Captain Ahab’s Oil

For Moby Dick.

Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), Charles Melville Scammon

He knew, somewhere deep within the bilious machinery
of an unburdened heart, that black money would mingle
with the bones and drowned souls of all his shipmates—
and himself. Ink spilled before it could begin unravelling:
all the visions and secrets of a thousand untold stories.

His commission, simply, to circle the Evil that hunted him
first, over oceans and across continents, avowed only to
the obscene spoils of revenge, an uncompromising conception:
Restitution—or else a reprieve—from the intolerable designs
of some remote deity, who torments everything He conceives.

To what end? A man’s delegation, like any honest accounting,
wants exposition, attainment—the promise all authors make:
Follow and read what I’ve seen, bear witness to everything
I’ve endured. Of course, Ahab’s enterprise assumed credulity
in the service of sin, accessories to the carnage he’d transcribe.

Great men often quell unquiet consciences with certainty:
in a cause or something appalling they’ve come to believe
is preordained, that grim force adjudicating earthly matters.
Thus, the sacrifice of those conscripted, the blood and blubber,
massed barrels brimming with dark proof of demons redressed.

And what of all the unused oil? Fuel that could feed families,
irradiate gloomy rooms, and compensate the keen industry
of those expendable hands on deck—driven by duty or else
more earthly matters: the typical costs subsistence extracts—
pliant men disinclined to resist such exorbitant sacrilege.