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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.


Catherine Tufariello



From Free Time, Robert L. Barth, publisher, © 2001;
first printed in The Hudson Review.  Reprinted by
permission of the author.

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