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03.28.07
Is It Twice as Big?
We’d just gotten up.
We’d washed our faces. 
Sky-blue mugs of coffee. 


 




People who say they could watch fire all 
day, or ripples on water—this I cannot 
understand. 

Now, waiting for a whale— 


 




The Dutch legacy of whaling. 
The Japanese. 

He stood under the blue whale’s 
skeleton, each bone “adopted” by a local 
scrimshaw gallery or life insurance agent, 
the dinghy-sized jaws held apart by 
brackets. 


 




Chilly day. The front-desk computer, a 
desert-theme screensaver. An antique 
well of ink. 



 




I’d read something about all this. 
A very long time ago. 


 




Through the tall, modern plate-glass 
windows, we looked at the streets, 
maintained in cobblestone to suit 
touristic strolling. Imagine how long the 
entire whale might have been.
 Gulls on slate 
roofs keened icily away from us, toward 
us. Would it fit in this room?


 




She filled in the blank in the children’s 
guide. The sentence began, 
“Immediately, the crew … ” 

Later, in the coatroom, she threw the 
guide away. 


 




Throat spade removes baleen. Gouge spade 
attaches hooks to blubber. 


 




We were not warm-water types. We were 
strict. That is why we found the image of 
a whale being peeled of its blubber 
spirally, like an apple, so engrossing. 


 




A forest of masts from the observation 
deck. 

Ice blooming on the sides. 


 




“Surf or turf?” he asked. 


 




She had described me, in her typically 
thoughtless way, as generic. So I finished 
Moby-Dick out of spite, went on to win 
the essay contest for eleventh-graders, 
and rode the bus up here to New 
Bedford, Massachusetts, to collect my 
reward. 


 




I like sperm whales: They are easily angered.


 




It was my aunt who donated the first of 
the whalebone swifts, which they used to 
use for winding up yarn, you see. And 
my aunt’s was a very fine example. Now 
you have every old biddy in town 
wanting to vomit her attic onto the 
doorstep. Ridiculous. 


 




Baleen drying on the wharves is twice a man’s 
height, and unruly as grass gone to seed. 


 




Welcome aboard the Lagoda, the world’s 
largest whaleship model.
 A little wary of the 
half-scale headroom, he made himself 
finger the copper vats that boiled 
blubber into oil, and he said to himself 
how much he admired the roses of rope. 


 




As such, we were novices. But we did 
have many paintings of ships. 


 




Find the tools that helped the whalemen [     ] 
the whale. 

Select one whale and [     ] the sounds it makes.



 




The males “sing” with their tails pointed 
upward and their heads toward the floor of the 
ocean. 

To me it seemed sadly improbable that 
the young woman at the desk was a 
descendent of Melville. 

People used to stand on whales’ tongues. 


 




He was grateful, as they read about the 
heyday of whaling in New Bedford, that 
she did not make any comment about 
the “widows’ walks.” He patted her 
shoulder. 


 




The males “sing” only in the winter.


 




She tapped a fingernail on the suitcase-
sized VERTEBRA #12. She had spindly 
legs in pink. She looked at herself in the 
reflective display case. Her shape 
overlaid that of an anonymous sailor-made
model,
 with its complicated rigging, 
meticulously reproduced. 


 




Reverential music under the aerial film of 
three whales gliding barely under the 
water’s surface. Photos of the carcasses 
stripped of blubber, beheaded, unleashed 
from the ship and left to bob away, 
staining the sea. Film of whale-oil flame: 
it is “smokeless.” 


 




Sperm whales have been observed with 
huge suction scars on their skin, and 
enormous tentacles have been found 
half-digested in their stomachs. Why is 
this considered only “indirect proof” 
that they battle giant squid? 


 




There was one drawing I loved, of 
Ishmael looking down a narrow street in 
New Bedford, on one of the year’s 
longest nights, down to the inky harbor 
below, a ship’s spearlike prow darkly 
slicing the frame, the sky as dozens of 
carefully drawn parallel lines … 


 




You light its lamps, you slick down its 
gears, but the world forgets. 

Lonely, on the sound. 


 




She is not a captain’s wife. 

He is not a harpooner. 

I am not turning my life into a novel. 


 




Scrimshaw is the art of carving on 
whalebone. But scrimshaw tools are 
themselves made of bone. 

 




From the tall churchlike windows, 
afternoon light as grey as old wool 
moved across the deck of the 
reconstructed ship. We looked at a 
toggle iron twisted by the movements of 
a fighting whale. And we were bored in 
our heads. 


 




Silver spade. Pike.

The eye of the whale.