All the animals in my infant’s world 
are almost extinct. She is wrapped 
in a brown bear towel after I wash 
her in a bath shaped like a whale.  
What little I know of whales and mothering. 
A wide-eyed tortoise glows green into the night

making her room a starry starry night.  
A galaxy, a wonder world, 
her menagerie is full of mothers. 
The panda and her baby ball of cotton wrapped 
in matching flannel. The whale, 
another, hangs alongside a wash 

of nearly dead mammal mothers. They wash
over her as she gives into the night
hum of rhino, lion, narwhal,  
and giraffe spinning above her head. What world
am I leaving her? Each night I wrap 
myself in sheets and cry. Is this mothering?  

A baby elephant lays down to starve when its mother 
is killed. A baby polar bear washes 
itself in snow unaware of its melting. Wrapped 
around its young, an orangutan builds another night
nest to replace its stolen arboreal world. 
Statistics swallow me whole. She wails

into the dark that’s heavy as a whale’s 
sunken skeleton. My mother 
did not warn me of this sad sad world. 
We dream feed, both half asleep and washed 
in milk. It’s a marvel we survive each night. 
The morning heat slants through the room and wraps 

everything in prisms. She wakes and wraps 
her fingers around mine, spouts bubbles like a whale.
I kiss her toes with red wolf gnarls. My nightmare 
lingers. I whisper mama, mama 
to her nose and sing a Spanish song of colors to wash
away the troubles of this mundo.  

My tiny whale, how much I want the world 
to feel like home tonight. The sky washes
everything it touches, wraps us tightly like our mother. 

Copyright © 2021 by Gloria Muñoz. This poem appeared in Cherry TreeUsed with permission of the author.

a student announces—proclaims—
on a February Tuesday, leading to
a week-long deep dive

of researching you, Narwhal,
horned and mystical depth dweller
I haven’t thought much about

until now. One-toothed wonder,
you whirl open to devour prey whole.
I would expect nothing less.

On the Internet, you have a cult
following, unicorn of the sea—
crocheted into one-horned beanies,

printed on T-shirts and mugs
and phone cases, tattooed across backs.
There’s a plushie of you with a mustache

and a monocle, a beanbag chair,
an enamel pin, night slippers, and meme
after meme after meme. Your eyes

are always wide and kind. A blogger
I stumbled upon has I’m obsessed
with narwhals! as the first line

of her bio. And how couldn’t we be?
In this month of love, I’ll call this
a valentine, Narwhal. In Inuktitut

your name means “the one point
to the sky.” This month we launched
the heaviest rocket into outer space.

As I watched the slow burn
of the descending boosters, I thought
of you, Narwhal. How your horn

is a needle on a record, skipping
heartbeats. How your pulse plummets
as you swirl into the arctic dark.

 


 

NARVALES EXISTEN

un estudiante anuncia —proclama—
un martes en febrero, mandándome
en una semana entera de inmersión

en investigación de tí, Narval, cornudo
y místico habitante de la profundidad
sobre el cuál hasta ahora no he pensado mucho.

Fenómeno monodentado
te devanas para devorar a tu presa entera.
Espero nada menos de ti.

En el Internet, tienes un seguimiento
de culto, unicornio del mar
—tejido en una gorra con cuerno

imprimido en camisetas, tazas
y estuches de teléfono, tatuado en espaldas.
Hay un peluche de tí con un bigote

y monóculo, una silla saco de semillas,
un alfiler de esmalte, zapatillas de noche y meme
después de meme después de meme de tí. Tus ojos

son siempre grandes y generosos. Una bloguera
que encontré tiene ¡estoy obsesionada
con narvales! como la primera frase

de su bio. ¿Y cómo no estarlo?
En este mes del amor, voy a llamar este poema
un valentine, Narval. En Inuktitut

tu nombre significa el punto
al cielo. Este mes lanzamos
la nave más pesada al espacio exterior.

Mientras veía el lento arder
de los impulsores descendiendo, pensé en ti,
Narval. Cómo tu cuerno es una aguja

en un disco, saltando latidos del corazón.
Cómo se desploma tu pulso
mientras arremolinas en el oscuro ártico.

from Danzirly/ Dawn’s Early (University of Arizona Press, 2021) by Gloria Muñoz. Copyright © 2021 by Gloria Muñoz. Used with the permission of the author and University of Arizona Press. 

