Spirit Spout · Devon Balwit
Devon Balwit’s Spirit Spout – a poetic vision directly engaging with Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, The Whale – is an eschatological tour de force. The poet practices an intertextual jouissance showcasing singular gifts for sound and image. We encounter “the thrown gauntlet // the poking prod of the devil’s own advocate”; there is salt, wind, brine and ocean; Melville as god, as demon; Melville in the throes of creation and also grieving. Ishmael, Ahab, and Queequeg beckon. Both travelogue and existential reckoning with life, there is a painterly attention to the physical, to the body; there is a grappling with sociology and philosophy: “Our thinking // always butting up against the ribs / of the paradigms we travel in.” Balwit’s powers are on full display – this book’s spirit is deep and wide. — Charles Kell, author of Ishmael Mask
Trouble in the Blood
…let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man.
Some days your every move wafts rot;
you dream of cauterizing rods, of ready lancets.
To look at you, nothing seems awry, your fester
buried like magma in crust, your weapon holstered.
Melville was similarly glum. His wife tired of it,
and his eldest took his own life with a bullet,
a hereditary trouble in the blood. Wise salts
say it’s better to turn towards tumult
than to let it press you from behind, so you lean,
groaning into the gale of your Cape Horn.
Oddly, port is worse, others’ merriment
a torment. You carry your own weather, bent
muttering over your glass. Others skirt you wide,
warned, as if by a beacon, of the rocks you hide.
This Woman Votes to Keep Melville in the Canon
[W]here’s your girls?
You can count them on one hand: Mrs. Hussey
ladling chowder in the Try Pots, Captain Bildad’s sister
in port, delivering spare harpoons, a nightcap, and a Bible.
Some of the men have wives at home, others, memories
of female comfort in a distant port, but you’ll not see any
women aboard, taking a turn with the holystone or peering
from the crow’s nest. None are lancers, none reef sails.
Still, I find myself both forward and aft. I know obsession,
superstition, and work’s hypnotism. Like Starbuck,
I fret over plots I lack strength to bring to fruition
and feel nostalgia for a self I’ll never revisit. Like Tashtego,
I cry out at midnight for rum. I spring leaks, awaken
to every compass demagnetized by storm, and yet, an Ahab,
refuse to change course or lay anchor. Like Stubb, I laugh
because a laugh’s the wisest, easiest answer to all that’s queer.
Sometimes the other is the truest mirror.
Thou Did’st Not Know Ahab Then
For a Khan of the plank, and a king of the sea, and a great lord of Leviathans was Ahab.
I am ever and more myself. A stump settling
into the hole set for me, my chin tillering
weatherwards, planing the wind like a knife.
My dreams condense in their alembic
in a deepening drip. Nothing soothes,
but hithering to and fro appeases. Not
for me the small pleasures, the sucked pipe
and the cracked marrowbone. Mine, instead,
obsession’s scrimshaw, whittled into a dappling
like light upon swells. Neither for me the proof
bottle with its cotton swaddle. I’d rather rasp
myself over whetstones, readying for the unseen
jugular. Down, dog, and kennel!
I have said, and almost come to grief for it,
but no man tells me to stifle, tamping me
like a sponged bore. I’ll not be de-sparked.
Rather loaded and re-, sending red hot lances
to spume before sinking. It’ll come to that,
for I’ve a premonition. Already, I answer
for the souls I drag behind. Bone rattling my way
to judgement, I turn down my brim, up my collar,
salt thoughts working their slow corrosion.
About the Author
Devon Balwit’s work appears in The Worcester Review, The Cincinnati Review, Tampa Review, Barrow Street, Rattle, Sierra Nevada Review and Grist among others. Her most recent collections are We Are Procession, Seismograph (Nixes Mate Books, 2017), Rubbing Shoulders with the Greats (Seven Kitchens Press, 2020), and Dog-Walking in the Shadow of Pyongyang (Nixes Mate Books, 2021). For more, visit pelapdx.wixsite.com/devonbalwitpoet
Copyright © 2023 Devon Balwit
Cover design by d’Entremont
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