Michael Johnson: "Once a Whaling Station"



Wind rakes the waves, throttles to a howl.
Whales once ushered salmon here, crooning
their moody music through the murk,
sounding the kelp colonies to confusion.
Taxonomy barely noticed how they breached
and blew, obviously, our same air.
Conehusks, flotsam, weeds and birdscat,
clothe this beach once blazoned with bone.
’20’s émigrés camped here: Chinese, Japanese,
unmixed beyond this bloodwine terroir
where grapples slung the carcasses.
Some carted flensed hunks to the tryworks
where others, garbed in the burnbarn’s rendering
stink, fed the firehouse spines, tarsals, jailbar ribs.
What must they have sung to while the tedium—
what canted shanties of sharking old seas
to woo their fatigue away?
What rorqualsongs salted their circadian cores
while they’d knead and unfist around evening fires,
pipe smoke at stars, cinch their blankets closer
at wind bawling in the tree peaks,
the station stones even then forgetting their names?


Michael Johnson's poetry has appeared in The Fiddlehead, Queen's Quarterly, and Mid-American Review, among others. He works as a wine consultant in Vancouver, BC.