The waters compassed me about, even to the soul:
the depth closed me round about,
the weeds were wrapped about my head.
In Boca Vieja, on the unsettled stretch of beach
which formed the border between two continents,
a coast where water flowed down from the forest
I had come to find the furthest distance.
At the end of a labyrinth of fallen boulders,
I came upon the massive skeleton,
the whitened frame reflecting back the sun.
The ribcage formed a passage to the sea,
where thin rivers ran between the bones,
dividing further as they reached the ocean.
The skull, half-buried in the sand, resembled
a house from some forgotten fairy tale.
I climbed in through the porthole of an eye,
looked out the double circles filled with light.
I found my way down what was once her throat
and wandered through the gallery of bones.
Her ribcage framed the sea, the sky, the trees
each canvas a vast range of blues and greens.
I reached the place that must have held her heart,
knowing, as a child, I could have fit inside
her vessels, even. I could have hidden there.
The tide was coming in, reclaiming things
clinging to the curved bones or roaming the shore
the tiny hydroid forests with their medusae,
the limpets like small traveling volcanoes,
the scrolled whelks, drawing their maze of whorls,
only to be washed away. This was the end
of the whale's road. She passed her life to thousands.
I felt the sun-warm bone against my skin
and a sudden heartbeat in the skeleton.
Her heart beat with a distant beckoning,
and in a moment I was with her, traveling
the hwaelweg, the road itself another kenning.
The ocean set the cadence, the swells singing
a line, receiving back another line
in each reply, the slightest variation.
Our languages returning to the sounds
encoded in our strands, the spiral towers
of our helixes spinning round each other.
The calls reverberating through the waters
to navigate the depths, to guide us through
one ocean to another, the dark indigos,
the song returning from the deepest blues.
Boca Vieja: (Old Mouth), Pacific Coast, Colombia
hwaelweg: whale-road, Old English kenning
1999 Robert Frost Award
The Dark Horse (Scotland), 2000.