Historic Numbers of Right Whales Skim Feeding off Cape Cod

Who would expect their appetite
would come to seem ominous?
But now I know

they are voids of hunger. They plow
a field of plankton, turn,
plow again. They strip the water

like loggers on a clearcut.
The bay this spring seemed overrun
by stern, enormous beetles:

black, vaguely military, inexorable.

Poor plankton, adrift
in flailing clouds, poor blushing copepods
with delicate antennae, watermelon scent—

you don’t stand a chance.
I am stunned. Simple awe
has become inadequate

and inappropriate.
Week after week,
right whales eat the bay down

until they have to leave it.

Time and proximity have made them
monsters. This must be how it was before.

Elizabeth Bradfield is the author of Approaching Ice and Interpretive Work. She lives on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts.