I’m on my third read of Melville’s classic and also listening to The Moby-Dick Big Read. At around 3AM, I came to a favourite chapter, Stubbs’ Supper, in which the second mate drags Fleece, the ancient black cook out of bed to cook up a steak sliced from the journey’s first catch. The whale is secured to the boat and already being dined on by sharks. Stubbs orders Fleece to preach to them.

The Shark Well-Governed
(Spring, 2008)

“Your woraciousness, fellow-critters, I don’t blame ye so much for; dat is natur, and can’t be helped; but to gobern dat wicked natur, dat is de pint. You is sharks, sartin; but if you gobern de shark in you, why den you be angel; for all angel is not’ing more dan de shark well goberned.”  – Fleece the cook addressing the sharks enjoying the Pequod‘s first catch

Ever ungovernable, we consume ourselves.
Lessons in communion remain unlearned –
The angel is no more than the shark well-governed.
Take it on the tongue, don’t bolt your food – shelves
Of manners crumble unstudied. Ravished,
The voracious alike with the timid,
Dim to priests’ and parents’ drowning limits.
With committed rectitude once lavished
Onto impassioned sloth, teeth-first we delve.

Hours rising to the surface in her
She pushes down as slow children at the pool
Dorsal desire she overtakes, she annuls
In a swallow as though any other
Nursed remorse to weening, discerned
Its gripping, waterlogging gravity
Once she conquered it, flew in brevity;
The angel, no more than the shark well-governed,
Took from her the devouring governor.

Chewing with care, the smallest bite too large
(An angel’s no more than a shark well-governed)
To swallow, the stretch of his jaws returned
What he wouldn’t keep to his charge.
Desired ambrosia for his wingless
Palate too rich for a constricted mouth,
All teeth, to taste. Not content with thin broth,
Tongued and untasted insight sound his finless,
Tasteless memories to depths ungauged.

Alone the shark devours, but even paired,
A strength against its teeth won’t be doubled.
The cage which together you once cobbled
Will not drop again, even had you dared.
The wings you might give will not hold you both.
Angels are no more than sharks well-governed.
Though in beating you might rise, you’ll but churn
The waters of his memory ever loath
To paddle waves he’s ever poorly fared.

In devouring, drowning, or in flight,
We extract ourselves from our own dark teeth
With quills or something duller. Underneath
Dull skies, the only exercise of might
Left rejects the wings, rejects the airborne,
Perseveres in shared gluttony, fastened –
Sharks but angels starved and ungoverned –
To one another as stags to their horns.
Do more than shreds of self remain to light?

The angel is no more than the shark well-governed,
But the angel who of himself devours
Restrains himself not in those eaten hours
Or to the right eating of those he’s earned.
She who dines on herself like the crows
At some unchained promethean liver
Lives not on herself alone, a giver
Of few gifts. We angels of the pond stow
More between wings than yet we’ll let you learn.

In some official capacity spurned
From the common table, angels anneal
Those ligaments between wing and jaw, feel
Truly more than just the shark well-governed.
Ingestion the first step – conversion
Of Matter to energy for the wings –
Brutality the by-product of things
We do, not just to resist reversion,
But to display our widespread wings unburned.

As icons strewed, unnailed by malice
Or time, we gaven images gather
Rust to exact forgotten force, rather
Late recalling lessons turned callous.
The angel is no more than the shark well-governed,
No better than lubricated machines,
Less adept at the task of moving the unclean
From antipathy to their sojourns
Beyond our drearily housed chalices.

When I depart this world unfestooned,
When thankless daily tasks I abandon,
Another my appetite to command,
My wings the water no longer to churn,
On this expansive flesh I shall not feed.
My airborne constructions I have foiled
For a surplus of machines unoiled.
To this earth I’ll be subject, for indeed,
This angel is no more than a shark well-governed.