More Ships and Poetry: Bob Glück

Bob Glück has a catalog of ships in his book Elements of a Coffee Service, published by the Four Seasons Foundation in 1982. The catalog appears in the short story "When Bruce was 36 (Gossip and Scandal)."

Like the folded pieces of paper that, once in water, turn into blossoms, this delicious story turns and blooms as if by magic. It begins with the line,

"When Bruce was 36 he learned the name and address of his real mother and introduced himself to her."

The narrator goes on to tell us that "I purposely forgot to ask Bruce about his new relationship; it was too big and knotty to broach, the characters wandering through their bodies and their congested structures of need and option. Usually when Bruce and I are together we seem to be on the edge of our lives looking in, prodding and enticing from realization to realization. This is true even, or especially, of gossip, to measure our common assumptions. As Rabbi ben Ezra used to say, 'Why bother to tell a story if you aren't going to include the meaning of your life?'"

The story goes on to recount one of the narrator's dreams about Bruce's encounter with his mother:

"In the first a woman rushes through woods on a fresh, moony night with her baby wrapped in bunting against a light breeze. A resonant voice from above, a phrase murmured, repeated by the mother: flesh of my flesh, flesh of my flesh, flesh of my flesh. Something is wrong though; she opens the blanket, looks up at us and shouts, "this isn't the flesh of my flesh. It's a giant pine cone. This is completely inaccurate!"

"I wanted to approach these issues with laughter while I dreamed them into metaphor, a satisfying if temporary solution. I wrote the dream in my journal, another temporary solution: documentation with the understanding that the world in the form of myself will discover and appreciate these fragments tossed up by myself as a ruined civilization...."

And then, a bit later, ships:

"From century to century things grow more estranged, said Walter Benjamin on hashish in Marseilles. He's wandering around a murky harbor like Port of Shadows and naturally the names of the ships convey great meaning, fraught as they are with departure."

Nine pages later we return to the ships......

"It's scandal's defining of boundaries that interests me, what is inside and what is outside--it's one way a community organizes itself, tells itself its story about what is forbidden and expected. Bruce's mother's possible shock [earlier in the story Bruce asks her if she is a lesbian] may have been based on a community tenet that homosexuality does not exist verbally. For example, I know a gay man who was raised--maybe not as a grand bourgeois, but many economic notches above me. His sense of himself is based on that class background; there are certain inbuilt sympathies, certain antagonisms. A person could not terrorize this man with high theory, he only grows more respectful, but he is susceptible to vulgarity. So when he says he's going to the ballet or some other elevated cultural event and would you like to join him, you reply that another time you would be delighted but now you are on your way to the baths 'to get your rocks off'--cruelly enjoying his expressions of dismay alternating with a polite interest that grows increasingly transparent, and you blandly continue with, 'It's been a full week and I'm really hot and horny.' What a betrayal! And what if you willed into the decaying conversation such formulas as 'well hung,' and 'seafood' for sailors, and other idioms from the no-nonsense dictionary of pleasure: top man, versatile action, Greek passive, French active, nipple master, cut/uncut, golden showers, French service, scat toys--they are more beautiful to me than the names of ships."

Stay-tuned for more ships and hunt down your own used copy of Elements of a Coffee Service.

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