Dr. Dawg


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As a respite from my usual fare, here’s something completely different. I spent decades tracking down a poem that was read one morning on CBC and possessed my imagination off and on ever since. I called the Ottawa studio to ask who wrote it and where it had appeared, and I was told it had been published in something called the Carleton Miscellany, was by someone Bates, and that I should never phone the studio again.

There were no easily accessible computers back then. When the World Wide Web finally became a household reality, I began to look around. For some reason I had gained the impression that it was a Canadian poem, despite the New York references, and indeed there was a Canadian poet named Ronald Bates, but no luck there. I kept trying keywords, but nothing happened until a few months ago. There were the archives of the Carleton Miscellany, which turned out to be an acclaimed literary magazine published by Carleton College in Minnesota. I searched on “Bates,” and—I found his full name, Scott Bates, but as for the poem, there it was, gone. There had been some sort of copyright issue, apparently, and so all that appeared was a blank page.

But armed with his name, I was able to find a blog by his son, Robin, worth looking at in its own right, and the poem, too. We exchanged a few pleased comments. I had to explain what the CBC was. I’m still wondering how the poem ever came to be read on the CBC-Ottawa morning show. But no matter. Here is is, reprinted by permission. I hope you find it as perfectly turned, joyful and fantastic (in the word’s original sense) as I still do. —DD


Whales have a tendency to move heavily
On land it’s all that blubber
Keeps Whales from skipping down the street like little girls
Or balls of rubber

For if by chance a Whale you should encounter
Down Madison Avenue
On the first day of Spring

You would perhaps be reminded of The New York Public Library
Trundling through the park
On a midsummer’s eve surrounded by children
Or of Noah’s Ark

Or of the Pennsylvania Station
But if you should become a Gull
Drifting quietly over the Antarctic Ocean
Illimitable and cool

You would see Whales below like Swallows dance
Like Swallows on a pond
They would skip off lightly across the green water
And soar without a sound

~Scott Bates, 1962

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on July 9, 2014 12:12 PM.

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