BY JENNY MOLBERG
All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.
I think of you, my lost girl, when the wing
of a tailfin rises beside the boat, dripping
in salted robes. This movement, like song,
pulls me under, where murk reveals
the obscurities of loss. The language
is epic, invisible, submarine. A child
hears her home in clefs of water, in whale song:
unfathomable, plosive, drummed, the loudest blues
on earth. A thousand feet down, more join in the refrain.
Another endangered syntax descends.
Nothing on the sonogram for weeks.
The nurse’s dull hand like a river stone
on my belly; the doctor’s wintry eyes
scolded me, I thought. Oh, secret grief.
Are we not all sick with our own scolding?
When they found your heartbeat
I thought this could be a girl. Just as quick,
you were gone. The question, the what-if:
always regret. But that is too simple.
To regret is to be too late.
To regret is to refuse to swim further down.
On the operating table, I thought of Jonah:
three days, three nights he prophesied
in the sunken body’s cave, his mean bed
the boggy, pagan tongue of a monstrous fish.
The squelched prayer, when my life was ebbing
away, I remembered you—then mercy,
the sonorous brute relieved of his god-
fearing freight. Jonah, spat out on the beach,
reborn in his fear, the heart of the sea a God-stone
in his gut. But the whale was the merciful one,
holding a dove on its tongue. Don’t you see?
You pulled me from my mind’s shadowed corners,
near drowned in the cage I’d made of my bones.
You were the bird inside my veins’ blue trees.
That night, I woke; I remembered you—
a small heartbeat inside me gone still.
I try to convince myself of an afterlife:
when a whale dies, it lives a second time.
It must drop to great depths, then an ecosystem
is born of its body. The sleeper sharks will tear
soft tissue from the corpse, its skeleton
colonized by a million worms. A root-like structure
grows into the bone and all the little animals feed.
No one is sated. No regret.
The dream again: a beach strewn with humpback calves.
Each spews its white jet into catacombs of air.
I press my whole body’s strength against them
to no avail. The bodies are black dunes
on the mute white sand. I give up, walk the road
of corpses, and come to it, the puzzle:
the clean jaw of a female cow.
I measure the slow lines. Each baleen plate
a glassy divot. When my work is done
I hear singing. The whales, fins like wings,
flood the atmosphere as clouds. The heaviest,
the lightest things. My heart is full of them.
I was prey in the hot slick belly of the sea.
I wanted to die of anger. I wanted
to watch all things burn. A tamarisk sprang up
beside me, and I thought it was God.
A worm ate the green plant and I thought, God,
devour me. But the worm was full
of the saltcedar leaves. The earth refused
to wake, to weep. So I walked the tide’s edge
to hear the waves’ hushed dirge.
The muted tongues of the dead whisper,
God is covetous. He will not tolerate your sorrow.
I lose what I love and stay alive. I try.
I walk the shallow water, for what emerges
in its absence. And yours. Deep down,
whale song so loud: if not for ocean water,
the human ear would burst.
The sun harpoons the late day sky.
Beneath my feet, a million shards of rock
and shell, things that once housed the living.
And deeper, the call of one animal to another.
Now and again, you breach the heart’s surface:
this is your sounding; this is your wake.
Jenny Molberg won the 2014 Berkshire Prize for her debut collection of poems, Marvels of the Invisible (Tupelo Press, forthcoming). Her poems have appeared in North American Review, Copper Nickel, Third Coast, The New Guard, Mississippi Review, and other journals. She is the winner of the 2013 Third Coast Poetry Prize, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and was featured in Best New Poets 2014. She recently completed her PhD at the University of North Texas. This fall, she will join the English faculty at the University of Central Missouri, where she will teach and serve as a poetry editor for Pleiades. Find her online at jennymolberg.com.
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