Nights, when I can't sleep, I listen to the sea lions
barking from the rocks off the lighthouse.
I look out the black window into the black night
and think about fish stirring the oceans.
Muscular tuna, their lunge and thrash
churning the water, whipping up a squall,
storm of hunger. Herring cruising,
river of silver in the sea, wide as a lit city.
And all the small breaths: pulse
of frilled jellyfish, thrust of squid,
frenzy of krill, transparent skin glowing
green with the glass shells of diatoms.
Billions swarming up the water column each night,
gliding down at dawn. They're the greased motor
that powers the world. Shipping heat
to the Arctic, hauling cold to the tropics,
currents unspooling around the globe.
My room is so still, the bureau lifeless,
and on it, inert, the paraphernalia of humans:
keys, coins, shells that once rocked in the tides--
opalescent abalone, pearl earrings.
Only the clock's sea green numerals
register their little changes. And shadows
the moon casts—fan of maple branches--
tick across the room. But beyond the cliffs
a blue whale sounds and surfaces, cosmic
ladle scooping the icy depths. An artery so wide,
I could swim through into its thousand-pound heart.

*   *   *   *

Ellen Bass's poetry books include The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press) and Mules of Love (BOA Editions). Among her awards are the Lambda Literary Award, New Letters Poetry Prize, the Larry Levis Prize from Missouri Review, and the Pablo Neruda Prize fromNimrod. She teaches in the MFA poetry program at Pacific University.


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