Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Ambition by Tess Gallagher

We had our heads down
baiting hooks—three wild salmon
already turned back that morning
for the in-season hatchery silvers
now out there somewhere
counting their luck—when
under our small boat the sea
gave a roll like a giant turning over
in sleep, lifting us so high I thought
an ocean liner or freighter had
slipped up on us, the sudden heft
of its bow-wave, our matchstick toss
to depth we’d taken
for granted in order to venture there
at all. But when I looked up expecting
collision, the quash of water from their
blowholes pushed to air in unison,
a pair of gray whales not two hundred
yards away: “Look up!” I shouted so you
didn’t miss the fear-banishing
of their passage that made
nothing of us. Not even death could touch
any mind of us. It was all beauty and
mystery, the kind that picks you up
effortlessly and darts through you
for just those moments
you aren’t even there. Held that way
and their tons-weight bodies plunged
silently under again, I turned for proof
to you, but the clarity was passing through
as a swell under us again and the sky of the sea
set us down like a toy.
And that’s the way it was, and it wasn’t
any other way—just looking at each other,
helpless one thought and huge with power
the next. We baited up,
dropped our herring into slack water—
two ghosts fishing for anything but whales.

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