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Visitation Analysis

Author: poem of Mark Doty Type: poem Views: 11

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When I heard he had entered the harbor,

and circled the wharf for days,

I expected the worst: shallow water,

confusion, some accident to bring

the young humpback to grief.

Don't they depend on a compass

lodged in the salt-flooded folds

of the brain, some delicate

musical mechanism to navigate

their true course?  How many ways,

in our century's late iron hours,

might we have led him to disaster?

That, in those days, was how

I'd come to see the world:

dark upon dark, any sense

of spirit an embattled flame

sparked against wind-driven rain

till pain snuffed it out.  I thought,

This is what experience gives us ,

and I moved carefully through my life

while I waited. . .  Enough,

it wasn't that way at all.  The whale

—exuberant, proud maybe, playful,

like the early music of Beethoven—

cruised the footings for smelts

clustered near the pylons

in mercury flocks.  He

(do I have the gender right?)

would negotiate the rusty hulls

of the Portuguese fishing boats

—Holy Infant, Little Marie—

with what could only be read

as pleasure, coming close

then diving, trailing on the surface

big spreading circles

until he'd breach, thrilling us

with the release of pressured breath,

and the bulk of his sleek young head

—a wet black leather sofa

already barnacled with ghostly lice—

and his elegant and unlikely mouth,

and the marvelous afterthought of the flukes,

and the way his broad flippers

resembled a pair of clownish gloves

or puppet hands, looming greenish white

beneath the bay's clouded sheen.

When he had consumed his pleasure

of the shimmering swarm, his pleasure, perhaps,

in his own admired performance,

he swam out the harbor mouth,

into the Atlantic.  And though grief

has seemed to me itself a dim,

salt suspension in which I've moved,

blind thing, day by day,

through the wreckage, barely aware

of what I stumbled toward, even I

couldn't help but look

at the way this immense figure

graces the dark medium,

and shines so: heaviness

which is no burden to itself.

What did you think, that joy

was some slight thing?

Anonymous submission.


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