Nick Patten  © 2008 All Rights Reserved

The Whale

If a Leviathan can be hooked and hauled to land, what hope has a fish in a puddle?
óThe Talmud

A dead humpback, its flanks
shredded by shark or prop,
rolled sleepily in the lungcrush

of breakers slamming salt
barrels onto a beach by Half
Moon Bay. Even from the cliff

I was stung by the yellow
stink conscripting the breeze
for the early hours of rot.

Descending the dunes I joined
those crowded around the whale,
amid the darts and hooks

of blowflies, to watch the decay
at work in the waves. Torn fins
swung down like dock ramps

from the hill of its body. Flukes
slapped in the pounding foam,
as if a last report against death

quickly betrayed by the bladder
ballooning out of its belly
like gum blown too thin to hold.

Eyes once covenant with the sea
stayed shuttered to the gulls
gathering in the foggy light.

The mouth was sealed off
from breath and song. Any words
we spoke died in the waves

as we stared into the purge
of fluids, the collapse into maggots,
the crumble of gravewax and fat.

Matt W. Miller
Copyright © 2008


Matt W. Millerís first book, Cameo Diner, was published in 2005 by Loom Press. He is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University and currently teaches English and coaches football at Phillips Exeter Academy.

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