Monday, March 13, 2017

A Double Feature by John C. Mannone, Frequent Contributor

Cutting Edge
John C. Mannone
            April 15, 1912

            An icy North Atlantic wind
slices starboard on the moonless night,
as the great ship’s screws blindly churn
through brine, making its wake.
                        No one could see
the ripper hiding beneath the black sea,
laughing at the thick steel plates below
the seam line of the unsinkable ship.
                        It’s cutting edge no match
for iceberg’s jagged teeth below black ice
which gouges open each compartment.
Mangled and flooded, there’s no way
                        to unplug them, let water
drain back to ocean’s swell. The great ship
lies still, bleeds ocean, breathes last
bit of buoyancy. Trapped servants pray,
                        fancy guests waltz
with upturned chandeliers until bow immerses
into the frigid, the stern, catapulted high, gyrates,
follows drowned music lingering on decks,
                        violas and bass fiddle,
along with frail cries. Exploding
steam stacks gurgling water, a wisp
of steam threads air, their resignation
                        as this metal casket breaks,
slips into the deep, deep black no one could see.
Nor that last flare, tinged with crimson
the bright color of hope, incarnadine
                        blooms on the black sky
or that pale yellow glow
            of search lights arriving too late
                        piercing the hallowed green waves.

Poet’s Notes: I am always saddened when I remember the Titanic, the “unsinkable,” which sank so quickly entombing so many in the cold Atlantic. I suppose that when the poem is turned on its side, the structure hints at a ship, but that would have been accidental and not planned. However, it is noteworthy that the indented lines form a kind of poem itself echoing the calamity. (Starting with “No one could see” and reading all lines indented the same way.)

As I reflected on this event over a hundred years later, I discovered a National Geographic article, “Unseen Titanic,” by Hampton Sides, April 2012, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.TERcom/2012/04/titanic/sides-text. It became my source material for a found poem:

The Titanic After 100 Years

The wreck sleeps in darkness, a puzzlement
of corroded steel strewn across a thousand acres
of the North Atlantic seabed. Weird colorless
life-forms, unfazed by crushing pressure, prowl
its jagged ramparts, a meticulously stitched-together
ghostly image. The site, a Jackson Pollock-like scattering
of lines and spheres, scraps and shards brought to life
by layering optical data onto sonar image. Titanic’s bow
in gritty clarity, a gaping black hole, a white crab
clawing at a railing. The entire wreck of the Titanic
every bollard, davit, boiler—what was once
an indecipherable mess, has become a high-resolution
crash scene photograph, with clear patterns
emerging from the murk like Manhattan at midnight
in a rainstorm—with a flashlight. This gives voice
to those who were silenced, when the cold water
closed over them in two hours and 40 minutes
for 2,208 tragic-epic performances came crashing down.

At Luxor, the relics: A chef’s toque, a razor, lumps
of coal, perfectly preserved serving dishes, innumerable
pairs of shoes, bottles of perfume, a leather gladstone bag,
a champagne bottle with the cork still in it
and the exhibit’s centerpiece, a gargantuan slab of hull
hoisted by crane from seabed, studded with rivets,
ribbed with steel—this monstrosity of black metal—
an extinct species hauled back from a lost world.

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