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Perfect Repose

Turning so effortlessly you wouldn’t
call it that, what they do,
sliding easily over,

a kind of effortless
oscillation, on their sides,
most of them, floating together

in their troop,
perhaps twenty-five of them
just off the pier, though

you couldn’t count them,
the sea-lions: they curve around
one another, two break away,

one joins, the group drifts
with the tide. Whose flipper
or tail raised to the sun,

whose head lifted out of the green?
They lie a little beneath
the surface, now and then

turning the face up to breathe,
which is suddenly how you know
they're asleep: simultaneous,

intimate, soft plosive, a little wet,
and though one coughs now and then
—water in the nose?—

the single thing they make of many,
still and always moving,
as if air were also a wave

now arrived at the drifting shore of—
what pronoun? I mean thou
all breathe in again at once.

This poem appeared in the May 20, 2009 issue of the magazine.