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Authors: Billeh Nickerson

Tags: #Poetry, #Titanic

Impact

BOOK: Impact
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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,

she 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.

BOOK: Impact
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