Whale Fall


When a whale dies, it becomes whale fall. Its body, an immense ecosystem, sinks slowly to the ocean floor. But that ecosystem changes. First come ratfish, hagfish and sharks – mobile scavengers who smell flesh and swim in to feed. For years, sometimes, the vast world sinks. When it reaches bottom, new colonizers – worms, crustaceans and mollusks – “enrichment opportunists”– move in to feed on leftover blubber or burrow into the sediment beneath the remains.

Finally there are only bones, and the last stage begins. Bacteria begin breaking down lipids inside the bones, generating sulfur, which attracts more bacteria and a huge community of strange mussels, worms, snails…. The whale has left the upper world of light-sourced life and now supports a world based in sulfur.

The universe of whale fall and its infinite layers of meaning, its darkness and its memory of sound, its vast continuum from light to song to trying out, from divers to scavengers to worms to, in the end, the lipid music rising from bones – this has fascinated me ever since I first read about it.

I’ll be reading “Whale Fall” poems in Berkeley at Moe’s Books on February 2nd at 7:30 pm, along with the extraordinary fiction writer Sandra Hunter.





My Late-In-Life Love Affair With Seasons

dscn1640A few weeks ago a friend from western New York sent me a packet of autumn leaves from her woods. They were still soft, just fallen, red and orange and yellow and chartreuse, bright with banked fires.

I wept.

Until I moved east from California to live with my sweetheart in an old farmhouse in Colden, New York, I had never lived in a place with four distinct seasons.

That October I fell into the madness of love, wandering in the woods, cramming my pockets with leaves that soon faded, staring at the intense blue of the sky. I wrote a love poem, “Fat Time.” And then, as the year turned, I wrote more love poems to other seasons, to a landscape of intoxicating sensory transformation.

The poems became my first book, a cycle of praise poems called Here Along Cazenovia Creek.

I had never known what the winter solstice meant until I lived along Cazenovia Creek. I had never burrowed deep, never wakened to utter white silence. I had never felt a leap of gratitude at the first fat bud, the first bulb pushing through gray ice. I had never swum through air heavy with the respiration of swollen leaves, never watched young deer play leapfrog in the long midsummer evenings.

Now I live in a place where there are no seasons. It is a bold, handsome palette of greens and tropical reds, the same all year round. It is beautiful, and there is no bitter cold, but it does not speak of transformation.

So I miss Colden, especially in the autumn and at times like this — remembering pumpkins and scarecrows, bowls of apples and Indian corn from local farms, a crepuscular early winter dusk, perhaps the first dusting of snow.

Here is a poem for Hallowe’en in Colden, New York, with love and gratitude:

All Saints Eve

At dawn, leaf-ammil flashes
morse for sun.

Old texts of tires melt
into the highway’s margins.

The syllables of maple branches lose
their thousand tongues.

Leaves molder into veins, ghost hands
signing: fire.

The last light bears language into darkness.

And here are links to two more poems from Here Along Cazenovia Creek: “Fat Time”  and “November by Cazenovia Creek.”


Losing the Words


I was surprised by joy this morning to discover that Verse Daily had featured my poem “Losing the Words” late last year! Somehow I missed it — and today was the perfect day to discover it!

Here’s the link:

And here’s the poem:

Losing the Words

Wantons, they’d give themselves to anyone!

See how they slip in and out of one another’s clothes?

How – dressed in zinnia-colored feathers, giggling –
they settle to the lip like birds, then flicker away?

Oh, they hide behind the roof of my mouth with flashlights,
cast firefly shadows on my stuttering tongue –

dash onto the stage and off, grinning madly —
but above them that terrible sign: Exeunt Omnes.

For one day all of them –
all the thousand thousand names of God –

will fall in love. Conjoin. Merge
into the unkempt darkness behind the stars.

They will be gone forever. Then silence
will enter the echoing chambers of my mind.

It will speak its name at last.
I will say Yes.


R solstice croppedWelcome, everyone! I’ve changed the website a bit because I’ve been seeing lots of visitors, yay! and would like to make it easier to use.

Probably the best introduction to me and my work is this short video that was made on the winter solstice in 2014. So I’ll repost it here, and keep this post on the front page for a while.

“Ruth Thompson Talks About Her Work”

Also I want to make sure everyone knows that the way to “follow” my new posts and poems is to sign up where it says “subscribe to get updates.” It’s at the top right of the site on a computer, and at the very bottom — you have to scroll down — on a phone. (Let me know if it’s in some other obscure place on an iPad.)

Thank you all for hanging out long enough to read this!


New Body Speaking workshop series in Hilo

ruth in circle 02

Writing practice with Ruth Thompson

Our bodies are the keepers of our stories. In this monthly series, writers and yogis of all levels will gather to explore movement, breath, meditation, and inner listening as a way to generate writing from the body.

Each 90 minute class will include an eclectic blend of asana, energy work, dance and pranayama. Guided loving-kindness meditations will lead into deep listening to the stories our bodies hold, and flow naturally into writing.

Ruth Thompson is the author of three books of poetry. She has a PhD in English and now teaches creative writing. She received her yoga teacher certification through the Sivananda organization in 2007 and since then has studied intensively with Angela Farmer.

Learn more about Ruth at www.ruththompson.net Contact her at wailuku.ruth@gmail.com

Cost per class: $25 ($20 for “40 Days” students) Meets one Sunday a month for four months from 1:30 to 3:00 PM
Feb 28th / March 27 / April 24 / May 22

Yoga Centered Studio 37 Waianuenue Ave, Hilo