My reserves are nearly exhausted

as the crow’s nest sights the white whale.

“Call me Ishmael” serving an Ahab

whose obsession is beyond the pale.

His cetacean is not the real issue.

I accept a passionate pursuit.

But the whale must be one of my choosing,

not one I was seduced to en route.

The line ‘twixt recruit and the conscript

is one not seen when it’s crossed.

No longitude striped on the ocean

can mark my ambition once tossed.

When I had some choice in the matter,

I dismissed every warning sign.

I accept some blame for this crimping,

but so should the mentor I malign.

As the Pequod went down in the ocean,

cryptic flotsam kept me afloat;

Queequeg’s coffin absent his body

was all that was left from the boat.

Ahab stole my time, not my talent.

There is much I am driven to do.

It’s my turn to serve as harpooner

to the right whale for me to pursue.

Comment: Chopra et al. identify six phenotypes for dysfunctional mentorship in their article entitled “Mentorship Malpractice” (Chopra V, Edelson DP, Saint S: Mentorship malpractice. JAMA 2016; 315:1453–4). Ahab exhibits “The Exploiter” phenotype with elements of the “The Possessor” one.

Notes: Herman Melville (1819–1891) is the author of Moby-Dick; or The Whale (1851). The opening line of the novel, “Call me Ishmael,” identifies its narrator. He voluntarily signs on the Pequod and ends up as the sole surviving crew member after the great white whale, Moby-Dick, sinks the Peqoud and all its harpoon boats. Ahab is the “demoniac” captain of the Pequod, who jeopardized the voyage, meant by the ship’s owners to obtain oil from sperm whales, with his single-minded and fatal year-long pursuit of Moby-Dick, who had injured him on an earlier sailing. Crimping or shanghaiing was the common practice in the 1800’s of kidnapping or conscripting sailors to work onboard American ships. Impressment was the term for a similar practice for British ships. Although Ishmael volunteered to sail on the Pequod, he came to feel crimped as the true purpose of the voyage was revealed. One of the harpooners, Queequeg, built and tattooed his own coffin during the voyage but prior to any encounter with Moby-Dick. Right whales are very large baleen whales, which Moby-Dick was not.