Impact, page 3
* * *
Even though they’d both watched rats
scurry across the deck,
Edward Lockyer somehow convinced
Emily Badman that he’d be okay,
that she should enter a lifeboat,
for he would see her later
and could even take her eyeglasses
Months later, when opening a parcel,
Emily felt as if she’d seen a ghost
for when Edward’s mother received
the personal effects found on her son’s body,
she unwittingly kept his promise
and mailed off Emily’s eyeglasses,
intact though questionably
no worse for wear.
* * *
Though his family understood
the ocean’s give and take
as well as anyone,
it was hard for them
not to sense
for when a passing ship discovered
Thomson Beattie’s body
one month after the sinking,
it happened near the spot
eighty-two years to the day
where his grandmother
gave birth to his mother
as she crossed the Atlantic
in search of a better life.
* * *
Although the band played on,
their paycheques stopped
the second the water swept
over the bow.
One family received an invoice
for the balance owing
on their loved one’s uniform,
which startled them
as they believed
they’d already paid so much.
* * *
THE ROLLING PIN
Salvaged from a block of wood,
a banister perhaps, or something from First Class
found floating amongst the bodies,
Third-Engineer J.A. O’Brien sanded it
smooth as a newborn baby
so sometimes his wife would cradle
or press it to her face.
Although no one would dare mention it,
while watching her from behind
it seemed as if she were rowing,
her arms muscling over the dough,
her pie crusts heavenly,
light as air.
* * *
THE SOUND OF DROWNING
Most survivors will tell you
it can’t be explained,
the horror when the lights went out,
when nothing was left but voices.
One survivor spent a lifetime trying to forget
everything he’d heard that night—
he moved to the Midwest, replaced the ocean
with plains, a neighbouring baseball field,
but each time the home team cracked one out of the park
he’d think of the lifeboats, the iceberg,
* * *
J. BRUCE ISMAY
Had he not cancelled the planned extra lifeboats
in favour of additional deck space
and a less encumbered view,
had he heeded the ice warnings
and not pushed the Captain
for a speedy maiden voyage,
had he not taken a seat
especially with so many stuck below,
had he not holed himself up
in a private cabin
on the rescue ship
while other survivors
forced to grieve in public,
would not have been
and the whispers
that followed him
THE DEBRIS FIELD
In some areas it seems perfect for a picnic—
a sandy blanket, dozens of unbroken plates,
cutlery sparkling like it was buffed
with a napkin or long skirt.
Down here the water is so cold and heavy
time stands still—
even the cheese wheels are edible
and the wine is still as fine
as it was that final night.
* * *
EIGHT INCHES APART
Researchers soon determined that micro-organisms disliked
the tannic acid that finished brown leather,
so while they ate away at buttons, satchels, and shoes
from darker goods, they ignored the browns
as if they were stubborn children
determined to reject their vegetables.
While his colleagues marvelled at the realization
of brown leather everything
one researcher wondered why all the shoes
appeared in pairs, and always eight inches apart.
Later, they realized organisms had erased
every sign of existence—the flesh, hair, bone and clothes—
save for a few pieces of jewellery and a pair of shoes
resting the natural distance
between the feet of a prone human body—
eight inches apart, four miles below the surface.
* * *
FAIRVIEW CEMETERY, HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA
At first it seems like any other cemetery,
a well-kept lawn, granite tombstones,
an unpaved driveway and the crunch of gravel
as the car slows down before a sign:
T I T A N I C
as if the ship were buried here too,
a Viking funeral.
This is where the City of Halifax laid to rest
many of the bodies unclaimed
from the impromptu morgue
at the Mayflower Curling Club,
where tourists take photographs
for vacation albums and young girls
leave panties and love notes
for the crewman with a name similar
to the character played by DiCaprio.
Some graves have only numbers,
the Atlantic pickpocketed the wallet
or purse that would have identified them.
Most are from second and third class,
their families unable to afford
the boat or train trip home.
A hundred years later,
people still bring wreaths, flowers
that survive through snowstorms,
year after year,
spring’s first green accompanied
by plastic pink and frosted yellow.
* * *
THE LAST SURVIVOR
One-hundred years later,
the final Titanic child now buried,
how strange that the last survivor
is the Titanic herself.
Some day even she will dissolve
into a golden treacle of rust
until all that remains
is her memory,
a story to hand down
Note on the Text
My thanks to the authors, directors, and historians whose works inspired this book. In particular, I’d like to mention Walter Lord, the author of the seminal Titanic text, A Night to Remember, for his book started my lifelong interest in the ship and her many stories.
Thanks also to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for its respectful displays, including the rolling pin that inspired my poem of the same name; and to the City of Belfast and its numerous historical sites and museums. It’s true she was alright when she left there.
The poems from the section entitled “Voices” are found poems derived from quotes or the writings from the survivors whose names are used in the titles. The Violet Jessop poem is com
Thank you to the following journals for publishing many of these poems, sometimes in early versions: Antigonish Review, Contemporary Verse 2, The Fiddlehead, Grain, and PRISM international.
Thanks also to Lorna Crozier and George McWhirter, whose passion and support were invaluable during my studies with them.
Thanks also to the BC Arts Council Scholarship program for its assistance; to the Writers’ Trust of Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts for their support of the Berton House writers’ residency in Dawson City, Yukon, where I had the pleasure to work on this collection; and to Kwantlen Polytechnic University for travel funds that allowed me to visit Belfast and Southampton.
This book could not have been written without the editorial (h)ear(t) and the friendship of Sheri-D Wilson.
Thanks to Craig Moseley, Michael V. Smith, Ivan E. Coyote, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Daniel Zomparelli, and the late Matt Davy. I am blessed to have met you all.
Thank you to the fine folks at Arsenal Pulp Press.
About the Author
Born in Halifax and raised in Langley, BC, Billeh Nickerson is the author of the poetry collections The Asthmatic Glassblower and McPoems. He also authored the humour collection Let Me Kiss It Better, and is co-editor of Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets. He performs frequently at literary festivals across Canada and teaches creative writing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver.
IMPACT: The Titanic Poems
Copyright © 2012 by Billeh Nickerson
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any form by any means—graphic, electronic, or mechanical—without the prior written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may use brief excerpts in a review, or in the case of photocopying in Canada, a license from Access Copyright.
ARSENAL PULP PRESS
Suite 101, 211 East Georgia St.
Canada V6A 1Z6
The publisher gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council for its publishing program, and the Government of Canada (through the Canada Book Fund) and the Government of British Columbia (through the Book Publishing Tax Credit Program) for its publishing activities.
Photograph on frontispiece by Henry W. Clarke, Chief Engineer of Southampton Docks, courtesy of the Vancouver Maritime Museum
Printed and bound in Canada
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication:
Nickerson, Billeh, 1972-
Impact [electronic resource] : the Titanic
poems / Billeh Nickerson.
Electronic monograph in PDF and ePub formats. Issued also in print format.
1. Titanic (Steamship)--Poetry. I. Title.
PS8577.I32I56 2012a C811'.6 C2012-900502-9
Billeh Nickerson, Impact