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
scorched into the wild dance
without vector or language
full of longing
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.