                     Bolinao, Philippines
 
I am worried about tentacles.
How you can still get stung
even if the jelly arm disconnects
from the bell. My husband
swims without me—farther
out to sea than I would like,
buoyed by salt and rind of kelp.
I am worried if I step too far
into the China Sea, my baby
will slow the beautiful kicks
he has just begun since we landed.
The quickening, they call it, 
but all I am is slow, a moon jelly
floating like a bag in the sea.
Or a whale shark. Yes—I could be
a whale shark, newly spotted
with moles from the pregnancy—
my wide mouth always open
to eat and eat with a look that says
Surprise! Did I eat that much?
When I sleep, I am a flutefish,
just lying there, swaying back
and forth among the kelpy mess
of sheets. You can see the wet
of my dark eye awake, awake. 
My husband is a pale blur 
near the horizon, full of adobo
and not waiting thirty minutes 
before swimming. He is free
and waves at me as he backstrokes
past. This is how he prepares
for fatherhood. Such tenderness
still lingers in the air: the Roman
poet Virgil gave his pet fly
the most lavish funeral, complete
with meat feast and barrels 
of oaky wine. You can never know
where or why you hear
a humming on this soft earth.
 

From Oceanic (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.m on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org. All rights reserved.

            After reading a letter from his mother, Harry T. Burn cast the deciding vote to ratify the 19th amendment of the U.S. Constitution

My parents are from countries
where mangoes grow wild and bold
and eagles cry the sky in arcs and dips.
America loved this bird too and made

it clutch olives and arrows. Some think
if an eaglet falls, the mother will swoop
down to catch it. It won’t. The eagle must fly
on its own accord by first testing the air-slide

over each pinfeather. Even in a letter of wind,
a mother holds so much power. After the pipping
of the egg, after the branching—an eagle is on
its own. Must make the choice on its own

no matter what its been taught. Some forget
that pound for pound, eagle feathers are stronger
than an airplane wing. And even one letter, one
vote can make the difference for every bright thing.

Copyright © 2020 Aimee Nezhukumatathil. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative, and appeared in the Spring-Summer 2020 issue of American Poets

Arriving with throats like nipped roses, like a tiny
bloom fastened to each neck, nothing else
cuts the air quite like this thrum to make the small
dog at my feet whine and yelp. So we wait—no
excitement pinned to the sky so needled and our days open
full of rain for weeks. Nothing yet from the ground speaks
green except weeds. But soon you see a familiar shadow
hovering where the glass feeders you brought
inside used to hang because the ice might shatter the pollen
junk and leaf bits collected after this windiest, wildest of winters.
Kin across the ocean surely felt this little jump of blood, this
little heartbeat, perhaps brushed across my grandmother’s
mostly grey braid snaked down her brown
neck and back across the Indian and the widest part of the Pacific
ocean, across the Mississippi, and back underneath my
patio. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve been silent in my lungs,
quiet as a salamander. Those times I wanted to decipher the mutter
rolled off a stranger’s full and beautiful lips. I only knew they
spoke in Malayalam—my father’s language—and how
terrific it’d sound if I could make my own slow mouth
ululate like that in utter sorrow or joy. I’m certain I’d be
voracious with each light and peppered syllable
winged back to me in the form of this sort of faith, a gift like
xenia offered to me. And now I must give it back to this tiny bird, its
yield far greener and greater than I could ever repay—a light like
zirconia—hoping for something so simple and sweet to sip.

Copyright © 2018 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 17, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Through my
little window, I
see one day
the entire bird, 
the next just 
a leeward wing, 
the next
only a painful
call, which, without
the body, makes
beautiful attachments
by even
attaching at
all.

Copyright © 2023 by Katie Ford. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 1, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Every effort is made to bring the colonised person to admit
the inferiority of his culture...

—Frantz Fanon
And there are days when storms hover
Over my house, their brooding just this side of rage, 
An open hand about to slap a face. You won't believe me

When I tell you it is not personal. It isn't. It only feels
That way because the face is yours. So what if it is the only
Face you've got? Listen, a storm will grab the first thing 
In its path, a Persian cat, a sixth grade boy on his way home 
From school, an old woman watering her roses, a black
Man running down a street (late to a dinner with his wife), 
A white guy buying cigarettes at the corner store. A storm
Will grab a young woman trying to escape her boyfriend, 
A garbage can, a Mexican busboy with no papers, you. 
We are all collateral damage for someone's beautiful
Ideology, all of us inanimate in the face of the onslaught. 
My father had the biggest hands I've ever seen. He never
Wore a wedding ring. Somehow, it would have looked lost, 
Misplaced on his thick worker's hands that were, to me, 
As large as Africa. There have been a good many storms
In Africa over the centuries. One was called colonialism 
(Though I confess to loving Tarzan as a boy).

