Ambergris - Poem by Ben Paynter
the first thing you gave me was a name.
you named me,
after the sound of a key in a lock,
after the color of a sky right before a storm.
i was green and trying to get inside.
but i am a tree, i told you i am a tree
hard grained and full of splinters but you
you gave me a house. you gave me a chess game
to unlock the house. in the corner a grandfather clock
watched and took notes. pawns never
win games. you told me that and then won by
pushing your pawn to the last row, but you told me it
wasn't the pawn that won the game
it was the piece
you'd traded it in for. it was the queen you said.
and then you locked the house and you told me
we weren't playing games. you told me that we were just
learning how to live, so i gave up games
so i read books and magazines
and i reread books i had already read,
i wondered how many
books i would have to read
before i could write you out of my story.
but we talked about the classics, i loved the
classics and told you that Moby Dick
was the hero of the story
i told you Melville wouldn't name the book after
a thing he didn't admire. but you said Ahab
was the only part
that mattered, that Ahab was inside all of us.
and how you didn't find it clever that Ahab
was just a recycled evil king
from the Bible.
"who marries Jezebel? "
is a question that still
sits in my depths
and rises to the surface some nights
when the great white moon is riding
the tail of the big dipper.
what name did you give to your
queen that won the chess game?
was it Jezebel?
what name did you give the pawn? Was it Stubb? Or Queequeg?
in the grandfather clock (that neither of our grandfather's made)
the chimes were ringing (they're probably still ringing)
I wanted to call it Jezebel, I wanted
to throw it
out of the window, listen to
children and animals
pull it apart
piece by piece.
the time it kept was no time of mine.
it was your time, and you called me by any name you chose.
but i'm not Ahab, and i told you this and you tipped my king over
and i paced around the house like i was in search of something.
in the basement of the house (i imagined)
i made scrimshaw out of planks from our old bed
and you had white whales
and after awhile we both went off in search of white whales
but i'm tired of scrubbing decks and rolling around high seas
and telling myself that my name isn't Jezebel
and that the white whale
is the pawn that journeys the farthest
and that this ship isn't lost
or haunted or i'm lost, or haunted.
the name you gave me was a phrase. so
call me ambergris, call me
ten years too late, name me after how I drink my whiskey, or
let me write this story years from now,
let me call you Ahab
let us both be wild and wicked
let us both never find what we're looking for
but let's give it a name, let's name our whale, then let's
i'll burn it in the lamps I read by,
i will still smell your perfume
i will still look for you in pictures that I tell people
i don't keep.
call me Bobby Fischer, watch me
sacrifice my queen.
Comments about Ambergris by Ben Paynter
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