Jennifer Whalen


When I move through night, I carry
a seashell in my pocket. It is good

to have a delicate thing to protect.
It is like dawn brushing night

away in bluish streaks but much lighter.
If you try to photograph it, the blue

looks pale & sickly & suddenly
it’s morning. There is some scheme bigger

than I’ll ever reach that decides if I dance
tonight. A spiraled whale’s bone

hangs from my neck on thick, black string;
it symbolizes infinity, but I won’t ask it

to stand for that. Our world is not a top,
yet I believe in its spins. Sometimes

I spin much faster than the world.
I wear billowy dresses so the world

can see. Unless the gifts you gifted
are smaller than an envelope,

I don’t have them. It’s a space I gave myself
with limits at a time when I needed

limits. Our city is sliced
with train tracks. We call downtown

the center, but it’s just a phrase
to feel cradled in canopies

of noisy lights. There are no archives
for people like us. If I meet you here,

I’ll have no method to separate you
from any given walker. I can’t tell you how

to get here—it would be
too risky—but you’ll get there.


So like the delicate setting
of a picnic blanket in the sun,
the bright dining room hushed

to a dim-lit corridor.
Patrons slid off their heels, smeared bare feet
against legs beneath tablecloths.

I don’t know why our sex breathes
in shadows. Yes, exceptions abound.
Somewhere there’s a meadow

where people love in the sun,
maybe. But that room had robbed time
of time—strange, I know,

but I needed the sunset-splayed
brawny yawn across day; the sun
sliding down, slow-down,

until it halos some hill. I tried
to pretend love waited in this—forking
an Alaskan fish, my eyes just shy

of refusing eye contact.
It is too much to have a body,
to monitor its functions

so on luck-lustered nights
it meets another body—a toast!
to pat fork against glass

while expanding my throat:
I had this grand feeling something
grand should happen, but

the waiter waltzed round
lighting candles as if silent ceremony
followed next. The evening kept on

flickering shoddy evening
when I imagined myself moving—
faint figure on a dense floor

drifting deeply to melody,
sweat-peppered skin; how glorious we can be
when only vague-fractions.

If I leave now, go
west away enough, it may still be dark
when I get there.

Hours trickled as our shoes spun circles
off the porch’s wooden beams. Still,
when the night sky fissured into pale light streaks
the way growth accumulates with no notice,
I was startled. And when it stayed this musty haze
for distances, we held our voices
in the bold tone of retirement; our bodies
sloping towards the deck’s exit.

And since we weren’t granted our usual rites
of leaving or being left—wrapping scarves
about our necks or blankets in our bed,
there was no need to recollect.
The sky wasn’t static like a photograph;
it replenished itself in sips: fresh grazes
on new rifts. This lingering became a lodging;
this lodging, a state of being. A time still near us,
petty parts slivered from me as we talked,
like clapping dry clay from hands: here,
it is clean again. But in the everending night,
these flakes find dwelling. Actions long memory,
to cabin somewhere cool & lasting
even if far flung from the self.

I didn’t realize then with layers of light
interrupting night, my hands
in my pockets, oh what time, the time,
but I may never love what lacks potential
for farewell. I couldn’t crumple inside a thing
the way the faithful do. Yet I trusted
that sky would break way to day.
Because I want to believe in rhythm,
because it’s rendered in the stars, because
I still haven’t found a fitting place to receive you.


Jennifer Whalen is Texas State University’s 2015-2016 writer-in-residence at the L.D. & LaVerne Harrell Clark House in Smithville, Texas. She served as the poetry editor for Front Porch Journal, and her poems can be found or are forthcoming in Gulf Coast, New South, Fugue, & elsewhere. She currently teaches college English.