Mary Oliver

Humpbacks

 

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 Stellwagen

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

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,

 

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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