brother Denny and I were allowed to head down to Center Theatre to watch Moby Dick, starring Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab... and I ended up imprinting on that movie like some freshly hatched duckling, even though it turned out to be a film that my still-developing, pea-sized brain (at that time) was ill-prepared to grapple with. It was loaded with FOREBODINGS, and SYMBOLS, LARGER-THAN-LIFE CHARACTERS and BIBLICAL as well as LITERARY ALLUSIONS. And it used a vintage vocabulary of a much earlier time...
Visually and emotionally, however, I was totally sucked in. There was Pinocchio's Monstro the Whale up there on the big screen, only this time... as MOBY...and he... meant... business! There was Mr. Clean, too, all covered with tattoos playing Queequeg, the killer harpoon-hurler. And then there was my own Bible-thumping Grampie, playing every part from Father Mapple (delivering up Noah-and-the-Whale sermon from the pulpit); the Pequod's righteous, God-fearing owners; and finally to Captain Ahab himself!
And even though I didn't get much of what was going down... I knew that Something was! Something big! Something important! I was mesmerized. I was an inquiring mind, wanting to know... I mean, hey... there was that spooky prediction about the dead Ahab beckoning everybody else ("save one") to follow him down to their watery graves... There was that weird toast that Ahab made everybody drink along with him, out of the base of the harpoon blade after he'd pulled it off the wooden shaft... and the St. Elmo's fire that glowed all over the masts when he did so... and Queequeg, practically a zombie now, being laid out on deck, fully-alive in his own coffin... and that ghost ship floating by, sails all torn to rags... Yeah-- pretty heady stuff for a ten-year-old!
But more importantly, there was The Big Question: WHY did Ahab want to go and meet back up with the devil whale that had torn his leg off out from under him in the first place? Why didn't he fear Moby Dick? I would have! Hell... if that had happened to me, it would've taken Mom and a small army to wrestle me down into the tub to take my next bath, and if she ever tried it, I'd run away from home and move out to someplace like Witchita, Kansas to stay as far away from the ocean as I could get. The story just didn't make sense!
So... in the end, everybody ("save one") got killed by The White Whale, just like you know they were going to... and me? Then I had to waddle (limping) back out into the blinding Main Street sunshine (limping, because the movie, like some wild, white leviathan, had crossed my path and torn off one of the limbs of my ability to reason things out). I was damaged goods now. I was left unfulfilled, wondering, But why? Why? WHY!? What did it all mean? I asked everybody. Nobody knew. Nobody cared. How could they not? It was important! I was a bent little Ahab myself, now, and I was obsessing on finding The Answer! I... was on... a mission.
And, oh-- did I forget to mention that I'm an Obsessive-Compulsive...?
So I hunted down a copy of Melville's Moby Dick in Mayo Street Junior High School's puny library, and signed it out. But from the first page, I discovered I couldn't read half the words (and I was a great reader! I'd read Old Yeller in one sitting! ). After a week of off-and-on trying, I had to give up. Later, in eighth grade, I took it out again (Funny-- nobody'd signed it out since I had two years ago)...but I still couldn't fathom it. Tried again as a sophomore in high school, and once more as a senior. It was impossible! Why would somebody write a story of such IMPORTANCE...and then cloak it in some indecipherable language that would make the story seem... well, boring?
I gave up on reading the book.
In college as an English major, I began climbing the stodgy ladder of required classics, most more accessible than Moby.But the movie remained, for whatever reason, ensconced on its marble pedestal in my mind... until I found myself filling a vacant English teaching position in Belfast, Maine in 1968 and learned I was being charged with leading my College Prep juniors through the pages of Melville's signature masterpiece. At last! I was going to read the book. I would have to read it now. And read it before beginning it with the students. There would be no excuse! So once again, I cracked the hoary cover of of the 470-page book, marvelled at the 4-page, 135-chapter table of contents, waded knee-deep through the the Foreword, the maps, the 'Etymology' page, the 10 pages of exhaustive whale-related quotations entitled "Extracts," and landed, finally, upon page 12... Chapter 1, "Loomings"...
"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago-- never mind how long precisely-- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing to particularly interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world."
...And suddenly... I really was Ishmael! It was like falling in love! (My brain had matured, apparently.) My eyes began hungrily rifling through the pages... and before I could say, 'Thar she blows!' I had already... checked myself into a 'room' at The Spouter Inn... which, I guess, for me, would be sort of like checking into The Hotel California today... (did I mention that I'm an Obsessive-Compulsive?). I settled in for the long voyage...
"With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship." Or... to the book, rather...
Weeks later when I bobbed up out of the Nineteenth Century for air, still deep in the throes of nitrogen narcosis, otherwise known as raptures of the deep, I had my answers! Hell, I had The Answer! And I was as elated as I was crazed. But it wasn't enough, not for me. I wanted more. I wanted to sign on to a three-year whaling voyage! I yearned to learn to tie knots. I longed for life within the microcosm that was The Pequod.And I wanted to see the world. Living now in Belfast as I was, I could see the sea, hear the gulls, smell the salt in the air...
Truth is though... I was just a useless English teacher. It was never going to happen...
So I did one thing I knew I could do: I hastened downtown to Laverdiere's Drug Store and, from the toy section, purchased a plastic, Revell scale model kit of the ship, Cutty Sark, and glued it together, meticulously painting each part. I'd wanted to find and build a whaler of course, but whaling vessels for some reason were apparently just not that popular in the scale model market that year. To further celebrate, I went right out and bought me a bottle of Cutty Sark scotch... and later that evening, one thing became glaringly obvious: I had undoubtedly been a whaler in my last life!
