Impact, p.1

Impact, page 1

 

Impact
 


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Impact


  In loving memory of my grandmother,

  Hilda Marie Merrimen.

  CONTENTS

  I. Construction

  The Lost Worker

  Harland and Wolff

  The Hats

  The Riveting Squad:

  The Heater Boys

  The Catch Boys

  The Holder-Ons

  The Riveters

  Goose Bumps

  A Giant Elm Tree

  Belfast, May 31, 1911

  The Clothesline

  II. Maiden Voyage

  Jenny the Cat

  Her Passengers

  Selected Provisions

  Captain Smith’s Beard

  The Swimming Pool

  The Fourth Smokestack

  The Distance Pool

  The Impending Dog Show

  A Young Boy’s Spinning Top

  III. Impact

  Impact

  The Prognosis

  The Barber

  The Boy in Lifeboat No. 14

  The Wishing Well

  Edith Evans

  The Piano Player

  Epiphany

  Steward Johnston

  Someone’s Lucky Penny

  IV. Voices

  Second Officer Charles Lightoller

  Stewardess Violet Jessop

  Lawrence Beesley

  Eva Hart

  Colonel Archibald Gracie IV

  V. Impact

  Carpathia

  First Memorial

  Rosa Abbott

  The Young Widow

  The Carver

  New York

  Group Photograph, Southampton

  The Cable-Ship Mackay-Bennett

  Ten Minutes Fast

  The Embalmer’s Daughter

  Safekeeping

  Thomson Beattie

  The Balance

  The Rolling Pin

  The Sound of Drowning

  J. Bruce Ismay

  VI. Discovery

  The Debris Field

  Eight Inches Apart

  Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia

  The Last Survivor

  Note on the Text, Thank yous

  I. Construction

  THE LOST WORKER

  Whether the rumours resulted from the faint clangs,

  or the faint clangs resulted from the rumours,

  even the oldest believed the possibility

  of a lost worker could only be an omen.

  No matter their sense of wonder,

  the pending deadlines, or their hurried pace,

  in the back of some workers’ minds

  their rivets sealed more than just the hull.

  At home they hugged their children,

  kissed their wives

  or dreamed of families

  they had yet to realize.

  In the back of some workers’ minds

  their rivets sealed more than just the hull.

  * * *

  HARLAND AND WOLFF

  At six-twenty each morning

  workers would congregate

  by the green gates, often arriving early

  to avoid the crush of thousands

  for the sooner they reached

  their work stations,

  the sooner they started

  to earn a wage.

  Those arriving late

  were literally locked out

  and would lose a whole day’s pay

  not to mention the funds spent

  holed up at the public house

  avoiding home.

  * * *

  THE HATS

  Most workers wore duncher caps

  save for the foremen

  who wore bowlers

  and The Hats

  who’d enter the main office

  in top hats black

  as a stoker’s coal-covered face.

  * * *

  THE RIVETING SQUAD—THE HEATER BOYS

  They could tell a rivet’s temperature

  by its colour

  and once it reached 650 degrees

  it seemed as if they channelled Hephaestus,

  the Greek god of fire,

  for when they extracted rivets

  with their tongs,

  it looked like they were throwing

  miniature lightning bolts

  to the Catch Boys.

  * * *

  THE RIVETING SQUAD—THE CATCH BOYS

  Often as young as thirteen or fourteen,

  they’d catch the rivet

  in a tin, grab the scorching metal

  with their tongs

  and then, as if passing a baton

  in a relay, run full-tilt

  to the Holder-Ons.

  * * *

  THE RIVETING SQUAD—THE HOLDER-ONS

  They’d help place the rivet

  in the desired hole

  and secure it with little more

  than determination

  and a fourteen-pound hammer

  for the Riveters.

  * * *

  THE RIVETING SQUAD—THE RIVETERS

  They needed to wear scarves

  around their necks

  all year long, no matter the weather,

  to stop bits of rivet ember

  from getting down their shirts,

  burning through their skin.

  They’d stand on opposite sides,

  clang – clang clang – clang clang – clang

  to shape everything into place.

