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There’s More to Whaling Than Whales

by Anthony Caleshu


These turtles are a delicious food . . . with these, ships usually supply themselves for a great length of time, and make a great saving of other provisions.—Owen Chase, Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex, 1821.

We’d been wooing whales like women once wooed us
when we sprang a leak off the guano rich coast of Ecuador.

Gallipagos Giants—so gentle under foot—were soon strewn aboard,
wandering freely over deck or stowed away in the hold.

For her gaze heavenward—a signal suffering, privation and despair—
we planned to love one, but the others

we’d sparingly steep in the stock of our sweet and sour soup. 
It wasn’t until a month after—anchored and splashing shirt free—

that we spotted a shoal off the lee bow.
            Remember the sea as fragile as a boiled egg?

            the sky as unforgiving as a spoon . . .
Now recall how effortlessly our Harriett used to sink and swim;

how she used to rise so buoyantly to whatever challenge
she set herself . . . But this was before the stoving,

before the celerity, before we were reminded
that a whale’s head is as hard as a horse’s hoof,

which, it turns out, is even harder than a tortoise’s shell.

 

Anthony Caleshu’s first book of poems, The Siege of the Body and a Brief Respite, was published by Salt in 2004. Poems here are from his new book in progress, which references Melville, Moby-Dick, and whaling throughout. Recent poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Times Literary Supplement, Leviathan, and The Dublin Review. He is lecturer in English and creative writing at University of Plymouth in southwest England, where he edits the literary journal Short FICTION. (9/2008)


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