for John Guilday
Small with all I didn’t know, I knew enough to tremble:
I shrank by the door, cowed by what sounded
like an ocean’s angry roar, stumped by the silver cylinder’s
thump and wheeze, and him floating like a sailor,
flat-backed on the deck, rolling with each trough and swell,
or Jonah, cast out in the storm, by some miracle cradled
in the belly of a whale, its great breathing bulk, its blast
and gasp like a bellow, working air into the heaving null.
What did I know of the jaws of heaven? A few verses
rehearsed for Confirmation— enough to wonder if this
was what passed for mercy: to sleep in the monster’s bowels
until it foundered on the beach— or was he not, by providence, snatched [End Page 82]
from the squall, no Jonah at all, but some lonely Noah, abob
on his ark, waiting for God to clear his throat,
while below, the sculling whales rang the hull with their muffled songs? [End Page 83]
The polished tabletop sprawls like a pond. Voices in the hall never rise above a hum. Through the slatted blinds, box stores line up like a boy’s wooden blocks. The meeting has been called, so I’ve come.
Cars flicker by like sunfish through the slats. Out the store’s sliding doors comes a boy with a balloon. There are boxes to check, lines to be signed. They’ll give me a few minutes alone.
Let ventilation ducts administer the air. Let buzzing bulbs serve notice to the sun. Mirrored on the pond, the balloon climbs the blinds’ ladder of sky. Unless there are questions, we’re done. [End Page 84]
Ted Genoways is the author of two books of poems and the critical study Walt Whitman and the Civil War (University of California Press, 2009). His new book about Hormel Foods and the Great American Recession is forthcoming from HarperCollins. He has recently published essays and poems in the Atlantic, Harper’s, Kenyon Review, Mother Jones, OnEarth, Outside, and Best American Travel Writing 2010. This fall he will be a visiting reporter at the Middlebury College Program in Environmental Journalism.