The National Poetry Review

Holly Karapetkova

SPOTTING THE WHALE

I have lived where whales live—
off the southern tip of an island,
just beyond the shore of a peninsula.

I have taken boats far on the water,
stared hours into the sunset,
waves rippling out before me
gentle as a furrowed field
or large enough to knock a fishing boat under

and never have I seen a whale, not one
round roll of a head, not a single
spout blowing saltwater into the air.

My eyes follow every white patch
in the current, every black break
in a ripple—always just a trick of shadow,
a large fish too close to sunlight.

Whale, someone shouts
from the other side of the ship—
but by the time I reach the stern
it has disappeared.

You’ll say I don’t know what
I’m looking for or how to look
though I have watched a hundred films
read every book with the name

still unable to spot what swims beside me,
beneath me, so close I could call it
familiar.


HOLLY KARAPETKOVA’s poetry, prose, and translations from the Bulgarian have appeared recently in Alaska Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, RHINO, and many other places. Her second book is Towline (Cloudbank Books).

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