“Named,” “Luz” and “Body Memory”


Ten minutes out of the harbor and already

Someone sights the singular spray that means

We are in their presence. We line the railing

Ready to take communion.

Two young fin whales swimming shallow

Like some cosmic dance, arch breathe dive

Spray spume shine all grace

And the gladness rises in me

Filling flooding every empty chamber.

Next a big humpback

Fifty feet of glide and glisten. They’ve given her

A name, Diablo, identified by her all black fluke

The final gesture of the tail announcing

Her particular story, the little they know of it

By research, sightings, guesses. Then Scylla

And her calf, the fourteenth calf

She has brought back to these waters

After birthing in the Silver Banks off the Dominican Republic.

How many thousands of miles of ocean odyssey

Maps in the mind, water routes in the blood

Timetables of current and starshine.

We turn back toward the harbor, time to go in.

I don’t care who sees me wiping tears from my cheeks.

But, as if to say we cannot calculate abundance,

The sea offers yet another feast, a final humpback

And her calf, the young one breaching seven times

Each a day of creation, light and darkness, life

Propelled out of the water by what looks like

Sheer play, perhaps some kind of practice

For survival, a practice I need, too.

Perhaps my discipline is to tell the story

and leave gaps for all that I do not know

and never will. I whisper to the whales

How my grandmother and grandfather sailed on a ship

From Amsterdam to Ellis Island in eleven days

With two small children, one and four

Because two other children had died in Holland

And there was no work, no promise of land

No freedom of worship. How they were given stolen land

Platted, pieced by greed and guns.

I am wondering how to survive in my house

In my skin and tell the story of sea and land

How to be happy that we have not yet figured out

How to build walls in the ocean

How to hope for survival when everyone’s name

Can be written with their bodies without fear.


In the Jewish tradition there is a legend that every person has a small bone in his body called the luz which enfolds the essence of a person’s soul.

in some small bit of bone

the vowel of his hunger

some call it a soul

but for him it is a bright

tiny infinite emptiness

a hollow that he finds

in all things in every word

in every world or star finally

he comes to the question

that opens and opens

until he enters that silence

lovely terrifying stillness

where he can be as close to himself

as he can get

utter unknowing

scorched into the wild dance

without vector or language

full of longing

Body Memory

The wooden labyrinth like a big storybook

in my lap. Round and round I revisit the familiar

chapters. Already by the third turn

my hand goes numb. The aching joints

in wrist and fingers are a family trait

passed from mother to son. Perhaps the body’s

testimony to what we wouldn’t say out loud.

She would pick up a case of beer every week.

Twenty-four brown bottles in four neat rows

so that when he came home from the tavern

late after work after we had finished supper

he would have something to keep him in the house.

We made excuses—a bad cold, the flu, headaches

why he couldn’t come to the cub scout dinner

pinewood derby oratorical contest or parent-teacher

conferences year after year the same story.

I lay my hand gently on the center

of forgiveness so many years in the making

some small voice in my heart finally says,

“He did the best he could.”

Still the sadness settles in my hands

which cannot forget the violence

the curses. More than dishes were shattered

in the arguments. But we would glue the pieces

of our lives together again with small white

lies whose fissures were obvious in the light.

When he would shove and slap her

what could I do with my small body

sobbing in my upstairs bedroom?

Sleep was not possible in the terrible silence

after the fighting. My body aching in the night

slowly going numb escaping in its fetal rite.

About the Author

Gary Boelhower

Gary Boelhower has published 3 poetry collections: Naming Rites; Marrow, Muscle, Flight and Sacred Times, Timeless Seasons. His poetry appears in anthologies: Awake in the World 2, LoveJets, Amethyst and Agate, The Heart of All That Is, The Cancer Poetry Project 2, Beloved on the Earth, Migrations, and County Lines; and many journals and magazines.