Burning by One’s Body

(or Watching The Last Kingdom While Reading Moby-Dick)
Devon Balwit

Like a plethoric burning martyr, or a self-consuming misanthrope, once ignited, the whale supplies his own fuel and burns by his own body.
— Herman Melville

You will kneel and swear fealty, the King says
to the wilder and more handsome warrior, who
has no choice, for honor compels him. We sigh

as he sinks, wanting him to fight even if it means
death. We need him to do what we can’t dream of,
we peasants with fardels, at the mercy of any

with power. Unlike our champion, we can’t clench
jaws or flare nostrils with hurt pride, for we
are assumed without pride, consumable

like the straw we bundle. We want no attention
from our overlords, just to live out our time and
snatch what pleasure we can. If even the mighty

must kneel to the mightier, what hope have we?
If we must burn, better to feed ourselves to the flames
bit by bit, conserving our little for the bitter season.