Bruce Snider

The Blue Whale Has The Largest Heart Of Any Living Creature

Big as a car, it weighs nearly a ton.
A human child could stand head high
inside the chambers, crawling through
the valves. The child could burrow
to stare up at the heart’s ceiling, the curve
of ventricle, architecture of artery
and vein. If the child paused, he might
smell the ocean, hear waves crash
and feel like Jonah in prayer or a boy
talking to shadows in Plato’s cave.
Awake to the animal breathing, the lungs’
vast bellow, the thundering ribs
and spine, he could touch his hand
to the walls, the same walls that beat
only six times a minute—slowing further
when the whale surfaces, to five, then four.
A blue whale’s heart is a wet muscle
that can hold a child, who, when kneeling
in the flesh might move the way
he’d move through the attic of his boyhood
home, turning to touch the blood-flush
as if touching a hearth where the fire
wavers. He might see a nest of veins
and imagine the tree branches outside
his bedroom window alive with
squirrels and wild birds, or see leaves
tangled in his mother’s hair, the star charts
of an ancient people he’d never know.
If a boy stood in a blue whale’s heart,
he could make a silence of its beating, a roof
of its speed, a floor of its gentle nature.
He could feel the depths and move
in a darkness few men see, the beast
heaving around him, all shuddering
breath, bone and muscle, even when
it was dying, beached, twitching
on the sand. And the child could go
on living in the massive heart to wake
each day to flies, the creature’s rot,
having made a home of its vanishing.
He could carve his name into the walls
and call it his own, and walk the floors
and kneel before he slept, bending
as men do to ask forgiveness, blessing
the sick, the poor, the hungry, blessing
his mother and father, praying each
night to the one silence, which is God.

Bruce Snider is the author of the poetry collections, Paradise, Indiana, winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize, and The Year We Studied Women, winner of the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry. His poems have appeared in American Poetry ReviewKenyon Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Threepenny Review, and Best American Poetry 2012. A former Wallace Stegner fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, he’s currently an assistant professor at the University of San Francisco.