Poetry: Whale

In every way they come to us, we weigh them in pieces.
At dinner by the shore my sister and I pretend

to pretend we are friends
not shamed by growing up. The whales

are swimming in the cove, and all year
this has been happening—they die and wash ashore

like secrets the kids jab with pointed sticks.
First a great balloon, swelling with each day’s heat,

a smell the wind doesn’t wash away—
weeks in, the skin frays as cooling wax breaks

from a slate. My sister and I are in a cage made of ribs
that we built for each other, we are

in childhood’s oiled tent. Sometimes in our minds
we balance on the whale, feel with our toes

the grooves, the loosing of cells, the melting
inside as the methane grows. The mass of it

even scientists can’t determine.
On the whale we are little again—

she snaps a toy we shared, and I press my palm
over her nose, seal off its edges

and count to five. For five seconds
on the television, biologists weigh bricks

of animal, calculate the weight
of blood lost in the death. Always

I have carried that moment, the power
of releasing my hand, of knowing I could choose my memory.

Eventually the whale becomes
what the mind is: a body threatening to burst.

-Kasey Erin Phifer-Byrne, Word Riot

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