Matt Gano


Launching the Whale


My dad is a carpenter, sort of like Jesus,
but he doesn’t believe in God.

His holy space is drills and grinders,
roaring teeth spitting chips and dust.

When I was twelve we built a canoe
from strips of cedar, ripped boards for weeks.

The frame in the garage was scaled like an empty whale,
bones lurching from the shop floor.
We arced on its new skin with glue and heavy staples.

Dad wore a green down-vest like a tortoise shell,
he said it would comfort our shop-mammal
to be built by something familiar.

As the frame was full with hull and keel,
we plied out staples like final stitches
removed from a recovered experiment,
ran our hands down its sanded spine,
the work painting into our palms,
our pores absorbing the bonding.

When we rode the whale, we launched it from the shore
like pushing a dead cow back into the sea, boots in the shallows
filled with lake water.

It would take us to the middle where the big fish are,
where the casting rods bend like cottonwood over glass,
dance jigs, whippin’ back and forth. Dragon tongues.

This is how we sit, me, navigator bow-boy,
front paddle like the steam engine is tug boat, but little boat.
Dad is stern, rudder man, power in the deep dig,
he spanked the water good,
like it forgot to take the garbage out.

We pull the trash from the beaver dens
and replace them with good sticks,
he says they don’t know any better, the babies
will get the soda rings around their heads
like the Spanish inquisition and die slow.

We don’t want um to die slow.
“Keep rowing, hard on the left, watch out for the log!”

I see the log. The log looks like a floating dog.
Put my paddle in it, sank through like a fork in cat food.
It is/was a dog, belly stickin’ out like helium and rot.

See how the K9’s are chipped and peeled back?
Musta’ been eatin’ marmots.
Sometimes a stray dog will eat rocks
if it’s hungry enough.

My dad is a scientist. He doesn’t believe in god.
His holy space is lakes and bug guts,
they cell through him when we walk on the roots
and slipping path of the Yakima valley.

We Swiss-blade open the on pond, make ripples like loons,
hoot-hoot against the quarry for the echo.
Make campfire dance with pucker-mouth lip wind
and sizzle up the iron-pan washin’ in mountain water.

When the tent gots the squirts with dew
and the embers burn down crackin’
like mosquitoes on Dad’s neck
with his slappin’, and it’s dark as bears,
morning peeps over the ridge
and we are simple
heirloom pocketknives,
carving memory into the tree.



Matt Gano is an accomplished performance poet and creative writing instructor. In 2011, Matt Gano guest lectured at The Juilliard School in New York City, featured for “Page Meets Stage,” at the Bowery Poetry Club, and led writing workshops at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA. Matt has traveled internationally teaching creative writing and performance in Seoul, Korea, and in 2009 earned a three-month artist residency at the Lee Shau Kee, School of Creativity in Hong Kong. Matt has worked as a national slam team coach and workshop instructor for Youth Speaks Seattle and is now a senior Artist in Residence with Seattle Arts and Lectures, Writers in the Schools.