Friday, August 19, 2011

Catching Up, Round 1

Since the late 1970s, I've worked on a random series of poems called 'Parables of Famous Economists'. Pondered at one point publishing them as a series of Garbage Pail Kid-style trading cards. It's been a little while since a new parable emerged, but in early July, #38 suddenly appeared from nowhere. I have appended the poem itself with a brief history and geography of The Scapa Flow:

The Scapa Flow

Parables of Famous Economists - #38 in the occasional series

”Complex systems that have artificially suppressed volatility tend to become extremely fragile, even while exhibiting no visible risks. In fact, they tend to be too calm and exhibit minimal variability as silent risks accumulate … Such environments eventually experience massive blowups, … ending up far worse than they were in their initial volatile state.”

-- Nassim Nicholas Taler, The Black Swan of Cairo

Becalmed in anti-horse latitudes
He paces aft deck,
confusing the frostbite of debt ceiling
with the bo’sun’s all clear,
and shivers at the deafening absence
of magpie song in Orkney pre-dawn.

Great-great grandfather’s flapper season
was punctuated by sparse hello’s in the Scapa Flow.
Only the littoral ships where invisibility was intended,
drifted in sweeping arcs around a barrier of Graemsay.

Now, the dissolution of polar ice
brings daily petrogreetings
from Archangelsk to Alert Bay,
and still the bridge is enveloped in a cone of antisound.

She tried to speak clearly amidst the Delphic columns,
explaining to him that land sharks in Athens,
salty flotilla dogs in Piraeus,
vibrated at a frequency accomplishing nothing,
save a generous gaseous escape of beer foam,
dissolving representatives of the European Central Bank,
who were waiting for their chance to whimper
“Even anarchists can be wrong half the time.”
He offered the oracle a backpropagation lesson,
her opiated heavy lids failing to register his insistence
that the imperceptible wake of ships within the Arctic Circle
generated the slow delta waves more likely to go critical
as flotilla becomes Flotta.
Perhaps they whispered to each other the same sweet nothings
in mutually unintelligible dialects.

Ship’s whistle resonates in tooth and testament alike.
Call to neither reveille nor seven-bell prayer,
but a fitting remembrance of a Von Reuter call to scuttle,
a June 21 hymn of sinking below a featureless Scottish horizon,
where even a storm-petrel is wrong half the time.

One dozen renegotiations of a national limit,
spanning months or years of indeterminate length.
It is calm.
Unaffected bond markets, Dow stuck at 12k.
It is calm.
Ship lists subtly to port.
It is calm.
Spray-spattered deck at 21 degrees
as list becomes coffin to be.
It is calm.
The trembling is laughter and laughter alone.
The economist to first identify the point of kinase cascade
goes down with the ship.
Yo ho.
It is calm.
Please notify my next of kin.
It is calm.
This wheel shall explode.
The surface of the Scapa Flow is always calm,
as he notes with no little irony
that admirals of the current era
must expand their definitions of scuttle.

Loring Wirbel
July 16, 2011
Copyright Loring Wirbel 2011

Scapa Flow (Old Norse: Skalpafl├│i - "bay of the long isthmus" [1]) is a body of water in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, United Kingdom, sheltered by the islands of Mainland, Graemsay, Burray,[2] South Ronaldsay and Hoy. It is about 312 square kilometres (120 sq mi). It has a shallow sandy bottom not deeper than 60 metres (200 ft) and most of it about 30 metres (98 ft) deep, and is one of the great natural harbours/anchorages of the world, with sufficient space to hold a number of navies. Viking ships anchored in Scapa Flow more than 1000 years ago, but it is best known as the site of the United Kingdom's chief naval base during World War I and World War II. The base was closed in 1956.

The scuttling of the German fleet took place at the Royal Navy's base at Scapa Flow, in Scotland, after the end of the First World War. The High Seas Fleet had been interned there under the terms of the Armistice whilst negotiations took place over the fate of the ships. Fearing that all of the ships would be seized and divided amongst the allied powers, the German commander, Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, decided to scuttle the fleet.

The scuttling was carried out on 21 June 1919. Intervening British guard ships were able to beach a number of the ships, but 52 of the 74 interned vessels sank. Many of the wrecks were salvaged over the next few years and were towed away for scrapping. The few that remain are popular diving sites.

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