The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Foxlogic, Fireweed by Jennifer K. Sweeney

I am driving a whale heart

In the dome of its body the blue 

whale has a heart large 

as a Honda Civic, its soft engine 

pumping throngs of blood 

in the equator deep. Whaleblood. Whaleheart.

These words open a little salt-rusted 

door in me. I want sometimes 

to sit by the wooden boy’s fire 

in the cave-belly and fold into a song 

and its forgetting. Like crawling 

into baritone sleep after the body 

exhausted from use. After 

the body I never knew 

was a mothering kind of creature. 

I have wanted to be inside the whale’s 

dream, the way the sugar ant wants 

to crawl inside my own heart and feast. 

I left home in a whale heart 

drove it through blizzards, 

off the side of the road, straight 

across the country trading coasts 

for no good reason than to change 

my life as much as I could. 

Largest heart, Deepest diver, 

your blood its own ten-ton sea,

traveling hundreds of miles a day 

in the ship of your body 

sounding your single horn 

to preserve your solitude. 

Chugging toward black rock, black hills 

and the carved-out drop of badlands, 

my offkey songs another dry slap 

against the windshield. 

Hydranths in the cloudhead, 

which current to follow in the rising dark? 

Windmills became mineral plains, 

whales floating above the salt flats. 

I ran to them but they disappeared 

in my arms. Driving my fish-heart 

into the yellow headlands’ tinderbox 

of dead grasses, the baited questions 

were already hooking my future. 

In the corner of a borrowed room, 

I dealt a haphazard astrology: 

If Perseids dripped from the eucalyptus 

If a film about tide pools was projected onto

the fog If the basin proved to be fertile 

then I’d stay in San Francisco. No memory 

anywhere in my wake. 

I think now it was not where I landed 

but the story of the leaving.

Before I knew how to be inside my life, 

rootstock in the daily, 

what I loved most was careening 

toward the idea of it, 

never the stark arrival, 

fumbling with knifed keys 

in the shadows, stepping 

over the gray pool 

of mail with its terrible small weight, 

but one foot in the swirl, 

those brief seconds of lift 

before the tide pulled me in. 

When you washed ashore, Largest

it took four men to pull the heart 

from your body, they wanted to see it 

hauled from the depths. 

It would take 640 male hearts to make yours. 

It would take the starry plough 

culled from the mountain 

to know anything about you at all. 

And then it’s ten years, twenty, 

and my body it’s been the good sea, 

though suddenly, never alone again 

so that when waiting 

in a doctor’s annual office 

I can be seized by the floodwaters— 

the canned triumph of a pop song, 

a plastic seashell in a decaying aquarium— 

the wire so easily tripped. 

When everyone is briefly accounted for

I plunge into epiphany, 

slipping out to fetch the godly bills, 

the dollar grocery papers, waxy catalogs 

that locate me across every migration 

and something in the way the domed sky 

shivers with its palpable fade 

or I am exhausted 

to the point of sheer openness, 

it returns me to the gasp 

of emerging from that car’s 

salt-rusted door at Land’s End 

shedding grain by grain 

in the surf. Cold bare feet 

on the cul-de-sac asphalt 

I crawl into my whale heart, 

pocked and peeling now, 

that place where love 

was sourced in loneliness, 

for a single breath, medicinal sip 

of beyond, licking salt 

from my fingers 

in my own private hum 

before returning 

to the buoyant voices 

the small hands reaching up 

toward their idea of mother. 

This selection comes from Foxlogic, Fireweed, available from The Backwaters Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Kimberly Ann Priest.

Jennifer K. Sweeney is the author of three other poetry collections, including Little Spells, How to Live on Bread and Music, and Salt Memory. The recipient of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and a Pushcart Prize, she teaches at the University of Redlands in California. Twitter: @jksweeneypoet

Kimberly Ann Priest is the author of Slaughter the One Bird (Sundress 2021), Parrot Flower (Glass 2021), Still Life (PANK 2020), and White Goat Black Sheep (Finishing Line Press 2018). Winner of the New American Press 2019 Heartland Poetry Prize, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as North Dakota Quarterly, Salamander, Slipstream, The Berkeley Poetry Review, Borderland and many others. She is an associate poetry editor for the Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry and Embody reader for The Maine Review. Find her work at


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