Like a God in Exile

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.

–Stanley Kunitz




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