The Convergence of the Twain
(Lines on the Loss of the “Titanic”)
Thomas Hardy, 1912 and 1914
In a solitude of the sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.
Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.
Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea worm crawls—grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.
Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.
Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: “What does this vaingloriousness down here?” . . .
Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything
Prepared a sinister mate
For her—so gaily great—
A shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.
And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.
Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,
Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,
Till the Spinner of the Years
Said “Now!” And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.
My husband always tells me, “You think too much.” I think what he really means is that I tend to make connections and invest meaning into things most people would consider . . . well, odd. I myself prefer to regard it as a relatively benign and engaging form of schizophrenia.
One manifestation of said tendency is that for weeks now I’ve been fretting about a local theater’s upcoming production of Titanic: The Musical. Their creative team apparently decided it would be swell to have opening night coincide with that fateful closing night–the one everyone remembers, about the “unsinkable” boat. And that’s just the beginning. In my opinion, everything about the show displays a shockingly intentional lack of judgment and decorum.
Obviously the adaptation did well on Broadway, having garnered a number of Tony Awards. Still, when I think of human devastation, musicals don’t usually spring to mind. And I like to think most people would agree with me. If they didn’t, we’d probably be tapping our toes to such divertissements as Sirhan, Get Your Gun, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Crucifixion, Meet Me in Rwanda, How to Survive Babi Yar Without Really Trying, and Hello, Pol Pot.
It’s not that I’m unilaterally opposed to schadenfreude as entertainment; otherwise we wouldn’t have much opera. It’s just that some sources lack a necessary sense of self-awareness. Or are simply perverse, which brings us back to the matter at hand.
Another ill-advised decision involving the production: the curtain is scheduled to rise at the very moment the ship sank, factoring in the Newfoundland/California time change, that is. This presents a very troubling symmetry to me. Curtain up—ship down. On stage, stylized commotion, bright lights, song, and dance. Out there, in the middle of the frigid Atlantic, the roar of shearing metal, the screams, the sobbing, the twinkling darkness, the silence.
For an extra seventy-five dollars, theatergoers can enjoy a “Titanic-inspired” catered dinner before the show. Aside from the grotesque insensitivity, wouldn’t it depend on the ticket one possessed, balcony or orchestra? Accordingly, third-class guests would sit apart at rough tables where they helped themselves to hardtack and a variety of indeterminate gruels, with maybe a whiskey chaser or two. Others, more fortunate, would feast amidst linen and crystal on glistening oysters, braised squab, and Dom Perignon. Clearly, the democratic seating arrangements and common menu violate basic historical veracity, fallen victim to the inscrutable hyphenate “inspired.”
As if that weren’t enough, the meal is being catered by a local barbecue joint. Yes, barbecue. Other than sushi, I can scarcely imagine less “Titanic-inspired” fare. Bastard images now haunt me: John Jacob Astor, mere hours to live, plastic bib tidily fastened about his neck, gnaws on a dripping rib bone as wait staff hover. Pregnant Madeleine, fast on her way to widowhood, forearms tastefully aglitter, raises to her rouged lips a heaping forkful of slaw. “Hey, anybody got Handiwipes?”
To further the generally discomfiting atmosphere, every audience member is given the identity of someone who sailed from Queenstown that mild, overcast April afternoon. Apparently those attending the performance are expected to sit there the entire evening not knowing whether they’re actually dead or not. Perhaps this substantial distraction is a blessing in disguise.
To clinch the fictional sense of centennial solidarity, I suppose that departing guests should also be doused with bucketfuls of icy salt water. I could go for that.
As if concerns regarding theatrical propriety weren’t enough to keep my mind occupied, I empathize with earthworms. After all, they’re pretty much just streamlined versions of ourselves. Mere tubes, all of us: in one end and out the other. So when I go on my morning walks, I rescue otherwise doomed fellow Lumbricidae. I save them from drowning in gutters and from drying on pavements. I have special little worm sticks to help me lift them, and then I deposit my charges carefully in moist, safe gardens.
Today marks the hundredth anniversary of Titanic’s doom. Soon it will be curtain time. Rain drenched our little community during the night, so this morning worms littered and laced the sidewalks. I had already saved dozens of them when I came across a pair clinging to each other (if earthworms can truly be said to cling) on the warming cement. Immediately I knew them: Bruce and Angela. I could hear them calling to each other in desperation, Bruce valiantly trying to reassure Angela that all will be well, that they will make it back to the familiar shade, to the comforting, damp soil.
Again, a strange symmetry struck me. Instead of drowning in the freezing black waters, these victims would roast under the bright spring sun, along with untold others of their kind fated today. Their solicitude and passion moved me, so I tenderly forked them up, dug a loving refuge with my forefinger, and placed them in the cool, soft loam.
I rather like being the hand of God, my cupped palm a living RMS Carpathia. Even so, I wonder if anyone else, my husband included, would appreciate today’s fragile revelations. Sidewalk: The Musical. Unthinkable.