Spermaceti

I was lucky enough to win second prize in Brittle Star’s 2014 competition with this poem, judged by Mimi Khalvati, but the reason I’ve decided to put it on the website is to say a public thank you to Kim Moore. It was Kim’s poem, ‘My People’ that inspired me and I urge everyone to read her work!

 

Spermaceti

after Kim Moore

I come from people who know how to coil a rope
from the outside in to keep it running free,
who go barefoot in boats because they understand
each footfall travels miles at sea. They know
a whale’s ear is no bigger than a pin,
but the oil in its head magnifies sound.
My people value that oil more than gold.

My people can throw a harpoon blindfold,
relish the speed and pull of the line,
white water searing the sides of the boat;
they call it the Nantucket Sleigh Ride,
brace their backs for as long as it takes, even if
the whale refuses to tire, even if it turns and tips
the boat. My people know how to right themselves.

The weight of the severed head can pull
iron blubber hooks straight, but once on deck,
the man with the sharpest spade sets the pace.
I come from people who strip to the waist
to bail out the cask of the head, who hold
their breath and dive in to reach the last gallon,
drink a cup for luck before it coagulates.

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