Melville's Elijah prophesying doom to the not yet drowned
has nothing on the Mad Professor.
Fifteen weeks, vehement as Father Mapple,
he has been warning them that the end is coming,
but they thought him mad as Pip, but not as cute,
and partied on,
laughing like Noah's neighbors at the mention of flood.

Now, the semester sailing off the edge,
and only now, can they see
the sea monsters huge as Jonah's justice
rising around them from the fog they have been lost in.

Now, the prow dipping into the abyss,
they want an explanation of their duties,
now they want to know how to tie a Sailor's Knot,
how to trim sail, which side of the ship is starboard.

Now, as the ship's carpenter measures them for planking,
they beg to be keelhauled instead,
or married to the Gunner's Daughter and whipped,
even if it's not by a nun in jackboots.

But, lashed with the line of his own harpoon
to the mottled humpback of the University,
he does not have the heart to tell them
that for some, it will always be too late,
and for some, it always has been.

William John Watkins
WILLIAM JOHN WATKINS has published more than 400 poems in such magazines as Rhino, South Carolina Review, Hellas, The Formalist, Able Muse and Commonweal. His sonnet "Wife of My Youth, Look Back, Look Back" won the 1994 Hellas Award. "We Die as Angels and Come Back as Men" won the 2002 Rhysling Award. His hobby is racing motorcycles off-road with his son, Chad.