No man can see me and live, Exodus Chapter 33
The price...is your life! Rumi

Part I

The great mask, what is real behind
the Pasteboard, drives the Captain mad.
Landlessness is where high truth
dwells, but better to die in howling
seas than to wait on safe dull shores.
He stalks the whale he once nearly killed,
until the malign thing dismasted him;
shadows are where nameless things lie,
the signs suggest forth out of heartless
voids, heartless chance and necessity,
interweave and the weaver never speaks.
Orphaned soul's secrets rest in graves
and he must there to learn them,
hidden treasures he must disclose;
praise that fury that blots, declaring:
"You can come so far, but no further."

Part II

Starbuck left him behind to blend
with the ocean vast. Now Pip is Ocean.
Pip, a servant to eternity. Pip is no more.
He saw enough to split the galaxies,
to make of Abraham an infidel; he
drinks the salt, tastes a bottomless soul
that interfuses mankind and all on land.
His spirit balloons through time and
space, sees God's foot rocking the loom's
treadle, dances to that, and then Pip dies
with a madness that becomes heaven's
sense, which to science is absurd and
frantic. He wanders from his mortal
reason and is lost to earthly thought.
His insanity becomes his holiness;
he babbles ocean darkness unlimited,
and bright things that ghost in the deep.

Part III

So the Captain rages against the masks.
"Is a reasoning thing behind this
unreason? Is there nothing behind?"
How can he know? Insulted, he strikes
at the sun. He is damned in the midst
of Paradise. What he dares, he wills;
what he wills, he does; in his mortar
chest bursts his heart's hot shell.
Listen! You have seen enough now.
You have looked too long in the face
of fire. The volcano--that you are!
In the midst of the personified
impersonal, a person stands, striding
to unship secrets, to sound and
wreck the deep. Avoid the human
eye, forget the girl you widowed
when you married. You stand alone
among the billions of the peopled earth
and countless stars. You are Fate's
Captain and forever Ahab: feeling,
feeling, stealing reason, that is God's
thinking, stealing, seizing this right.

Ahab. O bloody King. What hides
behind those shimmering presences,
What's above? What below? As one
who wears a mask, who is that mask,
how can mask tear off a mask? Ahab
is Ahab boating in an ocean soul.
So long as Ahab is Ahab what he
wants is a whale he can never kill.

Part IV
The Chase

The quest is on. The Ocean's split,
the world crew have been made disciples
as insane as he, pull at their oars chewed
to splinters by the wolf-pack shark.
The Whale is seen She blows! She blows!
Boats lowered. Fast on! Fast on! they cry
and lines whip out, boats are wrecked,
men die. O this: Die Welt Untergang!
Must you take your world down with you?
Bloody King, crucified Lord! Dead in
Berlin bunkers, incinerated as trash.
"Is Ahab Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that
lifts this arm?" He pitches his harpoon,
the great fish sounds Jonah's song, bearing
the mutilated remnants of the Sun's priest,
the Captain's Parsee Prophet dead, with him,
beckons, and a speeding hangman's bight
grabs Ahab's neck and yanks him down,
ocean soul meeting ocean depth and binds
man to beast but with one hand loose
that calls the world. "I am dead. I am tied
to the mask! I have eaten eternity. Follow me!
Sing hymns to the void that whites nature
out. See! I have kissed this Ocean thing,
the price of which is my life. Words will
not touch it. All intellects tied together
wonąt stretch to me and what I know to be
the glory of the deep. Come so far.
Come further. Follow, oh follow me!"

Part V

The one called this, the Pilgrim
who fled Cato's sword, resists this
Siren's song, Colorless. Bright
piety of inquiry. Deified nature paints
like a whore: in his ocean-bound
soul lies one insular Tahiti, full of
Joy, but circled by the puzzle
of half-known life. Intuition
doubt; belief, blasphemy, he regards
with an equal eye. He has dipped
his brush in Vesuvius' paint-pot
to draw panoramas of empire,
daubs universes; he reads complete
tales of heaven and earth, a treatise
in tea leaves, tattoos, entrails, on
how to grapple truth. He, an old
mariner who alone escapes to tell
his story, bobs to surface having
seen the deep but to leave it as a
Bodhisattva must; on a coffin
made by caring hands, he floats.
Ishmael has seen death. He defers
its silence. He wisely lives, will find
his Nineveh and preach. He rides
the saving casket, this vessel of dying,
the life-buoy that surmounts death,
orphaned, but alive, alive, for now.

Steven Fortney

Back to SF Poetry Page
Back to SF Home Page

Page updated by TiPi, 3/21/2004