top of page

Melville's Reader

With an ease that belies his theme   
my boy slumps into a mold of his own small back.

Chair or taffrail? The waves blend with his thoughts.
And far, far out of range, I search my heart for a send off:

To follow a runaway's lead?   His optimism?
To see our little horrors and be social with them?       

A summer breeze.  And now the pages turn themselves;
he shifts and shifts.  Perhaps the helmsman stares

now at the flaming try-works, sees the shapes: harpooners
poling, pitching that hissing mass -- a reckoning

so stark he slips into a soporific dream
then suddenly comes to, but dead astern, his mind ignited

wondering how to save the ship from being brought to lee.
I remember reading that scene until I could recite it.  

But now, he lays the book like open wings across his lap
and basks and basks in summer's luxurious light.

I watch him like a swabber come to save a listing ship
and keep a kind of vigil while he naps.

Was God above young Ishmael as he packed his bag
for Cape Horn, the Pacific?  Or, in New Bedford, when he read

the fate of whale men? An average, good-hearted, dreamer at the
masthead. Watcher not watching, chatting with Queequeg.

O little dreamer, never in more danger than on your sunny perch,
move your foot or hand an inch, loosen your grip

and midday, in the fairest weather, with one half-throttled shriek
you drop through the transparent air into the summer sea.


Copyright © 2007 M. B. McLatchey.  All rights reserved.
Published in The Spoon River Poetry Review, Winter/Spring 2008.

bottom of page