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Life on a Killer Submarine by Jimmy Carter

Life on a Killer Submarine

by President Jimmy Carter

(published in North Dakota Quarterly, 60:1, 1992)


I had a warm, sequestered feeling

deep beneath the sea,

moving silently, assessing

what we heard from far away

because we ran so quietly ourselves,

walking always in our stocking feet.

We'd often hear the wild sea sounds.

the scratch of shrimp, the bowhead's moan,

the tantalizing songs of humpback whales.

We strained to hear all other things

letting ocean lenses bring to us

the pulse of screws like a heartbeat,

the murmurs of most distant ships,

or submarines that might be there and hunting us.

One time we heard, with perfect clarity,

a vessel's pulse four hundred miles away

and remembered that, in spite of everything

we did to keep our sounds suppressed,

the gradient sea could focus, too, our muffled noise,

could let the other listeners know

where their torpedoes might be aimed.

We wanted them to understand

that we could always hear them first

and, knowing, be inclined to share

our love of solitude, our fear

that one move, threatening or wrong,

could cost the peace we yearned to keep

and kill our hopes that they were thrilled like us

to hear the same whale's song.



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