Collapsible Animal by Alicia Hoffman

Collapsible Animal
How we saw the female whale circling figure eights
in the river that snaked its way through a bursting
verdant land near the coast of Oregon. How we took

too many photographs, were disappointed none came out
the way we had hoped. How they in no way framed
the largess of the belly, not to mention the expanse

of the fanning tail. How we later read in Klamath papers
the whale did not swim more than a day longer till
it beached and baked in the scorched sun of a long August

far from the salt it wanted. How in stillness it is impossible
to glimpse the rush of movement the spraying water
brings to the surface any collapsible animal must feel

surging like blood through the veins on the days we bear
witness to a beauty so surprisingly out of place we can only
shrug and lift the darkness from our skin to splay and pierce

the frigidity of this foreign air. How some days we are a prayer
answered. How we are peopled here as the folding of hands,
standing even now on the metal grid of a bridge in a country

so far from our own.  How even here there is an invisible
something swimming through the blood, with us even
on that hidden beach in Big Sur, the one where the stones

thrust their monuments of geology straight from the briny surf
and I searched all afternoon for a starfish I never found and
the surfer out on the waves was so remarkably young.

With us even as we piled the pink skin of the pickled radish
onto steaming tortas pollo off the truck on La Brea.
All the strange offerings.  Intestine.  Heart.  Tongue.

How later we weathered a storm as the Pacific came out
of the clouds so instantaneously the lightening blew
the darkness from our sight like a camera flash before

the rains came and upturned bathtubs upon our bodies.
How we used to sing a child’s game – closed palms,
intertwined fingers.  Here is the steeple.  Here all the people.

How there was no meaning in the verse – just a joy circling
a dizzy planet of youth.  How the whale circled and spun
in the dizzy figure eight of its own losing. How I wonder

if pleasure in the new air of the freshwater can be found
even as it slows and exhausts every recourse for finding
the way back to breathe.  How we never know the meaning

of the rose even as we ring ourselves around it.  Ashes
to ashes.  Dust to dust. How when the sky is burning a boy
can hang a lapel of posey onto his blouse before swimming

into an ocean of his own drowning.  How we know the ending
to every story.  How we become giddy with the telling of it – just
listen to our voices rise and lift and quicken our very own falling.

About the Poet
Alicia Hoffman is originally from Pennsylvania,  but now lives, writes, and teaches in Rochester, New York. Author of “Like Stardust in the Peat Moss”(Aldrich Press, 2013), her poems have appeared in a variety of journals, including Tar River Poetry, A-Minor Magazine, Redactions: Poetry and Poetics, Camroc Press Review, Rust + Moth, and elsewhere. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Poetry at the Rainier Writing Workshop.