The Whale in the Blue Washing Machine
By John Haines
There are depths even in a household
where a whale can live. . . .
His warm bulk swims from room
to room, floating by on the stairway,
searching the drafts, the cold
currents of water and liberation
He comes to the surface hungry,
sniffs at the table,
and sinks, his wake rocking the chairs.
His pulsebeat sounds at night
when the washer spins and the dryer
clanks on stray buttons. . . .
Alone in the kitchen darkness,
looking through steamy windows
at the streets draining away in fog;
watching and listening
for the wail of an unchained buoy,
the steep fall of his wave
Have you ever heard a whale song? It’s a long, low, moaning; strange and alien, melancholy and beautiful. For me, this poem is a whale song. It’s a song of soft pauses (like the enjambment of “from room/to room”) and quiet consonants (warm, water, wake, washer, windows, watching, wail, wave). It’s a whale song of the still loneliness of nighttime, and the tautness you can feel even when the whole house is asleep. It’s a whale song about the way things might feel strange and surreal at those late hours, the way you might feel like you are swimming underwater, the strange significance of ordinary things when the routine of the day falls apart and you are alone exploring familiar spaces. There is an aching and yearning in this poem for something unnamed, for a release of the tension built by the drafts, stray buttons, chairs, and fogged streets. But we aren’t released; we, and the whale, are left waiting. We feel like the whale that has completed his song and is waiting: for a response, for an interaction, for a result. We are trapped at the crest of the wave, waiting forever for the “steep fall.”
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