Poem: Stillwater Cove

Ada Limón captures the agonizing wait atop coastal cliffs to catch a glimpse of the elusive whale.

stillwater cove poem, ada limón
Yuri Smityuk

It seemed a furtive magic—
sun ricocheting off cresting waves near
Stillwater Cove, the soft rock cliffs

of sandstone and clay, the wind-tilted
cypress trees leaning toward
the blue Pacific—and it was only you

that saw the whales. A migrating pod
of gray whales going northward new
calves in tow, shooting a spray of frothy

expelled water from their blowholes
and making a show of breaching
in the clear spring air off the coastline.

We’d whine that we never
caught a glimpse of a slick back or tail slap,
nary a spyhopping head raised

above the swirling surface. Too young
to look outward for long, we’d lower
our eyes toward what lived small,

the alligator lizard in the coyote bush,
the bracken fern, the orange monkey
flower, the beach fly, the earwig, the tick.

It was your trick, always a whale
as soon as our heads went down, had
to have been a lie, they’d come up

while we zeroed in on Mexican sage
or the monarch. Distracted
by the evidence of life at our feet,

we had no time for the waiting
that was required. To watch
the waves until the whales surfaced

seemed a maddening task. Now, I am
in the inland air that smells of smoke
and gasoline, the trees blown leafless by

wind. Could you refuse me if I asked you
to point again at the horizon, to tell me
something was worth waiting for?

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