Almost my favorite lines

during the whole Melvillian winter of hearing him,

not him exactly, but some guy reading him aloud,

mile after mile, and he really did Ishmael justice,

on our long drives home from the valley,

where my favorite lines came at the end

of that interminable chapter on cetological systems,

the nomenclature of whale conformation,

every corner and cranny delved most thoroughly,

as we drove home day after day, the voice instructing

through the long sea voyage, while we lived

through a nearly biblical drought, the air outside yellow,

the winter hills brown when they should have blazed forth

in tourmaline, the sun a sullen, muted lump.

We wondered about him, our guide, not just our reader,

but Ishmael, our faithful teacher, winding down

from the sperms, the killers, the humpbacks,

the tail fin, the baleen, the quality of oils, and he saying,

God keep me from completing anything. And then he saying

or what we heard him say,

that long drive home from the valley was that this is a draft

of a draft. But once home and delving the pages, I see

it’s spelled draught of a draught, before flipping

the pages to learn it’s a variant of draft. And so then,

apprised of the tenuous nature of language, I’ve inhaled

the flavor, taken in the draught, the whole measure,

the full scent of his words.


© Helen Wickes