CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
Is It Twice As Big?
We’d just gotten up.
We’d washed our faces.
Sky-blue mugs of coffee.
People who say they could watch fire all
day, or ripples on water—this I cannot
Now, waiting for a whale—
The Dutch legacy of whaling.
He stood under the blue whale’s
skeleton, each bone “adopted” by a local
scrimshaw gallery or life insurance agent,
the dinghy-sized jaws held apart by
Chilly day. The front-desk computer, a
desert-theme screensaver. An antique
well of ink.
I’d read something about all this.
A very long time ago.
Through the tall, modern plate-glass
windows, we looked at the streets,
maintained in cobblestone to suit
touristic strolling. Imagine how long the
entire whale might have been. Gulls on slate
roofs keened icily away from us, toward
us. Would it fit in this room?
She filled in the blank in the children’s
guide. The sentence began,
“Immediately, the crew … ”
Later, in the coatroom, she threw the
Throat spade removes baleen. Gouge spade
attaches hooks to blubber.
We were not warm-water types. We were
strict. That is why we found the image of
a whale being peeled of its blubber
spirally, like an apple, so engrossing.
A forest of masts from the observation
Ice blooming on the sides.
“Surf or turf?” he asked.
She had described me, in her typically
thoughtless way, as generic. So I finished
Moby-Dick out of spite, went on to win
the essay contest for eleventh-graders,
and rode the bus up here to New
Bedford, Massachusetts, to collect my
I like sperm whales: They are easily angered.
It was my aunt who donated the first of
the whalebone swifts, which they used to
use for winding up yarn, you see. And
my aunt’s was a very fine example. Now
you have every old biddy in town
wanting to vomit her attic onto the
Baleen drying on the wharves is twice a man’s
height, and unruly as grass gone to seed.
Welcome aboard the Lagoda, the world’s
largest whaleship model. A little wary of the
half-scale headroom, he made himself
finger the copper vats that boiled
blubber into oil, and he said to himself
how much he admired the roses of rope.
As such, we were novices. But we did
have many paintings of ships.
Find the tools that helped the whalemen [ ]
Select one whale and [ ] the sounds it makes.
The males “sing” with their tails pointed
upward and their heads toward the floor of the
To me it seemed sadly improbable that
the young woman at the desk was a
descendent of Melville.
People used to stand on whales’ tongues.
He was grateful, as they read about the
heyday of whaling in New Bedford, that
she did not make any comment about
the “widows’ walks.” He patted her
The males “sing” only in the winter.
She tapped a fingernail on the suitcase-
sized VERTEBRA #12. She had spindly
legs in pink. She looked at herself in the
reflective display case. Her shape
overlaid that of an anonymous sailor-made
model, with its complicated rigging,
Reverential music under the aerial film of
three whales gliding barely under the
water’s surface. Photos of the carcasses
stripped of blubber, beheaded, unleashed
from the ship and left to bob away,
staining the sea. Film of whale-oil flame:
it is “smokeless.”
Sperm whales have been observed with
huge suction scars on their skin, and
enormous tentacles have been found
half-digested in their stomachs. Why is
this considered only “indirect proof”
that they battle giant squid?
There was one drawing I loved, of
Ishmael looking down a narrow street in
New Bedford, on one of the year’s
longest nights, down to the inky harbor
below, a ship’s spearlike prow darkly
slicing the frame, the sky as dozens of
carefully drawn parallel lines …
You light its lamps, you slick down its
gears, but the world forgets.
Lonely, on the sound.
She is not a captain’s wife.
He is not a harpooner.
I am not turning my life into a novel.
Scrimshaw is the art of carving on
whalebone. But scrimshaw tools are
themselves made of bone.
From the tall churchlike windows,
afternoon light as grey as old wool
moved across the deck of the
reconstructed ship. We looked at a
toggle iron twisted by the movements of
a fighting whale. And we were bored in
Silver spade. Pike.
The eye of the whale.