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Visitation

by
 When I heard he had entered the harbor,
and circled the wharf for days,
I expected the worst: shallow water,

confusion, some accident to bring
the young humpback to grief.
Don't they depend on a compass lodged in the salt-flooded folds of the brain, some delicate musical mechanism to navigate their true course? How many ways, in our century's late iron hours, might we have led him to disaster? That, in those days, was how I'd come to see the world: dark upon dark, any sense of spirit an embattled flame sparked against wind-driven rain till pain snuffed it out.
I thought, This is what experience gives us , and I moved carefully through my life while I waited.
.
.
Enough, it wasn't that way at all.
The whale —exuberant, proud maybe, playful, like the early music of Beethoven— cruised the footings for smelts clustered near the pylons in mercury flocks.
He (do I have the gender right?) would negotiate the rusty hulls of the Portuguese fishing boats —Holy Infant, Little Marie— with what could only be read as pleasure, coming close then diving, trailing on the surface big spreading circles until he'd breach, thrilling us with the release of pressured breath, and the bulk of his sleek young head —a wet black leather sofa already barnacled with ghostly lice— and his elegant and unlikely mouth, and the marvelous afterthought of the flukes, and the way his broad flippers resembled a pair of clownish gloves or puppet hands, looming greenish white beneath the bay's clouded sheen.
When he had consumed his pleasure of the shimmering swarm, his pleasure, perhaps, in his own admired performance, he swam out the harbor mouth, into the Atlantic.
And though grief has seemed to me itself a dim, salt suspension in which I've moved, blind thing, day by day, through the wreckage, barely aware of what I stumbled toward, even I couldn't help but look at the way this immense figure graces the dark medium, and shines so: heaviness which is no burden to itself.
What did you think, that joy was some slight thing?

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