Of Perfume and Crude Oil

[ Excerpted with permission from Memoirs of the First Great White ]

Selection: 16-MOB.I §1371(a)(5)(E)(iii) beginning from:

Boiling, I began hammering the hull with my blunt head…

Call me the one who did not float, did not sink, nor fail.
I am not he who went mad, nearly went with my burst ship
Twice. I am but scar-crossed; fouled lines, rusted piercings.
Too wild, they were, crazy to flense another stinking carcass.

They came like scuttling crabs in swift, small side-boats,
Eager to die, drunk on murder, they began lancing—I tasted
Them, and their darkest harpoon tasted me, a monstrosity,
Fashioned by a zealot’s forge, tempered in the blood of man.

Drape the flat decks in slices of our skin and fat, boil the
Strips in gigantic iron cauldrons—naked witches envy
The bird-picked bones, ready for scrimshawing. Scraping
Spades; mince, skim, render, stow; discharge what remains.

Was I not the one who put Ahab short a fire-eating Persian?
I, with the dead shadow strapped to my side, wearing his
Body like a rotting gun? True, I left the captain no leg
To stand on… but who sank their marks into flesh first?

Would that I did not know. Too easy to sink into the murk
Of the midnight zone, where I must to shatter my fast; cold
Suckers stretch around my jaw, the whipping tentacles fight
My demand of submission; a sacrifice foretold by death.

After meeting men, my thoughts dive deeper than my lungs
Dare go. When I rise, straining, pray that my gasping brain
Remains mine; I am desperate it not be starved, oxygen spent
Sustaining the unwanted needs of this muffin-topped shell.

If I know fear, it is only that: to imagine my mind set adrift,
Lost down where the badly-rammed ship’s wreck must
Rest, the last of its skeletons still tight in the barred hold,
Locked beside barrels of oil and ambergris from my pod.

Only I survived him, hopping on his wooden leg. In wood
The madman placed his faith, and so it was that from afar
I saw the sparks, when he threw his smoking pipe over the
Stern of the coasting, oak-clad whaling ship (I followed

Stem and bowl and pouch, circling, my clean movements slowed
By patience, his beloved meerschaum resisting descent until no
Normal eyes could match the gloomy procession into the infinite
Black: welling, welcoming from an unseen, unspeakable depth
).

True, I was not alone in surviving, despite having a coffin
Built for me by foreign hands; the Pequod was outfitted
With the dregs of thirty seedy ports—some leaped aboard
Hailing from parts unknown, their tattoos speaking tongues.

Bruised by battle, my albino birthright unmissable at sea,
I watched the men dismiss humanity to go to the last chase,
Hunting death—thumb-nosing gods; they chilled the wax
That sealed their souls, turning the rounded keel to my mercy.

One mariner I left alive, safe in every pub to spin his sailor’s
Stories—exaggeration not necessary if unrolling what fate
Befell those chasing my wide tail. Again! Tell of the undying,
Lone white bull of the sea; king of salt, squid, and of slim ships

Built on sand by overlapping boards, their gaunt crews armed
Only with needles and thread. And still they sought me

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Sheridan

W. Sheridan Bradford is an American author of the old west (Face of Water, Sevenfold), contemporary westerns (Last Harvest Trilogy), science fiction (The Wreck of the Molon Labe), apocalyptic scenarios (The Bust of Mazorro), short stories (Pesebre), and poems (Sestina No. Four). Usually found in: CO, NM, or TX.

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