Tag Archives: Melville

Guest from the past, ghost from the future


Guest from the past, ghost from the future

Here inside my body is a table for all time.
From some place in the future my ghost arrives,

Disoriented, not remembering how or when
I died but carrying a newspaper that sat

On the grass throughout the night I expired,
Saturated with dew or rain, does it matter,

And now all the words are gathered so close
from both sides of all pages, the odd and the even,

they form a single unreadable sentence.
There are no chairs around the table because

Ghosts don’t need chairs and the guest
From the past is not welcome anyway. He will be here

Any moment, even though I lied about when
Things would start, that’s how early he always is,

The past is never late. I invite him hoping my ghost
Will scare him, make him understand his end

Is inevitable. But of course he can’t change.
I end up scaring myself, my coffee goes cold.

By the time the news is dry it’s not worth reading.
This is the best table I could imagine, too, all wood,

Like the big table where Melville wrote Moby Dick
In the middle of the room on the second floor

Of a landlocked house with a view of Mt Greylock.
I can hear the turtle in the alarm flexing his muscle

And the morning air rushing in. Everything
Will be the same next time I visit, except me.

Happy Birthday, Moby Dick!

From the 1930 edition illustrated by Rockwell Kent.

From the 1930 edition illustrated by Rockwell Kent.

Call me crazy, but Moby Dick is my favorite novel. My favorite book. My favorite source of inspiration as a writer and a human being. It’s my Single Desert Island Book–narrative, lyrical, philosophical, funny, heart-warming and heart-breaking, one of the Biggest Tales of All Time, but with all sorts of weird almost postmodern flourishes (whole chapters in the closest thing to screenplay format a mid 19th century writer could imagine, doppleganger characters and storylines, characters who appear and then suddenly disappear … or do they?, and so on).

MobyDickpagesOn November 14, 1851, the novel was published in England by Richard Bentley. Bentley was probably counting on the success of Melville’s earlier bestsellers (yep, Melville was actually a Young Celebrity Author in his time) Typee and Omoo, based loosely on his real-life adventures surviving a mutiny and jumping ship off a merchant marine vessel and living among “cannibals” for a while (the guy woulda been all over cable news channels), to generate substantial sales. Needless to say, the industry was fickle even back then. Am I saying that the author of one of the world’s best-known English language novels deserves more recognition than he already has? YES! Am I saying that pretty much all of Western literature and entertainment from Gravity’s Rainbow to “Survivor” can be traced back to this one book? YES!! I’m not saying I’d be right about these things; just enthusiastic enough that I hope it is infectious; just infectious enough that I hope you squint at that first page and read the poetry in that first paragraph, and let the great shoulders of that prose hold you up and point you to the vast waterways within your own story.