everybody asleep in the back
on the way back

do the longest animals really
have the largest memory is the most
capacious memory the best

what do we want to bury
or throw
under acres of ocean
how can we know
what to keep

before we encountered our first
wide plane flat sky
flat plane wide sky
punctuated with agitated
light like a spill

or tesselation flat
plane wide sky
its thousand harmless versions of just one

cold thing its saline
mirror of the faraway
white sun
the skipper stopped
us dead and we watched
two tall crew
members haul

out nets to dredge
a tangle of bright
cerise scarlet
emerald and
potentially fatal human-
launched balloons

we promise to lay low
in future to throw
only parties that do not
endanger the others
will we
keep our promise soon



If you approach the surface
calmly and early enough
on a breezy day like today,

you might see them go by.
Long ago they would stay
for hours in their huge metallic

shells with fin-sized bolts,
some trailing chains as thick
as an estuary eel;

they would gather at the tip
of each shell, and all look out
as if to say goodbye

to a wave, or to a cloud,
or to ice, which your
great-aunt may still remember.

Now all their shells are made
from bones of fallen trees;
for steering and propulsion, they

carve branches, which they dip
into the sea, then pull back,
two at a time, like so.

Sometimes they grunt or hiss
while propelling themselves,
almost as we do when

we begin to grieve.
The woven grids they keep
affixed to the largest shells

work like baleen, although
much coarser: they secure
sea grapes, sea lettuce, kelp

and bladderwrack, the basis
of their diet, which they augment
with herring or capelin.

Take care not to swim too fast
or rise too close; some shells
flip over easily,

and their ability
to dive is surprisingly
limited, although

it varies considerably.
They cannot hurt us,
though long ago they could.

If you stay nearly silent
long enough, you might
be able to hear their chirps

and specks—a work song, perhaps,
or one of the greetings or
warnings they emit at the upper

limits of our hearing.
Your calves will likely have
more luck than you.




The nearest swaths of ocean spin
              in opposite directions, like
a lazy susan, like a set
               of counterweights. The last
ones tumbled and spun; these are so still
               it is as if they were waiting

for us to go first. If there is
               an arc to
the centuries, it is the rainbow barely
               visible in our boat’s
penumbra or conundrum of pale spray,
               and below it the froth

a working engine has to generate,
               its continuously inchoate, very low
signal-to-noise ratio like the churn
               of history from below. How little
we learn,
               how often we think the struggle for anything good

takes place apart from privilege,
               a reason to hold another party or
lecture, to look up with our
               sun-attuned and painstakingly
focused binoculars. We should
               have been watching our wake.



Stephanie (who also goes by Steph and Stephen) Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor. Her latest book, Advice from the Lights: Poems, was published in October 2017 and is available here