You’ve Been Swallowed by a Whale Only You Can Let Go


                                   for Jamie Warren

It’s no surprise that I hate it
when my friend is swallowed by a whale
even if it is only a dream of being swallowed
by a whale, the whale everything ever
all at once and thus a stupefying brick of cloud
borne by Manhattan’s swaying pallbearers

as I think of how to try to bring her out,
and also thus whale after whale full of whales,
all the coffins, the urns, the urns’ ins
and outs, the white whale
of the gone, the swallowed of all the nations, the ones
we feel sawed off from singularly, grief, grief

as ever a creature with an obscure orbit
and an appetite we are certain
in our treacherous, ordinary valleys
no light escapes nor can hope to contend with—but
this is why some days, in some instants,
in this instant, we must rise

and slip the cinematic tentacles
and slap the needle off the face of the beloved record
and charge into new dreams
like fools that won’t quit singing.
The record spools and loops and pools
and floods into the air, the menacing atmosphere

a whale when a whale moves, an epic wave
taking forever to build
against what tiny forts we’ve made
from pillows and purloined fencing, our cups empty
and refilled a dozen times over, all our sheets in the wind,
our cultivated and distant loves, our locals,

our air. It’s chased us so long
we think we’re looking for it
until we turn into the dark and understand
we’ve been swallowed. It’s always so easy to steer out
for those of them not in trouble.
But do they know there is a part of each dark

that doesn’t go away and what to name it
is forever on the tip of our tongues
troubling the loose tooth of the heart?
The way you suffer the landscapes with your eyes,
here and then and next, arrives you in country of whales
not yourself a whale, but sympathetic. History blooms

and blooms through the blooms
its smoke and viscera, struck surely
and surely too seldom
with flashes of human kindness and sacrifice.
You don’t have to kiss and apologize to that urn
every second, you don’t have to shoulder history

every second, the shadow glides through Bloomington
as though on skates, it knifes down all the interstates
like a cloud of knives, the knife cloud a whale
but sing it up, sing it gone, sing light
and see it lift out of you
where it had been all this time.

Like the man sings, If I see you struggle,
I will not turn my back: sing that, sing it so aloft
it’s a parade float: The Past,
hovering, real and powerful but not so mighty
it can keep you from the light waiting
even now for your next waking, sweet

as the sweetness of water is sweet
after a long walk out of the desert of the whale.
Even as I write this, the sun
converts long, sharp weapons into water
that the earth will take in
like your next deep breath.