poems from Andrew Sofer's The Whale Road
by a note on the author
and a mist drifts from the Fens.
I'm eight years old and standing on the downs
of Gog Magog Hill with my family.
Sunday, and my brother and I rose early
to pack our lunch and load the stuttering car.
Now we race jagged kites into the air,
a wind that tugs our fingers numb.
Our father shows us how to make them climb
and twirl like German bombers in the war.
falls over, plays dead then swallows air
to chase us screaming round and round the hill.
We make him keep on bombing us until
flop down and gaze northward toward the Wash.
I imagine stilt-legged fen-folk crossing marsh
two hundred years before, when farms were drowned.
peewits, skylarks skirl over lowlands,
Gog and Magog, sleeping giants, stretch away,
and below us are the dark woods of Wandlebury.
wander into a thick glade of beech
then circle round the grand, enormous ditch
that ancient Britons dug to build their fort.
tells how Romans tore it apart,
burning bricks from soft East Anglian clay
to mount their rounded arches toward the sky
pave the Via Devana to Haverhill.
Down the scarp and into the ditch we tumble,
tramping like soldiers through the fallen leaves
crunch beneath our feet. The barrow-graves
where Romans piled their dead lie further north,
but here we roll ourselves in rich black earth
clamber up the bank, smelling of leaf-
mould, woodsmoke, dirt, and ash. It's a relief
to shiver and find ourselves on sunlit lawn,
behind the glade and red hawthorn
for the cobbled drive. We cross the slippery bridge
and peer together over its mossy edge
hungry ducks, the sunken cricket pitch's
forget-me-not. Behind me lies the ditch
where today it is my father's shade I see,
dead leaves aside to unbury me.
Anatomy of Whales
hornlike strips inside the upper jaw
are used for corset stays. Wax ambergris
culled from intestine makes perfume fixative,
and spermaceti candles, ointments, musk
boil down from fatty acids in the head,
whose bones are carved in delicate scrimshaw.
say that dolphins call in dialects,
study in schools and mourn the loss of friends,
while pods of orcas have returned small pets
washed overboard to shore, and have been seen
gathered to rouse a mute leviathan,
buoying the body, singing to the drowned.
I dream of whales plying black ocean:
grief sounding through them like a radio
insistent in its frequency of wave,
joining the kelpies' chorus in the wake
only to let the dead weight fall below,
each note a wreathing spiracle of breath.
Andrew Sofer was born in Cambridge, England,
in 1964, and educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
Boston University and the University of Michigan, where he took
his BA, MFA and PhD, respectively. He
is an Associate Professor of English at Boston College.
Andrew has written a book of literary criticism, The Stage
Life of Props (University of Michigan Press, 2003), which
received Honorable Mention for the Barnard Hewitt Award for
Excellence in Theatre History (given by the American Society
for Theatre Research), and his poems have appeared in Southwest
Review, North American Review, Margie, The
Formalist, Dogwood, Heat City Review, Gargoyle,
The Lyric, Folio, Phoebe, Piedmont Literary
Review, Poet Lore, Poiesis, Boston College
Magazine, Anthology of New England Poets 2006, and
elsewhere. He has been the recipient of numerous prizes
and honours: the Morton Marr Prize (Southwest Review);
First Prize in the Iambs & Trochees Contest; the
Margaret Haley Carpenter Prize, The Lyric; an International
Merit Award, Atlanta Review; the Gretchen Warren Award,
Boyle/Farber Prize, and the Erika Mumford Prize from New England
Poetry Club. The Whale Road was a 2004 finalist for the
Morse Poetry Prize, the Stevens Manuscript Contest, and the
Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award.
Ring" first appeared in Southwest Review, and "The
Anatomy of Whales" first appeared in Poet Lore,
and was reprinted in Open Door: A Poet Lore Anthology, 1980-1996
(Writer's Centre Editions, Bethesda, MD, 1997).