adrift, waves lapping at the canoe
with a touch both gentle and caustic,
the pitch of the hull mild
compared to the nights before

the child strained their eyes
to peer past deep gray stratus
at the medley of flickering stars
failing to cooperate and coalesce
into navigable constellations

every night, the story repeats –
the sun offers their daily solace,
bearings of east and west,
but that is all they provide

one evening, under a growing crescent,
the heave of the boat kicked
a bit more sudden than any wave could

the child, startled, sprang up
from beneath their trembling eyelids
to find an obsidian humpback
curiously perched beneath the canoe
gazing back at the wandering child

without a moment of breath
the child began to cry –
cry tears of exhaustion held back,
cry calls for any help the whale could offer,
cry wails of relief that after
untold days meandering unknown seas
a potential friend crossed their path

“please, graceful humpback
who traverses the vast oceans
with such decided tread,
I have set out for adventure
to explore the sapphire expanse
in what I’ve come to realize
was too haste an expedition –
I had never taken the time
to learn the patterns of the stars
and all the stories they yield,
and now I have none of my family
to lend their guidance to me”

“I must apologize fragile child,
for I do not know your people
nor their names for the stars
nor the tales the night bore
for your ancestors before you,
so I cannot give you this knowledge”

with a rupturing blow and
a crashing fluke that followed,
the humpback dove beneath
the rocking abyssal seas

broken, the child lamented
in shivers and a blank stare
at their reflection atop the waves
they knew would soon consume them

not several moments passed
before midnight tubercles pierced
through drifting whitecaps and
the swells parted to the humpback again,
accompanied by a trailing shadow

“I cannot teach you your ways, child,
but do not be mistaken in thinking
that you are alone in the seas we share –
I have brought with me my calf,
who, too, would be lost beneath
these stars who tell me their journeys –
I cannot teach you the stars
as the people you come from
have known them and named them,
but I can share my relations
with the glittering sky above with you
alongside my calf beside me
and together we can find our way”

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