“Whalebone” by Jennifer Woolard
“Whalebone” by Jennifer Woolard

Winner of the 2019 Undergraduate MoRe Prize

By the time we’d uncovered the whalebone our legs were already thorned
dusted, turning indigo with evening.
The afternoon spent running, spent tunneling
through the eucalyptus that hung in the windless air.
Your hands were still balmed with sagebrush, still stained
with the sea figs we’d opened too early
when you asked me what it meant to be kept.
What it meant to be corked, to be pressed
to be hung at the window.

When we met you told me
about the river in your neighborhood.
How you’d jump from the moss-covered cliffs into that water,
that someday you’d live off those pearlblack
brambles by the fork, said
Wouldn’t you give everything
for a life so clean and right?

I remember those dreams, those nights spent
in the halo of a pull-string lampshade,
your hands around the guitar, closing your lashed eyes in the almostlight
where I’m sitting at the edge of the sofa
holding my breath, counting the pinecones and snail-shells
on my dresser, imagining a symmetry to the world
where I am without things , window-struck
with that heartache for groves and riverbeds.

So I’m holding one end of the whalebone
and you’re holding the other.
Me, as if clinging to it, that stretch of white
between you and me and a few months of uncertainty.
You ask me what’s keeping us from casting it back to the sea,
this animal thing, brined, burned brown with bubbly fat.
And for a moment I see you in the river
immaculate, Juned
all your keepings strewn at the edge of the water, looking
at me, waiting to let go.



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