April 10, 2007
Mary Oliver: “Humpbacks”
There is, all around us,
of original fire.
You know what I mean.
The sky, after all, stops at nothing, so something has to be holding
in its rich and timeless stables or else
we would fly away.
off the Cape,
the humpbacks rise. Carrying their tonnage of barnacles and joy
they leap through the water, they nuzzle back under it
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,
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
out 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, swimming
through the green islands, tossing
the slippery branches 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,
longing to fly while the dead-weight bones
toss their dark mane and hurry
back into the fields of glittering fire
even the great whale,
throbs with song.
–Mary Oliver, 1978