October 28, 2008

At Night with a Lowered Book

Born as an idea in Milwaukee, the Edmund Fitzgerald has become a mythic ship, a historic wreck. Once the largest freighter on the great lakes, having gone down in a November storm on Lake Superior, it has become an icon of darkness. A Cleveland brewery has named its cold black porter after it.

Home after the long day, home to two bottles of it to take away the weight of what was, and then whiskey after. Midnight comes and the news fades, and everything slows into quiet. Something about the image of the ship on the bottle, and knowing its fate, reminds me of Brecht. Something about dark times and bad trouble, against which the small gestures of pleasure, the thinking through the wreckage without ever becoming mere spectator:

Years ago when I was studying the ways of the Chicago Wheat Exchange
I suddenly grasped how they managed the whole world's wheat there
And yet I did not grasp it either and lowered the book
I knew at once: you've run
Into bad trouble.

There was no feeling of enmity in me and it was not the injustice
Frightened me, only the thought that
Their way of going about it won't do
Filled me completely.

These people, I saw, lived by the harm
Which they did, not by the good.
This was a situation, I saw, that could only be maintained
By crime because too bad for most people.
In this way every
Achievement of reason, invention or discovery
Must lead only to still greater wretchedness.

Such and suchlike I thought at the moment
Far from anger or lamenting, as I lowered the book
With its description of the Chicago wheat market and exchange.

Much trouble and tribulation
Awaited me.