for Allen Here, on the farthest point of the peninsula The winter storm Off the Atlantic shook the schoolhouse. Mrs. Whitimore, dying Of tuberculosis, said it would be after dark Before the snowplow and bus would reach us. She read to us from Melville. How in an almost calamitous moment Of sea hunting Some men in an open boat suddenly found themselves At the still and protected center Of a great herd of whales Where all the females floated on their sides While their young nursed there. The cold frightened whalers Just stared into what they allowed Was the ecstatic lapidary pond of a nursing cow's One visible eyeball. And they were at peace with themselves. Today I listened to a woman say That Melville might Be taught in the next decade. Another woman asked, "And why not?" The first responded, "Because there are No women in his one novel." And Mrs. Whitimore was now reading from the Psalms. Coughing into her handkerchief. Snow above the windows. There was a blue light on her face, breasts and arms. Sometimes a whole civilization can be dying Peacefully in one young woman, in a small heated room With thirty children Rapt, confident and listening to the pure God rendering voice of a storm.
from: The Mercy Seat: New and Selected Poems 1967-2000. Copyright 2000.