Concerning the Proper Term for a Whale Exhaling
Poof my mother sighs
as against the clearcut banks near Hoonah
another humpback exhales, its breath
white and backlit by sun.
say that, says my father, disapproving
of such casual terminology or uneasy
with the tinge of pink tulle, the flounce
poof attaches to the thing we're watching, beast
of hunt, of epic migrations.
But I'm the naturalist,
suggesting course and speed for approach. They
are novices, and the word is mine,
brought here from the captains I sailed for
and the glittering Cape Cod town
where we docked each night
after a day of watching whales.
Todd or Lumby would gutter,
turning the helm, my cue to pick up
the microphone. Coming from those smoke-roughed cynics
who call the whales dumps, rank the tank-topped talent
on the bow, and say each time they set a breaching calf
in line with the setting sun, What do you think of that?
Now that's what I call pretty, then sit back,
light a cigaretteŃcoming from them,
I loved the word.
And even more
because the dock we returned to each night
teemed with summer crowds, men lifting
their hands to other men, the town
flooded with poufs free to flutter, to cry, as they can't
in Newark or Pittsburgh or Macon, to let
their love rise into the clear, warm air,
to linger and glow
for a brief time visible.
—from Interpretive Work
first published in Cream City Review