Acclaimed as an essential voice of the American Midwest, David Baker expands both his environment and his form in his eleventh collection. Whale Fall is about time, measured in the wingbeats of a hummingbird or the epochs of geological change, and about place, whether a backyard in Ohio or the slopes of a melting glacier.
In the exquisite, musical title poem, a deft hybrid of eco-poetic alarm and intimate narrative, Baker transports us to the deep sea as a single gray whale carcass falls, decays, and is reinhabited by a cosmos of teeming lives. Among the strands of ocean health, microplastics, and related calamities of human disregard, the poet weaves in a personal story of chronic illness. The result is a stirring, confident work, astonishing in its emotional acuity and lyric range.
Each poem in Whale Fall is an echolocation, emitting its music to situate itself among others in the vastness of the world. Amidst climate change and catastrophe, as amidst a blooming viburnum or a viral disease, these poems send their songs across empty spaces of a line, a page, or a continent, to see who is out there, moving in the depths of being.