Ship of fools

Chapter 2, Part 2 steams on.  The national economic struggles & political corruption emphasized in the previous passage suddenly swerve back into Rhode Island - a local brew of slavery, inequality, corruption, & greed comes to the surface - suddenly Henry's foundering old tugboat mixes it up with the Ship of City-State...

Bluejay (now in the guise of a vaguely Cape Verdean sailorman) still hovers in the background.  His diatribe at the end of this passage is a reminder of the date of composition : anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination.


In the dark, aboard a cracken ark, Porky Pig
was eatin his cloven hoof with powerful canned 
peas (minus his favorite buffalo) when she runned 
aground suddenly.  Haven, or riven?  Fig

leaves fell from a blistered tree as he shuffled 
across the deck with both hands behind his bark. 
The night was howlin.  Hairs on the back of his thick neck 
bristled – what was that?  Muffled wind riffled

across the gunwales.  Up by the bowsprit and figurehead 
he thought he espied another head – or its shadow, 
lifted around the old and oaken prow.
Q?   M?  W?

The animals below were whimperin.  Must be a scavenger, 
thought he.  A milk-white snow was driltin slowly
down now out of the impenetrable murk of sky.
Two furry ears – that's what he saw!  Wolf-ears, for sure!

[Wolf, of course, as everybody knows, is Ravlin 
in Old French.  This is an allegorical clue
for the miniature navvies in blue
bottle flights of ravenous imagination.

Cowwamaunsch means I love you. 
Cautantowwit – Raven.
We're back in Rhode Island
and Henry has a lot of explaining to do.]

Cape Verde was a Portuguese colony until 1975. 
500 years. 12 islands.   Lucrative.
By 1700, Providence pop. 1200.
Commerce: rum and slaves.

Tillinghast wharf, Fox Point.  Lumber, dairy, dried 
fish, beef, pork – for molasses, sugar, cotton,
men, women and children.
1770: rum to Africa = four-fIfths colonial trade.

1770: Rhode Island enslaved more Africans
than any colony in New England  [Sam'l Hopkins]. 
Georgian mansions exfoliate above Transit, 
merchant wealth spurs industrial development,

Power, Tillinghast, Brown, Goddard, Metcalf, 
names to reckon with unto this day–
beneath each domicile's armorial display
a painfully tattooed arm.  Aye.  Your other half.

Money makes the man [LD. writes in diary].
Come along there, Nelson, little lord Fauntleroy. 
Grandfather Aldrich was completely different
a great man with the people [Nelson A. Rockefeller].

Nelson W. Aldrich    grocery boy Napoleon Boss
of the U.S.A.    learned to hate the hoi polloi.
It was in the old church all unchanged since. . . my 
youthful self sat bolt upright upon its hard board seats. . .
those which I had known as boys and girls were fathers 
and mothers; many prematurely old, most unmistakeably
entering into that dreary monotony of drudgery 
and toil from which they never could emerge.

Not our Nelson.  He has brilliant dark eyes 
which he fastens closely upon the person 
manners genial and attractive    fine
black hair    over six feet tall    nation's

economic business in his hands    No,
don't ask me any questions, let's talk about 
something else    he wanted to found an estate 
family feeling, love of beautiful things   [oh

yeah: "innate class sense"]    above the reach 
of circumstance, above the whirlwind
of common passion    very walls whispered 
of the state secrets they have heard    [Beach

today? Yacht]    Five years    imprisoning alliance 
to traffic    and then I will be free    Politics 
transcendent business in Gilded Age  [just fix
the votes]     Oligarchy-approved voting restrictions

20 of the 38 towns that sent Nelson to Senate 
bought outright    he was above it all – the hordes 
and swarms of Fox Point [Lower East Side]
for 30 yrs never gave a speech    seldom wrote a letter

Sugar Trust     $7 million in cash to Aldrich if he'd
fix the Providence streetcar monopoly    United Gas 
and Improvement    pleasure for me to arrange this
don't bother to read    just sign your name and return to me

His daughter married the only son and destined successor
of John D. Rockefeller. Thus, the chief exploiter

of the American people is closely allied by marriage
with the chief schemer [gutter newspaper yeller 
journalism]    great overriding purpose to his career 
private goods were what he valued most, and it was private

The yachts, the sleek yachts, the yachts 
in the attics of Attica, bottled, sold. 
Unable to read the sequestered forehead 
in the hold – nature's formulaic J-stroke

coming home, up Nile.  Weight
of a man's arm, or black stone, in 
the scale of a frozen Slavic horizon 
[Pushkin's Horseman, mile after mile

in Neva-Neva land] – wolfman [out of focus] 
his eyes blurring coming out of the library 
[John D. Rockefeller Brown University] 
heads to Wickenden – hocus-pocus.

Heavy weight on heart.  Clay on sea-floor 
could be Atlantis or some Coatlicue 
calculation.  Old and rich, you
keeping sinking [cream? a little more?

