Ishmael, or The Orphan

By Dan Beachy-Quick b. 1973 Dan Beachy-Quick
          Before the God-bullied hull, call me—
          Before the God-bullied hull buckles, before

          The red flag unfurled on water bucks and drowns,
          Before the sky-hawk dives down, before

          The nail drives through the sky-hawk’s red-wing—
          Call me
                      the nail driven through the wing
          And call me the wing driven through.
                                                                A board
          On water is buoyant, I know: I cling to wood—
          A dictionary buckles and drowns. I know

          I do not drown: I’m abridged, afloat, call me—

Sir, when my book arrives, when each page
You’ve untied lets go the breath it held
That was my breath, then my breath will not be mine—
I think you’ll know. I know when doors open
I mean to keep closed: study-door, desk-drawer.
My wife found the key I hid beneath the fern.
My pens she did not touch. She did not touch
The hundred pages I left blank to fill other days.
She took the cracked compass I keep for luck
(the needle’s sharp, but stuck), took my green-glass
Ink-pot, and centering the compass on my desk,
Poured out each dark drop of ink unitl ink
Seeped through cracked glass and left the compass
Ink-full. The gold needle loosened, floated: a line.

          Bent back, I am taking you inside my head
          Turning back. Ahab bent

          The needle that refused North
                                                      back to a magnet’s tow—
          Did, Ahab did, after
          The needle’s faith answered our question: No.

          How do you point at a horizon? Ask me. I know.
          Needle out your arm: close eyes:

          And turn in a circle. Inscribe a zero on the wood-deck—
          The Equator on zero
                              latitudes lies. That is the truth, I know

Sir, what name that bay a last page carves
Out of no shore: ice? glacier? greenland?
strand, shoal-of-white-sand? an artic-calm?
How live, Sir, there—where I’ve been sailing?
Let me list for you, the cargo in my hold:
A brush, a mirror gilt-in-gold, a gold strand
Of wife’s hair, a dirty plate, a sink with no water,
A white-sheeted bed, a finger with a ring
That the ring hates. Sir, these bound pages
Are bound for you. I’ve a compass
Full of ink. I see I need repair, plank
By plank, my boat, while ocean-bound, while afloat.

          I’m
          Orphan, Ishmael, Equator-Line:

          A man alone equals the wave before it crests,
          Wave, before crest, equals the needle turning,
          Needle turning equals the flinch of a hawk-wing,
          A hawk-wing’s flinch is heaven turning

          Away. Men swallow water

Sir, I meant not to be so much myself
As I am. I meant to keep my mouth closed
When wife asked, “Should I go?” and I said: “Go.”
Bow-of-the-bed, empty bow. I’m captain,
I guess, now. I fold the blank sheet back
Each morning. There’s a page I mean to read.
No hand wrote it. It’s white. It hides white
Inside another page of white. How, Sir—
Open a page inside a page? How, Sir, do you
Read the page that was written so you could not
Read it. I know, I think I know. You sleep,
Or step, or slip beneath the surface of the bed
And learn to breathe as paper breathes: with other’s breath.

          And then water swallows men. A grave-magnet
          Pulls them down. Fathom me—

          Editor, fathom me. I am a known depth. I’m a
          Definition easy: a man, a mortal man.

          A man with five needles on each hand
          Pointing heavenward. Heed me. I’m lost.

Dan Beachy-Quick, “Ishmael, or The Orphan” from Spell. Copyright © 2004 by Dan Beachy-Quick. Reprinted by permission of Ahsahta Press.

Source: Spell (2004)

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Poet Dan Beachy-Quick b. 1973

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books

 Dan  Beachy-Quick

Biography

Poet and essayist Dan Beachy-Quick was born in Chicago and raised in Colorado and upstate New York. He was educated at Hamilton College, the University of Denver, and the University of Iowa.

Beachy-Quick's poetry collections include North True South Bright (2003); Spell (2004); Mulberry (2006), a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award for poetry; This Nest, Swift Passerine (2009); and Circle's Apprentice (2011). He is also . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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