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A Brief History of the Whale Fishery

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Elbow-deep in the cool white
they flayed into strips, rolling
the winnowing body

as they unraveled her
and the sharks,
smelling their work, circled

and snapped. Unlucky men
hot-stepping the planks.
Lucky men feasting on stars.

Misfits and criminals.
Whittlers, prophets, magicians, boys.
In distress, smothering in fog

or storm, they hoisted mattresses
into the crow’s nest
and set them on fire.

Goodbye sleep.
(Melville: Who are hearsed
that die on the sea?
)

If not the body itself
lit through—
if not the body

they would use
their beds, the brightest thing
to heave—

if not
the body itself
a lighthouse—

the body:
such thin skin
and gold beneath—

G

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Rachel Richardson has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Wallace Stegner program at Stanford University. She is the author of Copperhead (2011) and Hundred-Year Wave (forthcoming in 2016), both from Carnegie Mellon University Press. She is a contributing editor at Memorious, and currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Feature image by Kaspar Kägi.

Click on the image to enlarge.

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