Excerpts from Billeh Nickerson's Impact: The Titanic Poems
Excerpts for 49th Shelf from Impact: The Titanic Poems by Billeh Nickerson. Published by Arsenal Pulp Press (2012).
One passenger believed it was her husband,
the ship’s jolt just another expression of their love.
Others thought it was an earthquake
or a mishap in the galley—
a runaway trolley, a stack of fallen dishes.
The baker wasn’t sure what happened
though he hoped his loaves would not fall.
While airtight after airtight compartment filled,
a second-class passenger ordered his drink
with chunks from the berg.
A small child sucked pieces of ice
as if they were candies,
and her brothers scraped up snowballs,
their mother worried only
they could lose an eye.
THE PIANO PLAYER
Unlike his musician compatriots
whose instruments could be carried on deck
the ship’s piano player could only watch
as his band mates played on.
At first he just swayed to the music
then tapped his feet and hummed
but he couldn’t withstand
the ache to play along
even without a sound
his hands slipping from gloves,
his cold fingers
tickling the air, ghost-style.
By chance the Carpathia’s wireless operator
kept his headphones on
while undressing before bed
and in what should have been the last moments
of his long shift, he overheard messages
destined for the great ship.
Come at once.
We have struck an ice berg.
It’s C.Q.D., Old Man.
When her Captain learned of the disaster,
he ordered heating and hot water turned off
to conserve as much steam as possible,
so that her passengers,
scheduled for sunny Gibraltar,
awoke to cold cabins.
Although designed for only 14.5 knots,
she conjured up 17.5 that night
as she rushed to the rescue.
As she grew closer to the scene,
the Captain ordered rockets fired
every fifteen minutes
as a navigational tool for any lifeboats,
but mostly as inspiration
for those who’d spent all night in the dark.
When she arrived at four a.m.,
her crew couldn’t believe
all that remained of the world’s largest ship
lay before them in the wreckage
floating amongst the ice
and the lifeboats that speckled the sea.
Surely, there must be something else,
they thought, how could she
Billeh Nickerson was born in Halifax and raised in Langley, BC. He is the author of the poetry collections The Asthmatic Glassblower and McPoems and the humour collection Let Me Kiss It Better, and is the co-editor of Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets. He performs frequently at literary festivals across Canada, and teaches creative writing at Kwantlen University in Vancouver. Follow Billeh Nickerson onTwitter: @BillehN