We arrived in Klamath, CA to the news that a gray whale had ventured three miles up the river, and was now ambling under the bridge. We gathered with dozens of others–”poorboys and pilgrims with families”–to witness the majesty. And that brought up another Kunitz poem.
from The Wellfleet Whale
Voyager, chief of the pelagic world,
you brought with you the myth
of another country, dimly remembered,
where flying reptiles
lumbered over the steaming marshes
and trumpeting thunder lizards
wallowed in the reeds.
While empires rose and fell on land,
your nation breasted the open main,
rocked in the consoling rhythm
of the tides. Which ancestor first plunged
head-down through zones of colored twilight
to scour the bottom of the dark?
You ranged the North Atlantic track
from Port-of-Spain to Baffin Bay,
edging between the ice-floes
through the fat of summer,
lob-tailing, breaching, sounding,
grazing in the pastures of the sea
on krill-rich orange plankton
crackling with life.
You prowled down the continental shelf,
guided by the sun and stars
and the taste of alluvial silt
on your way southward
to the warm lagoons,
the tropic of desire,
where the lovers lie belly to belly
in the rub and nuzzle of their sporting;
and you turned, like a god in exile,
out of your wide primeval element,
delivered to the mercy of time.
Master of the whale-roads,
let the white wings of the gulls
spread out their cover.
You have become like us,
disgraced and mortal.