Don Gray

Art Essays, Art Criticism & Poems

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Hunting the Whale ... A Poem

With great blade of flensing knife, long-poled
to carve the second story of the whale,
they slice the blubber from the sides and back,
slabs laid long and narrow, stacked; the oily fat
within the hold leaks in foot-deep pools
around the layers of the lowest flesh...
enough to light the homes of connoisseurs.  
A pallid, waxen trove of sabered riches
from the plunging whale, lanced from sturdy boats
pulled next the blackened gleam, the harpoon's taut line
leading to the ebbing god of depths,
stabbed in the brain that Boston wealth and light,
banks and lamps might shed their warming glow
a hundred years.  And sailors, young and old,
may test their strength and pocketbook against
the gliding monster, black and red upon
the sea, that in its bloody, thrashing throes
may crush their frail barques to smithereens.
"Thar she blows," the cry from crow's nest high;
bound to longboat, in haste to lower away;
pull strongly on the oar, draw near their prey,
huge, darkly bright in shining ocean spray.
The harpooneer checks his lance, makes sure
the coil of rope is clear, bracing in the bow.
Despite the heaving sea, the spear is cast
from leaping boat with intact, sinewed aim,
deep in the head, behind the eye; tailing,
snaking line uncoiling to the rear.  Quickly,
the spearman grasps another, to follow
its fatal fellow in pursuit of a dollar.  
Before it can submerge in an ocean grave,
they tow and lash the whale to the mother ship,
for second butchery.  Cleared at last
of all things claimed by man...baleen bone
for ladies' corsets, oil for light in darkest
Massachusetts, the derelict is cut free
-- a great white cage for some Jonah undersea
its bonds released, to slowly sink away
from shrieking seabirds' frenzied feeding,  
to waiting fish and crabs, creeping crustaceans
crawling far below on the bottom, sandy,
clear of weed and muck, but for the awesome
bones with tattered shreds of white like waving flags
of truce too late unfurled, that settle,
come to rest upon the seabed far beyond
the men of Boston toiling on their ship,
tending to the rigging, final storage,
cleansing of the deck and razor flensing tool
that took treasure from the sea to darkened hold...
where such as Ishmael, Ahab, Starbuck, are carved
from the carcass of imagination,
an inner stew of fact and fancy, bits and chunks,
mundane, sad, profound; combined to brew
a savage bouillabaisse of misbegotten man.  
A great white whale, born in the mind -- poetic
mix of mystery and unconsciousness --
become the tale of God and men; the earth,
the sea, the stars; the God-given madness
of the mind that afflicts, destroys us all...
to be reborn from the sea, quest and die again.
Copyright by Don Gray

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