Copyright 2013 Society Nineteen. Website designed by Bookstrategy and hosted on Homestead.
​Where we are now, it is daylight nearly
all the time. The luminous moon
gleams like a polished, washed-up stone
for an hour or two, then vanishes.

In sunlight the water's ruffled surface
reaches into infinity. We glimpse
vessels at a distance every day,
too far away to speak.


Several weeks at sea and still
the whales elude us. The men grow restless,
their voices seep through my cabin door.
My husband steers us to deeper waters.

The sailors are all friendly, though I
am instructed not to speak with them.
They bring me bouquets from foreign shores,
strange blossoms that quickly pale.


The sky above our deck is filled 
with black wheels of birds that circle us
in utter silence, all.
The geranium I brought from home

has failed; I am planting orange seeds
so I may have something growing.
In this feeble wisp of wind
the ship's sails flap like torn wings.


I amuse myself with solitaire,
write letters that will never be sent.
On fair days I engage in washing
the smell of the ocean from my clothes.

A shore bird flew on deck today,
a pretty thing, which they caught for me.
I have turned my workbasket into a cage.
I wait for him to sing.


Whales in abundance, rising to breathe.
Near sunset, lowered the boats again
and brought to shipside a mother and calf.
The Harvest reels like a drunken man.

I wanted to ask which one was struck first
but didn't. All the men are cutting in,
their knives glinting in sunrise.
I drift inside a thin mist of grease.


Islands speckle the far horizon
near Archangel Gabriel Bay.
Nothing in sight that lives.
Had a stomach-ache for three days

and kept to my bed. My husband attends
to the trembling hand of his compass.
Saw a volcano covered with snow,
smoke stealing from its mouth.


We suffer much from foggy weather,
my husband suffers from want of whales.
At night he wears his spectacles
like deadlights in a gale.

Nothing of importance occurred today.
The moon is a palm-print on grizzled sky
and I am growing strong. My hair
still carries the scent of boiling whale.


Beneath the unbroken roof of clouds
it is calm as a clock. I try to count
but the days escape me, each one
like the next. I thirst like never before.

We sail with a capricious breeze
for Siberia and rumors of whales.
My husband turns his eye on the distance.
We are making our way towards ice.

Back to previous poem                                                                
Poet and playwright Jennifer O'Grady received her B.A. from Vassar College and her M.F.A. from the Columbia University School of the Arts. Her poems have been published in journals including Harper's and The New Republic, collected in the volume White (Mid-List Press), and featured on The Writer's Almanac. Be sure to read the Society Nineteen interview with Jennifer about her play Charlotte's Letters, upcoming in the January 19 issue. Find out more about Jennifer and her work at her website hereGeography, Traces, and Water Journal reprinted from White and © Jennifer O'Grady;  special thanks to The Southern Review, where Geography first appeared.
by Jennifer O'Grady