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National Poetry Month – Fordham Poem of the Day

Saint Melville (by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell)
Wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable;
deep memories yield no epitaphs.” Moby-Dick
Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx

Is this what you were called to, still pilgrim,
to sleep beneath six small feet of earth?

A scroll unrolled across your headstone
unengraved: the whiteness of the whale?

Is this the dumb blankness full of meaning
Ishmael fought and found at the end?

Or is it pure chance, Queequeg’s oaken sword
struck blunt across the warped Loom of Time?

A paradox and pleasure to find you
grounded, for now, on the leeward shore,

your own bones unmarked by any writing,
not one hieroglyph of what you’d hoped to be,

no tattoo grafted from the savage thigh,
no etching from the dead leg of Ahab.

That you should leave us silent at the last
like the mad captain taken by the sea

echoes and keeps your bitter promise,
life but a draught, unfinished and undone.

I place on your stone among the offerings—
rocks and blossoms, mute things of this earth—

a shell cleft clean by the constant tide,
the song without words she sings and sings.

(from Moving House, Word Press, 2009)

(Angela Alaimo O’Donnell is Associate Director of the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies.)


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