  * * *

  GOOSE BUMPS

  It took three million rivets

  to piece the ship together

  though only a few seconds

  for a small child to notice

  it was as if the ship

  had a surprise chill

  for it seemed her hull

  was covered in goose bumps.

  * * *

  A GIANT ELM TREE

  Perhaps it was simply

  the colour

  of her copper propellers

  that drew comparisons

  to giant elm trees,

  a tip of the hat

  to the earthy hue

  amongst all that grey.

  Or perhaps it was a desire

  to connect with nature

  in some way,

  an organic cousin

  when the politics

  of scale veered

  so far into the realm

  of manmade.

  * * *

  BELFAST, MAY 31, 1911

  Twenty-two tons of train oil, tallow and soap,

  and a father as he explains to his son

  the art of friction—

  it’s like when your hand got stuck

  in grandma’s vase and your mother rubbed

  butter around your wrist,

  how you slid free

  as easily as the Titanic slid in.

  * * *

  THE CLOTHESLINE

  One woman grew accustomed

  to seeing the great ship

  whenever she unpinned her laundry.

  Sometimes it was an apron

  or one of her husband’s shirts,

  clothing large enough

  that when removed

  it framed a portrait

  of the Titanic in the distance.

  On laundry day after the launch,

  she kept squinting

  in hopes her eyes had failed her,

  the familiar view now missing,

  as if a sleeping giant woke up

  and walked away.

  II. Maiden Voyage

  JENNY THE CAT

  Jenny delivered her kittens

  in the weeks that preceded the maiden voyage.

  As if she could sense the impending disaster,

  s
he carried her kittens by the neck,

  one by one, down the gangplank

  to the quay at Southampton

  and in those moments convinced

  one of the stokers to accept employment

  somewhere else, for even though

  his impending two-week contract paid well,

  he learned long ago to always trust

  a mother’s instincts.

  * * *

  HER PASSENGERS

  American,

  Australian,

  Austro-Hungarian,

  Belgian,

  British,

  Bulgarian,

  Canadian,

  Chinese,

  Danish,

  Dutch,

  Finnish,

  French,

  German,

  Greek,

  Italian,

  Irish,

  Japanese,

  Mexican,

  Norwegian,

  Portugese,

  Russian,

  South African,

  Spanish,

  Swedish,

  Swiss,

  Syrian,

  Turkish,

  Uruguayan.

  * * *

  SELECTED PROVISIONS

  Fruits

  36,000 oranges

  36,000 apples

  16,000 lemons

  13,000 grapefruits

  1,000 lbs grapes

  Vegetables

  40 tons potatoes

  7,000 heads of lettuce

  3,500 onions

  2,250 lbs fresh green peas

  800 bundles asparagus

  Meats

  75,000 lbs beef

  25,000 lbs poultry and game

  11,000 lbs fresh fish

  7,500 lbs bacon and ham

  2,500 lbs sausages

  Baking

  40,000 eggs

  10,000 lbs sugar

  6,000 lbs butter

  1,500 g fresh milk

  250 barrels flour

  Tobacco

  8,000 cigars

  * * *

  CAPTAIN SMITH’S BEARD

  For many passengers,

  his well-groomed appearance

  solidified their trust,

  as if his shaving precision

  somehow reflected

  his seamanship.

  Young crewmen coveted his beard

  as if it were an achievement

  like the four stripes

  that adorned his sleeves

  and epaulettes.

  They dreamed of the day

  their follicles could be let loose,

  a well-maintained field

  in a life so full of ocean.

  Sometimes he’d recognize himself

  as a proud husband and father,

  a veteran of the Boer War,

  The White Star Line’s esteemed

  and decorated Captain,

  while other times it seemed

  the young boy who left

  for a career at sea

  stared back from behind

  his white mask.

  * * *

  THE SWIMMING POOL

  Though most would not need to,

  some high-society ladies practiced

  their strokes each morning

  while servants stood poolside

  with long white towels, thick

  bathrobes with monogrammed pockets.

