by Mary Oliver

Page 9

And the last poem also has its genesis in Provincetown. Many of you have certainly heard of, or perhaps had the experience yourself of going out to visit with the whales. It's something that's been done in the last few years a great deal and it began on the Atlantic coast, in Provincetown, with a dolphin fleet, so I have been fortunate in having the boats right there and I've gone out many a many a time. Primarily it's the humpback whales that we hope to see. They are an endangered species, and therefore no longer hunted and perhaps it's partly for that reason or perhaps it's some wonderful friendliness and curiosity that makes them come so readily, right to the boat. They're forty-five, fifty feet long and many tons in weight, and you might think of yourself peril, but indeed it's not true. They're agile for all their immense size, and careful for all their great curiosity. They will come very close, but only for our pleasure. Again, it's a poem in several parts. I'll pause between the parts. The word "Stellwagon" appears in one of the sections and that is an area where the whales feed, off of Cape Cod.


There is, all around us,
this country
of original fire

You know what I mean.

The sky, after all, stops at nothing, so something has to be holding
our bodies
in its rich and timeless stables or else
we would fly away.


Off Stellwagon
off the Cape, the humpbacks rise. Carrying their tonnage of barnacles and joy
they leap through the water, they nuzzle back under it
like children
at play.


They sing, too.
And not for any reason
you can't imagine.


Three of them
rise to the surface near the bow of the boat,
then dive
deeply, their huge scarred flukes
tipped to the air.

We wait, not knowing
just where it will happen; suddenly
they smash through the surface, someone begins
shouting for joy and you realize
it is yourself as they surge
upward and you see for the first time
how huge they are, as they breach,
and dive, and breach again
through the shining blue flowers
of the split water and you see them
for some unbelievable
part of a moment against the sky-
like nothing you've ever imagined-
like the myth of the fifth morning galloping
our of darkness, pouring
heavenward, spinning; then


they crash back under those black silks
and we all fall back
together into that wet fire, you
know what I mean


I know a captain who has seen them
playing with seaweed, tossing
the slippery lengths of it into the air.

I know a whale that will come to the boat whenever
she can, and nudge it gently along the bow
with her long flipper.

I know several lives worth living.


listen, whatever it is you try
to do with your life, nothing will ever dazzle you
like the dreams of your body,

its spirit
longing to fly while the dead-weight bones

toss their dark mane and hurry
back into the fields of glittering fire

where everything,
even the great whale,
throbs with song.

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