HERMAN MELVILLE DECIDES ON THE COLOR OF HIS WHALE
Herman Melville dangled his legs over the end of the pier.
His boots nearly reached the rolling waves beneath him.
He felt elated. His big book was almost done.
He’d sent his sailors out to sea and killed them all except one.
He liked the final touch, his so-called narrator saved
by the savage’s coffin. Coincidence? Yes, but why
wouldn’t the box float to the surface, whether near the drowning man or not?
Only one other question harassed Herman,
brought down his mood: the leviathan’s color.
The entire novel—everything—depended on that decision, that vision. He’d scrolled through the rainbow spectrum tens, hundreds of times. Red for the American native. Orange for fire. Yellow for sunlight. Green for seaweed. Blue for sky and ocean. Indigo and violet (close enough) for veins and arteries. They all had potential,
each had its own merits but highlight one
and diminish the rest. Moby Dick consummated
every potential, the peg-leg captain trafficking life, death, and every mollusk and cormorant in between.
Then there, floating toward him, a dead fish, borne aloft by its very immobility, its dearth of struggle,
as if to stop resisting raised it up, allowed it to lounge. Did it hold the Answer, this Atlantic cod sweeping toward him, its dorsal fin invisible? In death,
its body had turned, its underbelly baring
every wondrous, inexplicable, invisible color.
Herman leaned out, plucked it out of its sea’s casket, and kissed the slimy, smooth skin reeking worse than cadaverous gutter rats on a rainy day, then slipped it back into its grave, the novel finished, the whale white.
(Richard Holinger’s books forthcoming this fall include Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences, a collection of his newspaper columns, and North of Crivitz, a first book of poetry focusing on the North Woods and Upper Midwest. His work has received three Pushcart Prize nominations, and his Thread essay received a “Notable” mention in Best American Essays 2018. Not Everybody’s Nice won the 2012 Split Oak Flash Prose Chapbook contest, and a chapbook of innovative fiction was published by Kattywompus Press. Among other journals, his fiction has appeared in Witness, The Iowa Review; creative nonfiction and book reviews in The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, Northwest Review; poetry in Boulevard, Chelsea. He lives in the Fox River Valley west of Chicago. Degrees include a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Please go to https://www.richardholinger.net/ for more on the author and for ordering books.)
The Beautiful Space-