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Author's Note:
Been working on this for two or three weeks. Sent a different version of it to Lucie for input. That version will be much longer - which is something I envisioned after the first draft and which Lucie suggested as well. Thought I'd post here to see what ideas others can share on it. Thanks for reading. Feel free to post your critique, pro or con.

The Captain’s Son
(or Footnote to a footnote)

Can you tell the sun’s position by a forced smile?
Are my eyes not unlike the hours left off a clock,
always at sea and blind under a stormy brow?
All things being ether-made, we are surrounded by
an emptiness that no longer recognizes devil or saint.

My mother rejected this absence out of a stagnant,
non-committal fear she hid in the hem of her mourning
dress. She recognized in me a desperate remoteness
yet made demands of the howling wind as I held
my arms out to meet the end of a cliff that was no less
than a beginning. “Captain Ahab was your father,”
she whispered into her semantic hands as I lost my
purposeful footing on dry land.

But I had known this as one knows his name.
I knew it as I never knew freedom from his abusive
Memory: A man cruel enough to never stop loving me
less than the mast of the wreckage where I was
conceived. That was where my knowledge met its end.
What came before his towering shadow, I know nothing.
Of the loneliness that engulfed him, I know enough.

I considered this as I reached out, quickening the
distance where sleep waits for me, my heart cold as the rocks
calling my doubtful name. Their borrowed shapes
offer little comfort against the feral creatures
living between crevice and desperate rumor.
Their names I have never questioned.

We are of the sea, I tell the nesting terns, mid-descent.
But they know nothing of my sorrows. The sea forgets us
when the moon calls to it, brief as that may be, I say.
But it does not forgive. It borrows minutes off our maps
when it thinks we are asleep, huddled against our mothers –
Who only held us because we reminded them of our fathers,
men of deep-seated ambitions and lesser means.

Isolation dictates too many things.

I compel my eyes open one last time before the rocks
take me. I shall call you whaler, withholding your true name,
I murmur to the salt on the wind as it keeps time with my
mother’s tears far above. I should never have been here,
I think feebly; my father gave his wealth to the sea, ignoring
my pleas from a distant shore, and here is my gratitude,
awaiting the high tide to forgive me. Waiting for my
mother’s distant circles to find and bury me.

I shall from this last hour carry the memory of
everything that haunted me. Of this
I have no doubts. Of the man sailed off
the world’s end, I shall ever have misgivings.

I will never write like you and I hope you never write like me.

"...the only war that matters is the war against the imagination--all other wars are subsumed in it..." -Diane di Prima

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The following comments are for "The Captain's Son"
by toscano

Captain, Captain:
First I must say I like the title -- it immediately tells me some of what I can expect from the poem.

Instead of highlighting strong points I will focus on what I think are the weak elements, and if those are treated/omitted/rewritten then I think the impact and strength will begin to show.

My initial “gut” reaction; it does not have a strong theme. I’m not sure if it is about loneliness, abandonment, isolation, death…it has elements of all those wonderful, powerful themes, just not one to focus on.

First observation, it is a sensual (sensory) poem that begs to draw images, colors, emotions. But there are some technical things that keep if from getting there.

Example: use of many adjectives (forced (smile), semantic (hands), purposeful (footing), towering (shadow), doubtful (name), desperate (rumor), distant (shore), distant (circles)). These all slow the pace, make the reader question the “deeper” meaning.

The logic is weak with “semantic hands” – I have no idea what kind of hands those are. Are they “praying” hands, shaking hands, wrinkled hands?....if the hands need more definition than being just hands then the descriptive must be something very accessible to the reader.

S1: The first line has an opportunity to set a very stark tone but is does not -- I think because there is a logic problem to contend with here. Not only by use of the adjective “forced” but also in what the sun’s position has to do with any kind of smile.

The “sun’s position” is a very noticeable image but it is difficult to then ask reader to try to figure out what it means with a smile. I think it has to start here (the rich theme), in line one and in stanza 1 to set the scene – tie onto some kind of theme, not get too abstract.

There are many other confusing lines (at least to my eye), such as:
line 2 uses double negative (are my eyes not unlike…) makes the reader’s mind stumble.
Lines 4 & 5, (all things being either-made…) I think “we are surrounded” is the key sensation you want to focus on and it should be at the beginning of the line – it will carry more weight instead of being buried in the middle.

S2 is very confused throughout:
Line 3 “desperate remoteness” again makes reader’s mind bend to accept. The more natural rendition is “remote desperation”, as “Desperate” is the key word, the object.
Line 4: “…made demands of the howling wind…” does this mean she somehow controlled the howling wind? Or did the howling wind have an affect?
Line 5: “…my arms out to meet the end of a cliff…” is again opposite of what one would say out loud, unless by “meet” you mean holding onto a cliff for life. If that is the intent then it is better to put it into more stark, direct language.
Lines 7 & 8: “semantic hands” and “purposeful footing” are reaching too hard for some kind of impact, when they actually diminish the impact – I don’t know what “semantic” hands or “purposeful” footing are.

S3: very passive
“I had known this as one knows his name”….very weak, no slap in the face. Better to write active voice… “I know this like I know my own name.”

Then the stanza is repetitive with “I knew…as I never knew” which is redundant. Some how you can focus on the “freedom from his abuse”, maybe combine with the active voice?