  One third-class passenger figured

  the twenty-five cents admission

  an investment, a story he could tell for drinks—

  the one about how he swam aboard the Titanic,

  dove six feet under to the bottom,

  and stared up at the world’s richest women

  as their coloured bathing caps

  kept their hair dry and smiles intact.

  * * *

  THE FOURTH SMOKESTACK

  Most admirers had no clue

  its epic verticality had little purpose

  other than aesthetic.

  In postcards and posters,

  artists depicted huge plumes,

  though the only smoke

  came from First Class

  in the smoking room

  for which it served as ventilation.

  * * *

  THE DISTANCE POOL

  As if the ship were a newborn

  bet on by loved ones

  trying to guess her weight,

  passengers placed bets

  on distance travelled,

  and at noon each day

  they’d congregate,

  wait for the purser

  to announce

  just how far they had gone

  and who among them

  won the jackpot.

  * * *

  THE IMPENDING DOG SHOW

  Harry Anderson’s fifty-dollar Chow

  Robert W Daniel’s champion French Bulldog,

  Gamon de Pycombe

  John Jacob Astor’s Airedale, Kitty

  Helen Bishop’s Frou Frou

  Miss Margaret Hays’ Pomeranian

  Elizabeth Rothschild’s Pomeranian

  William Ernest Carter’s King Charles Spaniel

  Henry Sleeper Harper’s Pekingese, Sun Yat Sen

  * * *

  A YOUNG BOY'S SPINNING TOP

  In this picture, a young boy stands transfixed

  at the magic of a spinning top.

  It doesn’t matter that he walks

  on the deck of the world’s largest ship

  or that it’s a maiden voyage

  and everything is imbued with celebration,

  for he’s full of wonder and intrigued

  at the constant spinning and spinning

  as if his joy could be never-ending,

  the ship’s fate undetermined.

  III. Impact

  IMPACT

  One passenger believed it was her husband,

  the ship’s jolt just another expression of their love.

  Others thought it was an earthquake

  or a mishap in the galley—

  a runaway trolley, a stack of fallen dishes.

  The baker wasn’t sure what happened

  though he hoped his loaves would not fall.

  While airtight after airtight compartment filled,

  a second-class passenger ordered his drink

  with chunks from the berg.

  A small child sucked pieces of ice

  as if they were candies,

  and her brothers scraped up snowballs,

  their mother worried only

  they could lose an eye.

  * * *

  THE PROGNOSIS

  After Thomas Andrews returned to the bridge

  from examining the damage below,

  he realized how a doctor must feel

  when delivering a negative prognosis.

  While Captain Smith expected the ailment

  to only be minor, a strain or sprain,

  Andrews worked hard for the words

  to explain their condition,

  how they should all find ways

  to get their personal affairs in order.

  * * *

  THE BARBER

  Up until now, his only worries were

  rough seas and dull scissors,

  but with each launched lifeboat he gained

  perspective and a newfound clarity—

  the piles of hair, the polite conversations

  where he’d nod yes even when he meant no,

  a life’s worth of postcard sales, miniature lifesavers,

  and the pennants that hung from the ceiling.

  He considered how early barbers worked

  as dentists and bloodletters—

  the spinning pole outside his shop

  symbolizing blue blood to the heart,

  red blood to the body.

  Most customers thought it was a giant candy

  like the peppermints

  he gave to young boys on the
ir first cut.

  He wondered whether he should apologize

  for all the missing hairs

  for he knew the men would need them,

  every last one.

  * * *

  THE BOY IN LIFEBOAT NO. 14

  Although the boy had yet to hear

  his own voice change or find himself

  needing to shave a scruffy face,

  Second Officer Lightoller still threatened

  to blow the boy’s brains out

  unless he left the lifeboat

  and returned to the sinking ship.

  The women pleaded he was only a boy,

  that there was room enough

  for all of them, but as the lifeboat rocked

  like a giant cradle in the wind,

  Lightoller maintained a strict adherence

  to women and children first.

  One little girl wondered if jumping

  from boat to boat was a game

  only boys could play and, if so,

  why did he seem upset?

  As the older men stood back

  with cigars, enjoyed the last

  few swigs from favourite flasks,

  the boy sat inside a coil of rope,

 
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