RECAPTURING THE GOPHERWOOD SHMECKLE: MOISHE RECAPTURES HIS PIRATE SHIP AFTER A MUTINY
excerpt from my novel-in-progress Yiddish for Pirates
This is the passage which I have been working on for the last two days. The MS is currently at 96,000 words and moving towards an ending. Like all of us.
We paddled up close to the hull, an infant elephant nuzzled against the flank of its vast and sighing mother. Shh. Sleep mama, sleep.
The ship's hull was scarred with patches where cannonball or shallows had broken its skin. Until the ship was properly careened and the broad planks replaced, its sides were a Harlequinade of repairs. We searched for such a pockmark, small as two fingers, then Moishe worked at it with the blade of a Spanish dirk until he had re-opened the wound.
He had brought rum-bottle stuffed with a damp shmatta ripped from his ragged and swamp-ripe clothes. Now he would make fire.
In the middle of the sea, it is as simple to procure fire as it is fresh water. Both are possible if you have them already.
The women had given Moishe a firestick, a stone, and some dry grass for kindling. Moishe pressed the end of the stick into the stone with his palms and rubbed back and forth like a frantically aroused cicada while delicately blowing on the grasses. A move from a survivalist's Kama Sutra. We could only hope for a happy and propitious ending, nu? Some minutes passed. Then a splash over the rim of the barrel and the grasses were soaked. Moishe—always expecting fate to be duplicitous—removed some still dry grass from a small sack which he had kept in safety in his shirt, and began again.
Eventually, a weak smoke, and then the red spurt of fire. Quickly, Moishe dropped the burning grasses in the bottle and pushed its narrow neck into wounded hull. The green world of the bottle teemed with smoke. Viperous tendrils would soon be fuming below-deck.
“Let's hope—kaynanahoreh—we haven't lit the orlop and its store of gunpowder,” Moishe said. “But we will soon know.”
The ship came alive. The meshuggenah mariners aboard the Gopherwood Shmeckle scuttled fore and aft as a bees' nest disturbed.
In their gadkas.
Which reminds me:
Two Yiddish bees are shmoozing on a flower.
“Oy, am I hungry,” the first bee says to his friend. “Know where a bee could get a little nosh?”
“There's the Goldwing Bar Mitzvah. You should see the sweet table.”
And so the first bee flies off to get a little something.
When he returns, he's smiling and wearing a little yarmulke.
“What's with the lid?” his friend asks. “You don't practice. You don't go to shule. You're a secular bee.”
“But nu,” says the first bee. “Did you want them to think I was a WASP?”
And as if they were in a smoked-out hive, we heard the sailors, buzzing, running to safety up on deck, some into the rigging.
“The shlmiels don't wonder what's fuming?” Moishe said.
Moishe tipped the bottle and emptied the burning wad into the ship. “I've heard it said, where there's smoke, there's fire.”
He maneuvered the barrel around toward the bow and held fast to some backstay deadeyes.
Soon, as expected:
“Gevalt!” the crew shouted.
“For zentzing God-ratline-for-klugging-do something!”
“Goteinyu, get the piss buckets.”
“Lower the hogshead o'er the larboard gunwhale.”
“Flames behind the salt pork store.”
“Shh! Zugs nisht oys—don't say it!”
And indeed the lovely boucan barbecue fumes of burning meat billowed invitingly from the ship along with an admixture of tar and mouldy lumber, the combined tang an alte kocker's shvitz, his shoes, and a variety of ailing muskrat. In the fire-fighting fury and smoke-filled hoo-hah, Moishe clambered up the hull clasping chains, deadeye, and shroud, then scaled the mainmast. He was a grievous and avenging angel in a fog of rum and pork-fire and from high up the cross-tree, he proclaimed:
“Nu. Look up. Way up. For I am the voice of this cloud of sulphurous and tormenting flame. I who have turned this ship into a burning bush around which you now scurry farmisht. But don't thank me. I have returned from the dead. That's thanks enough. I whose eyes burn like twin stars. Whose hair is an untamed and piratical porcupinity. Whose grepses are the fartz of one who has dined on naught but forty years of rats. Whose putz is a great mast which requires no stays. I who is not so easy to get rid of. But who were you expecting? Yoshkeh? The messiah? A klug, but it is a fercockt and scurvy world, but which other world would have us? I have returned as your captain and together we shall not perish but shall seek eternal youth and life whether in sea, or fire, in earth, or air or from the quintessence itself. Or in the shaineh zaftig arms of another and their sweet knish. Remember the days that have been, the seasons we have lived, where we might sing, swear, drink, drab, and kill in vengeance as freely as cake-makers do flies, as parrots speak, or as the waves climb and fall as they seek the distant shores of the world. The white smoke—with your consent and articles--elects me again captain. And if we are able to put the fire out.”