Two poems from Benjamin Dombroski’s Murmur
followed by a note on the author
White Noise Machine: Whales
The whales are moving northward together
from their calving grounds in the gulf.
Calves with the larger ones, like flaws
In a sheet of glass—small fissures
that leak a kind of deeper light.
They cover thirty miles a day
like that, to where my father writes
he’s spotted a pod of them
from the hill above the place he’s rented
in Wellfleet. All summer, he says,
they’ll come to feed on haddock
and squid before heading south again
to breed. It’s the most I’ve heard in months:
whales tracing the coast—sea-isles,
capes and bays that lie between us.
In the other room, my daughter
lies in her crib, and through the monitor
I listen to the noise machine
she needs to sleep loop the whistles
and clicks, pulsed calls that give each
a shape in the others’ minds. She’s down now,
and I’m the restless one, crossing
and re-crossing the hall to watch
her breathing in the dark. It’s late.
A heat already hangs on the night,
and even the insects have abandoned
their choruses between street lights
in the alleys. I listen again
at the door to her breathing as if
underwater—like a diver sent down
in her bell to explore a wreck,
salvage whatever there is of worth.
As the traffic eased along its banks
and terraces filled, the river spoke again
in its deliberate way to the light
leaning in over the Moravian hills.
And the light grew shy. After an hour
in the style of couples at last call,
or even after last call, lingering
over a cigarette in the street, the light
was gone. Just the blackness of the river then,
and the lesser blackness of the city
lying down beneath its thin spread of stars.
In the morning I had to go home,
and you, east. And all that had happened
between us, I guess, was nothing.
Or began to take the form of nothing:
distance, and finally, silence. I had
a flight to catch, and you, a bus through
resurrected Dresden, then along
the green flank of Poland to the fields
outside Krakow, where miners once cut
from an underground vein of salt
their gleaming cathedral. You told me that,
after going down the hundreds of feet,
you find at the bottom of the mine-shaft
a floor polished to smoked glass beneath
the barrel vault. Niches, altars, and all
the apostles in their poses of shame
or bewilderment; the descent, you said,
is not like dying, not really, though a kind
of treason anyway to a world
that has asked so little of you. For centuries,
the men sent down by dukes to do
the worst kind of work, to die in the darkness
down there, turned their tools to shaping those figures.
And because even their beauty can’t hide
this—the suffering and exhaustion
of the miners—because even the way
Thomas examines the wounded hand of Christ
is less like a man examining the hand
of his savior than of a friend who’s wounded
and therefore ruined for good, you feel
like an unwelcome guest among them,
indecent for even wanting to see.
Outside my window, the snow,
after a heavy few hours, is tapering.
And my daughter
is finishing the igloo she’s worked at
all afternoon in the meticulous way
she does everything these days—filling
bread-pans with soft-pack and pressing out snow-bricks
like a snow mason, smoothing the chinks
with a garden trowel. The last big flakes spin down
through the night like stars coming unmoored
from the universe—a river of darkness
scudding by above the capital
of the little empire of light she’s made
in the yard. I think of the river
that was briefly ours, the lights
of the city in its dark plumage,
how it seemed to deepen that night, but remained
the same river. At last you told me
of the water beneath the mine, the depthless lake
that’s beginning now
to take it all back: nave and apse, sacristy,
and the altar itself, the high table
where the body of a god is broken.
Benjamin Dombroski earned an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and currently lives in Savannah, GA, where he teaches English and writes. Dombroski’s work has appeared in numerous journals, including Best New Poets 2009 (edited by Kim Addonizio), The Gettysburg Review, and Poetry Ireland.
“White Noise Machine: Whales” first appeared in Poetry Ireland and “Cathedral” first appeared in The Gettysburg Review.