Line 3 & 4, again you have double negative “to never stop loving me less than…” would it be better as “never love me less than…”?

Line 6: “towering shadow”… more adjective weakness. I don’t think it matter whether or not the shadow towered, but the a shadow is what it is and probably does not need more to describe it. It should be tied more to the next line’s “…loneliness that engulfed him.” That is where the richness is won in this stanza.

S4: this is where I start thinking that the overall theme is too weak. Mostly because I actually start to get a sense of a theme here, and that is of death and the loneliness that often precedes death.

Then, in S5 the sea comes into play – very prominent feature in poetry. The combined effect of these two stanzas bring to my mind the poetry of Tennyson – how he seemed preoccupied with death as a central theme, and also how he defined the sea in his poetry as a living, controlling, pulsing force in life.

I think these 2 stanzas (4 & 5) should be your focus until you have them in very sharp, stark vision. After that the other stanzas will have that much needed thematic anchor.

Okay, enough for now. I don’t want to hog all the love here. I think it is a very noble and worthy piece and that you are still crafting makes me smile because I know you’ll have some really rich and vivid lines in the end.


( Posted by: BWOz [Member] On: May 12, 2012 )

Of the sea
Thanks, Brian. I'm not the type to ask for help but then I got to thinking, with so many talented friends on lit, why not ask for their input?

And the version I'm working on right now leans toward loneliness. I wanted to create a thematic link to Moby Dick. Like I wrote, this is just one version. I think it'll be while before I can say it's done.

By the way, you made similar points to Lucie. Thanks.

( Posted by: toscano [Member] On: May 12, 2012 )

A couple of things here. I think you have something going here, it has possibilities. I think if you re-wrote this in blank verse you would be more satisfied with the outcome. It would eliminate unnecessary words and force you to come up with stronger more evocative language. This work has the feel of blank verse anyway, why not go for it?
While you are the Captains' son, the name Ishmael comes to mind in a strong way to me. You need a name.

Just mho. charlie.

( Posted by: williamhill [Member] On: May 12, 2012 )

Thanks again, Lucie. And, yes, of course I would love to get more input from you. Thank you as well, Charlie. I am printing all the helpful comments on this post. With lit's help I think this might turn into something worth sharing.

( Posted by: toscano [Member] On: May 13, 2012 )

our salty blood
An interesting read which demands company.

The only place I got taken off course was the 'semantic;' hands because the logic is lost on me. I felt there would be more power if the image wasn't clouded with this word. But that's just me.

For me what I 'got' from this was the subject trying to dispel the pull of his father's identity but being sucked in the more he protests. Conflicted he's caught in the net wanting to choose to whom he belongs instead of accepting his birthright. Sure met a lot of those type of folks.

Another thread of thought was that the modern man isn't comfortable with how his 'father' made his living. Perhaps a reflection on our ruthless past where survival had more importance.

Could I suggest how to improve it? Not really other than the 'semantic' word which doesn't work for me.

This gave me lots to mull over. Thanks.

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: May 14, 2012 )

Semantic hands
Thanks, Pen. I've tried other words besides semantic but this one doesn't seem to strike anyone as useful. And that's exactly why I chose to share this work in progress. The version I sent Lucie via e-mail had the word insouciant instead of semantic.

Thanks for the thread of thought. This poem will ultimately be the death of me but, if I'm happy with the results, it would have been a poem worth dying for.

( Posted by: toscano [Member] On: May 16, 2012 )

Funeral dress
Lucie, this is just one version. I like funeral dress too and have expanded on it in the current version (ie, she's worn it every day since Ahab went out to sea).

As far as names go, Ahab already has a name. I'll have to see what I can do about the son.

Thank you, my friend.

( Posted by: toscano [Member] On: May 17, 2012 )

Well Francisco...not being as an astute literary critic as my learned friends here, I can only say that it "touched" me (which all good poetry should do) and I felt the intense conflicted emotions that you were trying to convey here.

A love/hate relationship indeed. I could really feel your pain, fury and was palpable. I'll leave the disecting of the nouns, adjectives and other suggestions to the best of the best here on Lit and just say that as "everyman" who enjoys a poem that "grabs" certainly lurerd ME in! Good Job!

( Posted by: Beatrice Boyle [Member] On: August 26, 2012 )

always at sea
Hiya Bea.

Thanks for reading this work-in-progress. Not that I've made much progress since this version was posted. Been busy with so many other poems and stories.

You got what I was trying to convey so I suppose the poem's not such a mess after all.

OK, I'm gone again. Just dropped in to send a PM to someone and noticed your comment.

Thanks again.

( Posted by: toscano [Member] On: September 4, 2012 )

Always at sea.
I had forgotten about this one..It STILL "grabs" me. It has stood the test of time. Now go and finish it!

This is the magic of is like the prodigal may get restless and move on...but sooner or later you come home...hoping to find familiar faces and before you know it...a reunion of sorts develops.

I have been here since I discovered it in 2000 or 2001 and a true family was born. we may leave for awhile...that pied piper Facebook lured most of us...but even there we wave in I say it's time once again to gather together to see what's up with our gang. Lucie, Pen Brian David, Jim...etc. Let's pop in and say hello and see what mischief we've been up to and post our latest masterpiece. Miss ya all!

( Posted by: Beatrice Boyle [Member] On: May 14, 2016 )

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