Therese Halscheid

Harpooning the Whale

He came to the poetry reading
in the town library in Homer

a tall burly man with long hair and a beard,
wearing a necklace of bear claws and a polar bear tooth

a thousand years old, an amulet
an Eskimo medicine man had given him.

He roamed the bush for twenty years, he said,
and I am always on the move, I said,

and we had the same look in us then, our eyes nomadic,
knowing we knew about things too sacred to say.

Homer, in Alaska, I was there

visiting a school and Tommy was the boy
who loved poetry and this was

Tommy’s father. He had his own poetry in him
or perhaps his life was a poem, in the lyrical strides he took

through the wilderness, or the epic tale
of his time on Saint Lawrence Island

when he harpooned with the Yupik tribe, out at sea whaling
in the original way, the way of

connecting first with the mind
of the whale that presents itself, sacrificially.

Eye of the whale and the eye of man,
a certain reverence occurs

just like Tommy’s father and me
how our souls peered out from our bodies

and we knew we were shades of each other, wanderers
of different lands, but carrying the same furtive beliefs.

Of the whale, the whale too, was a poem ─

when it danced before the old boat,
how willingly it dipped and surfaced and blew

before the arrows pierced the long, holy length of its body
and still it gave of itself,

calmly above water it stayed and it stayed
held by the spears, whose ends tied

to the bladder bags of the seal, puffed with air,
to keep it afloat.

And this, a poem, in the way the whale was buoyant for days,
blood-letting, like the very words which surface

from within the salty sea of our bodies,
the thoughts which slowly drain from us

before we tow them in, before we write them out,
blessing our beasts as they come ashore.

 

Therese Halscheid’s poetry and prose has appeared in many literary journals. She is author of 3 poetry collections, Powertalk, Without Home and Uncommon Geography – which recieved a Finalist Award for the Paterson Poetry Prize. She also received a Greatest Hits chapbook award from Pudding House Press. She won a Fellowship for Poetry from NJ State Council on the Arts as well as a Dodge Fellowship to Vermont Studio Center. She is a visiting writer in schools and teaches for Atlantic Cape Community College.