What I am interested in are the strategies for maintaining the silence and the strategies for breaking it.
—Toni Morrison

The picture was called The Southern Fishery,
in which a sperm whale levered out of the sea

at a shocking angle, its jaw agape,
and in the distance the white-bellied mother ship

standing off from the many-footed parasite
of men scudding and floundering in their peascod boat

toward the dark sublime and the ritual of
murder with the harpoon and flensing knife.

Day after day I passed the thrift store window:
ten dollars framed, that blunt head breaching the green billow

and no takers, the toppled rage and fear
collapsing in a welter, the thread of each oar

driving on through a low bush of spume
toward some roiling, exposed thing in me, some

disabled sense of self and intention.
And then one day I looked and it was gone,

with just a bent nail remaining in its place,
leaving me to imagine where it was.

Now I cross the street, but my eye resorts there still.
I should have bought it and turned it to the wall,

that flayed body hanging chained and slack,
the jaw that broke the sea and dared to speak.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 39 Number 7, on page 31
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