In my thirties,  
I read a book by Frantz Fanon. I fell in love
With the storms in his book even though they broke 
My heart and made me want to scream. What good
Is screaming? Even a bad actress in a horror flick
Can do that. In my twenties, I had fallen in love
With the storms in the essays of James Baldwin. 
They were like perfect poems. His friends called
Him Jimmy. People didn't think he was beautiful. 
Oh God, but he was. He could make a hand that was
Slapping you into something that was loving, loving you. 
He could make rage sound elegant. Have you ever
Read "Stranger in the Village?" How would you like
To feel like a fucking storm every time someone looked
At you? 

One time I was 
At a party. Some guy asked me: What are you, anyway?
I downed my beer. Mexican I said. Really he said, Do
You play soccer? No I said but I drink Tequila. He smiled
At me, That's cool. I smiled back So what are you?
What do you think I am he said. An asshole I said. People
Hate you when you're right. Especially if you're Mexican.
And every time I leave town, I pray that people will stop
Repeating You're from El Paso with that same tone
Of voice they use when they see a rat running across
Their living rooms, interrupting their second glass
Of scotch. My father's dead (Though sometimes I wake
And swear he has never been more alive—especially when
I see him staring back at me as I shave in the morning). 
Even though I understand something about hating a man
I have never really understood the logic of slavery.
What do I know? I don't particularly like the idea of cheap
Labor. I don't like guns. And I don't even believe
White men are superior. Do you? I wanted to be
St. Francis. I took this ambition very seriously. Instead
I wound up becoming a middle-aged man who dreams
Storms where all the animals wind up dead. It scares
Me to think I have this dream inside me. Still, 
I love dogs—even mean ones. I could forgive
A dog that bit me. But if a man bit me, that would be
Another story. I have made my peace with cats.
I am especially in love with hummingbirds (though 
They're as mean as roosters in a cock fight). Have 
You ever seen the storms in the eyes of men who
Were betting on a cock fight?

Last night, there was hail, thunder, 
A tornado touching down in the desert—though I was
Away and was not a first hand witness. I was in another
Place, listening to the waves of the ocean crash against
The shore. Sometimes I think the sea is angry. Who
Can blame it? There are a million things to be angry
About. Have you noticed that some people don't give
A damn and just keep on shopping? Doesn't that make you
Angry? A storm is like God. You don't have to see it
To believe—sometimes you just have to place
Your faith in it. When my father walked into a room
It felt like that. Like the crashing waves. You know, 
Like a storm. This is the truth of the matter: I am
The son of a storm. Look, every one has to be the son
Of something. The thing to do when you are caught
In the middle of a storm is to abandon your car, 
Keep quiet. Pray. Wait. Tell that to the men 
Who were sleeping on the Arizona when
The Japanese dropped their bombs. War is the worst 
Kind of storm. The truth is I have never met a breathing
Human being who did not have at least one scar
On his body. Bombs and bullets do more than leave
A permanent mark on the skin. I have never liked
The expression they were out for blood.  

There are days
When there are so many storms hovering around
My house that I cannot even see the blue in the sky. 
My father loved the sky. He was trying to memorize
The clouds before he died. I confess to being 
Jealous of the sky. 

On Sunday Mornings
I picture Frantz Fanon as an old man. He is looking up
At the pure African sky. He is trying to imagine how it appeared
Before the white men came. I don't want to dream all the dead
Animals we have made extinct. I want to dream a sky
Full of hummingbirds. I would like to die in such a storm.

From The Book of What Remains by Benjamin Alire Sáenz . Copyright © 2010 by Benjamin Alire Sáenz . Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Nothing today hasn’t happened before: 
I woke alone, bundled the old dog
into his early winter coat, watered him, 
fed him, left him to his cage for the day 
closing just now. My eye drifts 
to the buff belly of a hawk wheeling, 
as they do, in a late fall light that melts 
against the turning oak and smelts 
its leaves bronze. 
                             Before you left, 
I bent to my task, fixed in my mind
the slopes and planes of your face; 
fitted, in some essential geography,
your belly’s stretch and collapse 
against my own, your scent familiar 
as a thousand evenings. 
                                       Another time, 
I might have dismissed as hunger 
this cataloguing, this fitting, this fixing, 
but today I crest the hill, secure in the company 
of my longing. What binds us, stretches:
a tautness I’ve missed as a sapling, 
supple, misses the wind.

Copyright © 2023 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 10, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.