The sun strikes the whale’s back;
he dives, until the sun is overcast
with tons of green. He knows himself
full-grown; the burden that he carried
in his belly like a stone, is gone;
he has given his Jonah back to God.
For years he carried him, under
the furrowed trenches of his brow
and felt him walk by day the caves
under the great hill of his back –
this memory, this earthbound being
he had been. Since he was small
this man-thing had been tangled in
the mangroves of his mind, burning
like swamp-fire, or the hated sun,
searing him who needed filtered light,
for whom the mist was heaven.
Such preferences are fate.
When, with a great heave, he disgorged
this image that distended him,
he found it strange
how puny his antagonist had grown –
a twin-tailed tadpole
flashing off in foam.
His silver geyser rises in the air;
the bad dreams disappear
like islands off his starboard flank.
He moves, huge, through his own mist,
oiled silver by the moon, arrowed
as St. Sebastian, bristling harpoons.
From Maya, The University of Massachusetts Press, 1979. Also published in The Minnesota Review (Spring 1976); and in Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press (1998). Copyright © 1976 by Eleanor Wilner and used by permission of the poet and the University of Massachusetts Press.