The Richest Man Alive

Issue ThirteenIssue Thirteen PoetryPoetry

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By Jesse Fleming

“J.J. Astor, the richest man on board and a pariah in American polite society, was redeemed by his self-sacrificing behavior as the leviathan went down.”

—Brown, McDonagh, & Shultz


His effects sheened fine.

That must be why they found him fast.


Moneybags copped a tag—

NO. 124—gold

watch, cuff links, gold

with diamond, diamond

ring with three stones,

£5 in gold, $2440 in notes.

His mustachios glinting blue,

barbed ice from his morning gel.

We had seen him look straight ahead

as first-class jackass

heralded him from lower decks.


His New York minute

had whiffed of Midas:

he popped out little miracles

on Park Avenue,

gilding Force’s daughter

in the family way,

short-circuiting the century

in blue serge suits.


Illusions like wicker,

or Atlas groans, creaked—

like knuckles, cracked with gripping.


He changed his mind, some say,

giving way to wistful doubt by Lifeboat No. 4.

That soft spot for his second wife.


But no such grace from the Unsinkable Ship—

we watched him retire

to the starboard bridge,

to smoke with Futrelle.


Their exhale met God’s air

in trembling