At sixteen, I worked after high school hours at a printing plant that manufactured legal pads: Yellow paper stacked seven feet high and leaning as I slipped cardboard between the pages, then brushed red glue up and down the stack. No gloves: fingertips required for the perfection of paper, smoothing the exact rectangle. Sluggish by 9 PM, the hands would slide along suddenly sharp paper, and gather slits thinner than the crevices of the skin, hidden. Then the glue would sting, hands oozing till both palms burned at the punchclock.
Ten years later, in law school, I knew that every legal pad was glued with the sting of hidden cuts, that every open lawbook was a pair of hands upturned and burning.
1. Ye shall be free to write a poem on any subject, as long as it’s the White Whale. 2. A gold doubloon shall be granted to the first among ye who in a poem sights the White Whale. 3. The Call Me Ishmael Award shall be given to the best poem about the White Whale, with publication in The White Whale Review. 4. The Herman Melville Memorial Picnic and Softball Game shall be open to whosoever of ye writes a poem about following thy Captain into the maw of hell to kill the White Whale. 5. There shall be a free floating coffin for any workshop participant who falls overboard whilst writing a poem about the White Whale. 6. There shall be a free leg, carved from the jawbone of a whale, for any workshop participant who is dismasted whilst writing a poem about the White Whale. 7. There shall be a free funeral at sea, complete with a chorus of stout hearties singing sea chanteys about the White Whale, for any workshop participant who is decapitated whilst writing a poem about the White Whale. 8. Ye who seek not the White Whale in thy poems shall be harpooned.