Chapter 68: The Blanket

A cold, harsh world. Hostility from nature. Hostility from one’s fellow species. Alienation. Scar tissue as a written history of life lived. So dark, Ishmael! So dark!

In “The Blanket,” Ishmael examines and discusses a whale’s skin. In noticing small lines “engraved upon the body itself,” Ishmael first compares the whale to Egyptian pyramids and cliffs etched with undecipherable hieroglyphics, thereby establishing the skin as text. Ishmael continues, noticing the scar tissue that accompanies these lines, and here things start to get gloomy. The scars remind Ishmael of the scrapes left behind on rocks after contact with an iceberg. However, he notes that the scars on the whales most likely come from fellow whales. Connecting the violent erosion between vast and indifferent forces of nature with the violence of contact between members of the same species is quite an image. Add to that a discussion of men and whales, both needing warmth as an essential condition of life, both living in a world so devoid of warmth that they must make it themselves, and I’m ready to retreat into a fetal ball for the next week.

But we know Ishmael has been in a mood since the day we met him. What I find interesting is the fact that this particular mood can be so compelling, even as a guilty pleasure. Why do we indulge it? What’s so sexy about a scar? What’s so macho about hardship?

Ishmael closes the chapter feeling hopeless about making any comparison between man and whale: “Of erections, how few are domed like St. Peter’s! of creatures, how few vast as the whale!” In “The Blanket,” he gives us lament for the mortal insignificance of mankind. Bleak, Ishmael. Bleak.

Chapter 68: The Blanket

The skin of a man does tell of his history.
The skin of a man is thin as the breeze.
The skin of the whale is written as mystery,
Scarred in the vast, unspoken sea.

Learn your lessons from his presence,
Lifeless, laid at your feet.
Thick skin, blessed warmth, and refuge
Need a man to survive.

Much as the whale, does man need an inner warmth,
Though banished to live out his days in the cold.
Much as the whale, is man but a stranger
On the Earth he calls his home.

Learn your lessons from his presence,
Lifeless, laid at your feet.
Thick skin, blessed warmth, and refuge
Need a man to survive.
Thick skin, blessed warmth, and refuge
Need a man to survive.

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea October 5, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea October 24, 2009

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