The Walrus at Coney Island
He lumbers into view at 2:15
Precisely, by a long-confirmed routine,
And barking hoarsely, slowly hoists himself
Into position on the rocky shelf
Where lunch is served—a shambling, bald, obese
Old man in slippers, knowing no release
Will come from jostling kids who crane and shriek
While harried parents smile. He’s made to speak
For smelt and herring, which he gobbles whole
With comic slurps. His upturned face—the droll
Mustache and beard, the mournful bovine eyes—
Seem out of keeping with his giant size,
The dead, trapped power of the massive tail
Scraped audibly across the stone. The pail
Soon emptied, and the task of eating done,
His strength gives way: he crumples in the sun,
His skin an old tarpaulin’s mottled brown.
Then, when the handler gives the order—Down!,—
And gestures to the pool, we catch our breath;
So perfectly he holds the pose of death,
We half-believe he’ll never move again.
Once more the order’s given. Only then
He stirs and lifts his head, heaving his wrecked
Resistant body wearily erect
And lunges as directed to the ledge,
Pausing to peer an instant from the edge.
All watchers gasp together as he dives,
The clumsy forefins clever now as knives,
The dark head bobbing in the dazzling spray
Of sun-shot water, like a child’s at play.
So this is what he is, has always been:
A gleaming, sleekly muscled submarine,
Lithe as a dancer, roguish as a boy,
Corkscrewing downward with what looks like joy.
Free Time, Robert L. Barth, publisher, ©
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