Home > Poetry > The Humpbacks—Neither Nor
Published: Thu Jul 1 2010
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
The Humpbacks—Neither Nor

Broken white lines on a blueprint, the zigzag of foam where he

_  _ scudded before he sank, trailing a singed spindrift of feathers I

almost retraced, mining the lode as deep as he fell, lured below

_  _ by his lodestone; but that magnetic boy I’d early worshipped as

a god was hollow notes plucked on ancient cliffs, his name still

_  _ vagrant, no more worthy of invading me with bronze commands

than another drowning child who rode a dolphin over the waves,

_  _ homeward to a shore I refuse to reach.  My path lies neither nor,

triumph nor defeat, lazing off a rubber Zodiac to skin-dive down

_  _ the pinnacles of Silver Bank, plunge up the abyss of coral-heads,

rubbed by the weaving rainbow-nets of angelfish, wrasses, tangs.

_  _ One night I’d seen two huddling males spyhop, jostle the mother

boat like a pair of drunken frat-men, wagging their knurled mugs

_  _ and rambling for hours in beeps, tocks, thuds, whistles and burps,

rowdies on good behavior.  I’d also known them otherwise, when

_  _ clouds zebraed the ocean white and black, three or four breaching

from the tousled brine through hoops big as the moon, struggling

_  _ to butt a ball of wind through goal-posts of sun and shade, belly-

flopping on jumbled green hills, twisting like blubbery kites.  I’d

_  _ watched a single humpback stretch his flukes aloft like palms up-

raised, the gesture unaccountable.  But then this afternoon, a calf

_  _ steals close beside me, ratcheting his pace to my sea-turtle crawl.

Each flexion of flippers and tail, each crease of naked pearl-gray,

_  _ glistens in the mask-filtered haze, baby-oiling the infant, ten-foot

trunk, his newness serene and well-met, greeting the clumsy pink

_  _ four-finny fish like a pre-school athlete shedding his bounty on a

runt, across chasms of species division, scorn, and size.  His eye,

_  _ pinched to a slit by the dazzling swell, winks at me just before he

nods, quivers and shoots ahead with a brief undulation of the tail.

_  _ And all the while the mother whale balloons to our right, her salt-

and-pepper oar dangling by a monolithic flank; here the umpteen-

_  _ wheeler escort lumbers into view, rolling square beneath me; now

my pulse slows to a halt and I sense no fear, no qualm, only ocean

_  _ condensing into time I become, a muscular, sunken island of flesh

heaving upward with a power that will never harm me, a power to

_  _ which I belong… darkness rising, light unwinding in the half-dark

language of whales, and I am light… until they vanish like ghosts.

Hoyt Rogers’s forthcoming works include Sailing to Noon, the first novel in The Caribbean Trilogy (with Artemisia Vento). He is the author of the poetry collection Witnesses and book of criticism The Poetics of Inconstancy. His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in New England Review, The Antioch Review, AGNI, The Fortnightly Review, and dozens of other publications. Rogers also translates from French, German, Italian, and Spanish. He has translated four books by Yves Bonnefoy, most recently Rome, 1630 (Seagull Books, 2020), which won the French American Foundation’s Translation Prize. He translated and edited, with Paul Auster, an anthology of poems and journal entries by André du Bouchet, Openwork (Yale University Press, 2013); and with Eric Fishman, he translated du Bouchet’s Outside (Bitter Oleander Press, 2020). (updated 10/2021)​​​​​​

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