– no thanks].   Almost time to go back. 
Where's my list.  The rivers keep churning
 toward that monotonous drowning
delta.  He's just a cross-eyed Micmac,

a rocky feller.  Wow Mon.
You sho look like a wolf today. 
Say, are them fangs made a clay? 
– See you in the hippodrome,

Nile Maiden.  Ship done hit rock bottom.
Quit horsin around. Scrounge
me up some greenbacks fo the Lounge.
Manny's Ringside. Last chance now – only home.


The old Cape Verdean Fox Point was gradually
washed away by historic preservation and urban 
renewal.  Coulda been a contender.  Down at Manny's 
Ringside they still gathered years later for the memory –

longshoreman from the islands keeping 
alive the swansong of the Rooster – Manuel 
Q. Ledo.  One-upped all the bosses for Local 
1329.  Henry at their beck and call tacking

here and there noting it down – because
along that friendly rudder of the bar he felt 
the shadow of a piece of it all – nostalgia, silt, 
salt air.  And now it loomed into view–the rose.

Not the fragrance of the flower but a splintered 
thorn from keel, prow, weathered shoreman's hook. 
The dead weight of it stretching the wrist, the knock 
of bulky hulls against the wharf.  Hulk, centered,

manual, with planted feet.  Mock if you will.
The will was trance. . . transfigured, there.
When time steps one way, ineluctable – we share
its fate.  Memory is pierced.  Tattooed.  Impersonal.

The future is a nest of possibilities.  The past
a splintery keel of heavy oak.  Its very weight 
(fixed point of pigeon towline – artifact) 
whispered–cut the bull now.  Change your course.

And into Providence harbor sails the Ernestina
Former Effie G – no phantom bark.  Pierced
Cape Verdean sailing history.  Rehearsed, 
reharnessed.  Figurehead.  Deus ex deadwood machina.

A bonnie lass she was too.  Pigeon-prowed, dove-
winged captain's unwed bride, his pride 
and joy – dragging her husband's nets carried 
the precious spooled sheep's clothing to the cove.

Until he broke it all apart.  Not
all his skilled Caribbean dissertations 
could set the mast in place again.
Only. . . the splinter is an anchor now.  Heart-

shaken-down pierced acorn coracle began to grow 
steadfast sidelined kelson.  Missing leg
become J-stroke missive skyborn eaglegg 
pen circling around the pen.  Icon. Leo,

Eleonore, Elena – Negus of leonine line highborn 
above her, ever-never new-encompassing
 (compassionate) my perky pining
– sharing Charon

eyeing his hand with a single coptic penny 
for a charitable crossing come to pass. 
Passed hand to hand. Kermess
or spinning wheel around a tiny tree

juniper vessel balm so prodigal-corne-home 
chasing elusive black sheep fader cat 
anchored in long, birchbarky hat
with pine bows in rosy peak-limned

limbs.  Penny to a poundsworth weighted 
with poversity.  Oh say can you see
high C – C'est la V!
Fxpt  .  fated.

And around and around and around that point we go 
– that's the whole point, thought Henry,
as he whistled low
in the pussy willow – wheeee. . .

the wind crying in the cedar branches overhead. 
The heart a target for a pistol shot. 
Sunspot – mole on your breast.
Love's nest – double in the mirror – redhead,

flaming, felix, broken open.  Two lips
of forking clay (divided once) now form 
a prow or figurehead.  And the storm 
is a raining eye–apocalypse.

The new eye in your chest X-pierced it all. 
Love afloat like wind above thought form
fills sails with effigies – an earnest swarm, 
magnanimous, domeward.  Iconofilial.

Pulls you starboard leeward toward the shipyard 
constantly , Venetian gardener. Bronze
horses, hidden in the snow.  Sins
hidden now too – the memo lists, the word

keels over – Pushkin on his back – fur 
electricity. Frank transit of Venus
one night stand for a little death
in Memphis – be milk, peaceful, above never.

Peters out now overhead.  Bare constellation. 
Nile island Pereslavl Charon barge, 
harred crossroad, dirge
in heaven, not

in London, Dublin, Lisbon. 
Providence unproven, dense. 
Why, it don make no sense 
that a man like that one

gotta bleed all ove creation 
f the sake of a feeble gam 
boll weevil bugger gem 
of a conversation,

man!  Square it wid yo motha! 
M tired a these cheatin 
chit-chats an bleatin 
explanafornicatory bro haha.

Misty formations an apolocalisthenics a 
deep well mints an sugardaddies an 
saurkraut an meansly pots o'paddies 
an whitegal neurasthenics an

Henry wid his mouf wide open! 
Keep on cryin, cryin.
Dyin, dyin.

And so slowly, slowly, the brokenbacked keel 
moved upstream.  Magnanimous, 
Mississippian.  Porous
the wind until

we can hold no more and the dove
sets sail toward the green mountain 
cooing morn and the ark cannot contain 
any more saturnine bronze lead from above.


Tugboats in Providence Harbor

The Effie M. Morrissey - now Ernestina

Sen. Nelson W. Aldrich

Manny Almeida's Ringside Lounge (Wickenden St.)

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