“There are good ships, there are wood ships, there are ships that sail the sea. But the best
ships are friendships, and may they always be.”
“We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts.
Some have just the one oar.”
When I started thinking about writing an essay for this anthology I was reading Toni Negri’s Arte e Multitudo series of letters whilst blissfully wildcamping in the forests of Liguria, finally breathing in fresh nature after a strict city lockdown in Genoa from a balconied flat overlooking cement blocks tumbling into the sea and one of the world’s oldest ports — full of stationary ships and cruiselines still running their engines and therefore intoxicating every breath we took trying to fight off the virus. And so my first notes for this essay, written from the lullabied perspective of a hammock rocking to the rhythm of Negri’s exuberant anticapitalism, ring revolutionary and hopeful for beauty.
In today’s world it may be better not to be in a boat but to learn to swim in the open seas. The ‘Boat’ has been destroyed. The Ark was our misguided belief in humanity’s soveregnity and blessedness (through God over Nature), thanks to a little story in the Bible that has become The metanarrative of our capitalist society. Imagine the power of words over the centuries promising humanity complete domination and use of all natural living resources despite any possible misbehaviour! It is a Monopoly game’s ‘get out of jail free’ card. These are the quotes from Genesis 5:32–10:1
that rest my case...
21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
God’s Covenant With Noah
9 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.
Everything?! I rest my case. And I am reminded of this prose poem I wrote a few years ago:
“God is dead.”
Once upon a time there was a God.
He was an orphan and never knew his mother, therefore he never spoke of her. In fact he was cross with her for some unknown reason. God never got married and did not live happily ever after. He never had sex, made love or orgasmed with anyone of any gender. Therefore that celibate God became sad and sadder & died.
We are living a dead meta-narrative!
As for that other super-famous ship, the Titanic, it was another one of our funny superstitions, our belief in capitalism’s power and ability to trickle down wealth from the super shiny rich tip-top of the pyramid down to the third class passengers who, like for Covid-19 journeyers, ended up dying much more than the posh (“port out, starboard home”) ticket holders. Poverty Kills!
How corporate greed sank the Titanic
The Titanic sank over 100 years ago. However, the battle for health and safety goes on. Unfortunately, the modern day equivalents of Sir Bruce Isnay continue to put people’s lives at risk in order to increase their profits.
“Titanic: the new evidence”, a Channel 4 Documentary Reviewed by Mick Whale: http://socialismtoday.org/archive/207/titanic.html.
George Bernard Shaw famously referred to the Titanic with these words: “Why does a sensational catastrophe always drive a modern nation into an explosion of outrageous romantic lying?”
For detailed analysis of how “the Titanic exposed capitalists’ contempt for ordinary people”, historian John Gray’s article is fantastic fodder. Details can be found here: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/titanic-a-disaster-built-on-class.
I first began musing about these stories of capitalist ships whilst living in San Francisco in 2008, and wrote this poem:
Financial District, San Francisco
“...and dream of deserts broken only by bone.”
Eric G. Wilson, Against Happiness
Under skyscrapers, granite covers
ocean and abandoned ships, once filled
with people sailing here for gold
and never leaving. Dissolved
ambitions and the carcasses
of boats still rise to
the surface. Layers of
lives disintegrate when a new building
brims, hollows the earth, waves
away the old. Entombed,
wingless vessels float from
the underground, excavated. Buried
stories fossiled in time
echo, meaningless against the sharp
light of mirrored towers. Sometimes,
someone chokes on the splinter of a mast,
believing it to be a chicken bone—
preferably one you can make
a wish with. And the ghost ships
of the gold-rush swim
in the minds of bodies swaying
from balconies of thirtieth and
fiftieth floors. Mouths babble and dizzied
eyes search for the sun. The solid,
uncomfortable amidst fluid sky and
sea, demolishes the imagination
of something less, small, but not
worse. Plaster peels off, exposes
people trapped on spiral staircases and inside
elevators with no way out, up or down,
drown— sigh, jump or fall. And the
ships—across water with sheets
of steel, they sleep their way home.
We are sailing a ghost ship!
These holy ships, these meta-narratives are uber postmodern, post-Covid dead already! But the water, the seas, the oceans, the rivers, the lakes; they remain. Poisoned perhaps, but still alive, brimming with tsunamis if not as many fish. Our bodies and this earth are more than 70 percent water, source of life. And so, (but not like in that bad Keven Costner movie) we need to create a ‘water world’ to swim through with the power of our natural bodies. The abstract and emptiness of the postmodern need to be surpassed, not through a return to innocence (like in that cheesy Enigma song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rk_sAHh9s08) nor an avant garde idea of progress towards the sublime, but rather a reclaimed, recycled and reinvented not-so-innocent innocence of wisdom, a bit like William Blake waxed lyrical about in his masterpiece Songs of Innocence and Experience.
An innocent wisdom lived through our sweat, blood and tears. Our bodies will reclaim the waters and co-create a world where boats are possible but no longer necessary for our survival. We have the technology but we can survive without it. Like the stoics, we know we can. So when we can we adapt to comfort, but never become slaves to it. Or turn others into slaves in order for us to have comfort. These are the ethics of swimming through life instead of navigating. We are all in the same waters. Bubble Bubble boil, toil and trouble . Let us not be frogs in the Macbethian soups of greed but wise creatures of water wisdom, like Bruce Lee’s motto “Be water my friend” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJMwBwFj5Nq). Adapting and flowing and wearing down even the hardest rock, like I try and express in one of my most recent poems:
Santa Caterina’s head and one finger are preserved in Siena
and the remainder of her body in Rome. Tightly packed and,
in my imagination, squashed to fit the beliefs and customs
and desires of so many others. Sedimented below centuries
of stone-old rubble, petrified within a cast made to resemble what those in power
wished her to be. Buried in two churches of brick and duty, martyrdom and mortar.
