Apr/May 2003 Salon

Ship Building

by Stanley Jenkins

It's just a rumour that was spread around town
A telegram or a picture postcard
Within weeks they'll be re-opening the shipyards
And notifying the next of kin
Once again
It's all we're skilled in
We will be shipbuilding

     —Elvis Costello, "Shipbuilding," from Punch the Clock

Have you built your ship of death, O have you?
O build your ship of death, for you will need it.

     —D. H. Lawrence, "The Ship of Death"

The Lone Pilgrim

I miss the days of mercy. Days I have only known in extertion. These are the days of judgment. Days of diversion, days of dilution.

It’s not about oil. It’s not about weapons of mass destruction. It’s about power—and the right of pretenders to power—to exist.

And the power to even ask this question.

America the beautiful. America the just. I have sold every dream I have ever had cheap—and called it growth. I have never stood on a foundation that has ever been other than compromised by history.

And having no confidence in an alternative, I have carved out my dignity accordingly. It is raw. It is remorseless. It is true like a lifeguard breaking the arm of a panicked drowner.

O my drowners. I have my own depths to address. And my own death to achieve.

And it is not yours. Though I am afraid to die alone.


Buddy Holly

It is possible to so lose your way that the possibility of a way, itself, becomes as impossible as you or me ever getting elected President.

The youth of America drape their bodies with logos and trademarks. It is not clear whether they have sold their birthrights for pottage or made of inevitability a mode of individuality.

What comes after nostalgia?


Hank Williams

On the late night streets of Ludington, Michigan, after the purple annunciation of the pink and porcine axis of evil, I saw the ghost of Hank Williams disappear. Just fucking disappear. And the flashing red traffic lights. And just nothing to answer to all that empty space—all that TV blue light in windows above bars—light in which our need to not be responsible meets our impotence. The enormity of being here without portfolio is bigger than the twilight of idols.

Hank just died. In the back of a Cadillac. Just died. And somewhere across the highway, where our sins lie unatoned, our need to be justified meets our need to be free. I looked up and he was gone. Just fucking gone. Nothing left but me and all this space. All this ghostless space.

And I used to think it had something to do with Walmart. And the Interstate. And the inevitability of that next place along the road being just like the next place and there being no place that is anyplace other than what it is.

But that’s just bullshit. There is no lost highway. We’ve always been here. We’ve always been here. Just fucking here.

Like ghosts with no eyelids.


Charlie Chaplin

Beneath the mask are countless cities and civilizations keening to be born. It is well known. It is a problem.

What to do with the remainder?

I have attended numerous stillbirths and abortions of beautiful but barren Americas.

And have never found the archetype to be exhausted.

It’s just that I have never been comfortable with the fit of flesh beneath the mask. It’s like an allergy.

It’s like I’m allergic. Allergic to all this accommodation.

Or maybe just not accustomed to so much living—living with only the authority of the theater.

What to make of a mask that can’t be removed? And the inevitability of masks? What to make of an America that can’t be born?

And the sound of laughter that leaves me raw and refreshed to seek New Worlds. In my own neighborhood?


Harry Houdini

I am afraid to die alone. Despite—perhaps because of—all the ghosts.


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