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Oil Portrait (Blubber & Bone)


gasoline tank, Chicago train ("EL") bolts 

18" x 12" x 8"

Sperm Oil

Yusef Komunyayaa

Housed in a boom of blubber
& bone, harpooned six times,
the giant grew into a dynamo
hitched to six taut rope-lines
skipping the boat across waves
toward the blurry lighthouse.

It bled out a long silence
but men in oilskins labored
with hydraulics of light
on water, walked its flank,
& tore it down to a storeroom
of Nantucket scrimshaw.

Ballast stone or sledge?
They bashed in the skull
& lowered down the boy
to haul up buckets of oil
for candles that burned
a slow, clean, white glow.

At ten, he was almost a man
whose feet sank into the waxy
muck of ambergris. His sweat
dripped into a long hour.
Big as a barrel, the head
echoed a temple nave.

Source: Poetry (January 2016)

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