I put stones in my mouth
and taste them.
They are delicious like dry white wine, mineralised
but I do not want any of us to be buried under immobilised rock.
I read about stones that travel, whether on a ring or
within an avalanche of snow or down rivers that flow
I meet a man with a stone face. It is strong but moving. It is not solid
because he is a sculptor who creates forests of dreams with stones allowed to move
in their natural way. No casting. No sticking. Just a balancing.
I do not want any of us to be buried under immobilised rock
whether they be apartments, churches, cities, companies or tombstones we try to live in
or they try to bury us under.
I want us to sprout roses from the juices of our bellies.
I want the squash of our cheeks to soften
the curves of peaches
I want our eyes to enter
the wings of hummingbirds
and scatter seeds of rain to the ocean
tinting waves in the memory of pupils and irises
I want us to be eaten up by life
so we can die in ecstasy
I want the rivers to wash away
our remains down
the stream of consciousness
that we humans think is so important
And I want our flesh to be pounded
by rocks the rivers make our bodies meet
pounded into thin powder
to bake in the sun and feed
more life on the crisp, golden edged dough
of our skins and the soft, moist
warmth of our flesh.
Eat us up life, so we
may become all of you.
The wind is tickling us
awake so we can
continue this dream
walking through the day.
May the dream continue
through the whispers of our
voices in wind and willow
not weeping but
laughing, not sleeping
I want the crushed blood of
our bruises to be extracted into
grapes of wine to drunken the soil
I want our bones to
bleach in the sun and
become rivered stones
polished and round
waiting to be thrown back
into the water
by a wanderer.
I want the tips of our noses to
be echoed in the ridge of mountains
and the crests of waves to be our
nipples when they enter waters cold
and the fall of our hair
to be sung in the cascades
of hidden lakes
I want us to be this forest
and river for ever and ever
and for the bodies of our beloveds
to join us here too
and all the bodies of those we know
and don’t know
to love the wild call of nature
beauty beating in our hearts and
below our feet calling us to
live and die
and live and
die and live
Tania Haberland 1
The absurdity of the Corana virus is an opportunity to transform and recreate, transmutate our experience into a beautifully politics-poetics of water wisdom, an ethical and loving one for all. We just need to let go of our meta-narratives, our belief systems. Not easy, but as we’ve experienced these past months, anything and possibly everything is possible. So why not this? Its up to us, not the ships or their captains.
And then dear readers, from the nirvana shangrila of my hammock hedonism and wildcamping freedom I got news of the explosion in Beirut, followed briefly by the oilspill off the coast of my mother island, Mauritius and my heart broke. And all these exuberant notes spilled from my pages like big fat useless tears, as I realised that some waters have been and will be destroyed by the ships of our meta-narratives and belief systems to the point of not being able to be swum in. Where do I go from here?
And then, and then what?
It drops off. The question does not fly. It does not fall. Nor float. To hover would be too poetic. A drop of water. The drop of a hemline. A toilet drop. None can express the human soul stuck between falling and rising. The space in between past and future often desperately unfelt. A presence unaware of continuity, when endings are never beginnings and only memories are cuddled up to like fluffy toys or a pet.
Watch the sun eat curtains and play on walls. Remember its setting as you sit here, not even waiting.
Look out the window to notice what time it is and see the buildings scattered like rain. Unplanned.
Rows of symmetrical purpose gather in cities unsure of what to do.
They stand there so tall. Built with a plan. Weathered and unbreakable lighthouses in a sea that outlasts their design. Their careful plan. Possibly useless one day. Birds may come to nest. They are already marking their territory as they fly past and around our ambitions.
Previously, I mentioned that a cup of tea could help right now. Nothing else could. So it seems.
That much is clear. As the moon announces time and evening becomes the balancing out of night and day. A check book writes itself across the sky. Who will sign its pages?
Tania Haberland 2
And yet, in my hurt mad sad heart something refuses the bad, whilst watching images of my fellow Mauritians wading through and covered in oil, dripping black goo like strange dantean creatures, gathering together to save the ocean, all its creatures, and to save us. Ordinary people hurt and suffering, afraid and angry and desolate but still swimming through the toxic waters and I am filled with a strange melancholic hope that makes me rise from my hammock and dream up ways of swimming too in the name of the friendship mentioned in the Irish proverb I quoted at the beginning of this essay. I will try and sail the Friendship with all living creatures of this watery earth and continue to do my little drip drop to end the meta-narratives of greed and destruction so we can all swim.
“All men have the stars… but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems. For my businessman they were wealth. But all these stars are silent. You — you alone — will have the stars as no one else has them… In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night… And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content to have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure… And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky!”
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint Exupery.
19 th August 2020, Liguria.
1 Video poem version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJp5O2UbYvg.
2 Video poem version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlr4HfTwjHw.
Tania Haberland © text, 2020
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