Now... to share the wonders of whaling with my students...!
What the...? My college-preppers in Belfast inexplicably and pathologically despised the book...!?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Over the thirty-four years of my high school English teacher career, I would occasionally attempt to play Ahab and rally my current classroom crew into a mad frenzy to go with me again after the White Whale! I would yearn to spin around from the blackboard, hold up the stub of chalk in my clamped fist like a detached harpoon blade, and beseech the classes...
What do ye do when ye see a whale, men?
"Sing out for him!" they'd cry in unison...
And what do ye do next, men?
"Lower away, and after him!"
And what tune is it ye pull to, men?
"A dead whale or a stove boat!"
And then of course I would nail a gold doubloon to the bulletin board and pass around a bottle of... blood-red strawberry soda, shouting, "Drink, ye harpooneers! Death to Moby Dick! And God hunt us all if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!"
But the truth is... 99.9% of all of my students pathologically hated Moby Dick, and cursed the name of Herman Melville for writing it. I guess... maybe. it might've seemed somehow... as difficult as this is to understand...irrelevant perhaps(?) to their lives. The truth is... it has turned out, in the long run, that I am a member of one of the most obscure and exclusive conclaves on the planet... those indelibly marked by a chance, literary run-in with the Pequod's intended prey... And I have to accept that. It helps to know that I am not (entirely) alone. I mean... well, there's Gary Larson for instance, creator of the ingenious comic strip, The Far Side. I personally have clipped and collected every one of his tributes to Melville and Moby Dick. My personal favorite? The one where Moby Dick has inadvertently rear-ended the car in front of him in the midst of downtown city traffic. The driver's side door of the rear-ended vehicle has opened, and stepping out of it onto the street is an angry man in a black top-coat and stove-pipe hat, a white wooden leg, and a harpoon... The cartoon balloon above Moby's head reads, "Crimony! Milliions of people in this city, and look who I rear-end!"
And then there's... well, there's... there's Tony Hoagland, who wrote the poem, "Reading Moby Dick at 30,000 Feet."
And there was that woman, the one from Connecticut, who came into our library last summer and hungrily checked out our brand-new copy of Moby Dick! Yeah... so... it's not like I'm... alone or anything....
Anyway... I've read Moby Dick completely three times through, and often I go right back and re-read specific portions whenever I feel a need. Chapter 1 has always had a soothing effect on me when I've felt depressed, the part about how important it is to get back to the water again... And being a dyed-in-the-wool chowder-addict, I can't tell you how many times I've re-read Chapter 15, aptly titled, "Chowder."
I do believe I've got at least one more read-through in me... at least I hope so.
In my poetry, references to white whales often slip themselves into my verses, as you will see by my very next blog entry. But until then.. Well, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Once again, I'm Tom and I'm a Moby Dickaholic..."
Attention People of Earth! Attention People of Earth! Attention (especially) People of the Dover-Foxcroft area!
You are hereby put on notice that as of this date (Tuesday, June 8th in The Year of Our Lord, 2010) that I, Tom Lyford, do willfully and forcibly wrest (from the General Public at large) and seize control of... the honorable title of Poetic Dictator (of Dover-Foxcroft) For Life!! Yes... that's correct: As of now... I proclaim...
that iamb... (yeah... me!) the self-appointed,Poet Laureate of Dover-Foxcroft...
OK, see, I've grown weary of this I'm- nobody-who-are-you? existence! And I'm sick and tired of singing them Poe Me Blues all the time! I just can't go on telling myself over and over that it'll happen psalm day in the near future. So...I will HOWL about this no longer! All I want is my due... you know, to be paid what I believe I'm ode! Here's what I say: Go after Fate and dare to meter face-to-face, by God! Seriously, I really want to accent that! You may be saying, "Oh, that Tom Lyford... he's a monomaniac, anapest to boot!
Any attempts to foil this long overdue coup will be dealt with swiftly and without mercy! For every such action there will be dire consonances! So lay down your weapons, Dover-Foxcroftians! Cease and desist! Refrain! Resistance is futile! You'll never succeed in penetrating my trimeter perimeter! Your rhyme schemes will never work against me! Wit will flash incindiarily in your pastoral streets, and the the thunder of onomatopoeia will roll repetitively through the valley like a vile villanelle! Line after line of my rank and file in phalanxes will descend on you in couplets and quatrains like a plague... I'll blast your feminine endings, your weak rhymes to Shakespearean shrapnel... and by Frost, the verse I'll be firing won't be ll blank either! My foot will kick your assonance back to the Stone Age! Oh, it'll be epic!
Face it, John... you're all Donne and you know it!
It's really not the end of the world though, you know...? I mean, I'm not all that bad, am I? Oh, I've written some duds, I guess, but every now and then I've hit a Homer or three out of the park... No, seriously... I'm not Sandberging you here, I swear! Go ahead... do a Thoreau search-- who else in town has a poetry website (which has a Dover-Foxcroft collection on it, by the way) and has published five chapbooks and one large collection? Well, OK: so I don't do haiku so hot, but I promise... you'll really get your Wordsworth with me at the helm. And it's not like I'll make any money at it... there won't be any more jingle to my pockets, after all.
Anyway... sorry about all the tercet remarks I just made and everything... but my proclamation still stands... I'm planting the Laureate flag atop Dover-Foxcroft's highest peak...
Just... please...don't make me take out my poetic license, and use it, OK?
(Secretly... I'd rather you not examine it too closely and read everything that's sonnet!)
THIS IS IT--