Water-Owl, Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

Ziphius cavirostris

If only I could explain 
without a sonic blast 
that makes crumble 
internal tympani; once 
the owl-headed, fish-bodied,
beaked whale was known 
for diving up to two-hundred-
twenty-two minutes, its diet 
and circulation adapted 
for this life; the visited world 
is not its home—
What can we know about 
these goose-rostrumed, 
sword bearing Ziphiidae, 
distributed worldwide, 
diving so deep and for so long 
that we cannot observe them 
with regularity. When skulls 
first appeared, legible, Cuvier 
believed them already extinct 
and now, they are of least concern,
strange how what we do not hear 
does not concern us; why 
does my eager heart always 
lament language loss—
that the English-speaking 
America is not my home 
or that adaptation 
is without complication?
When I think of the deepest 
dive in the mammalian 
world, I hear Antonio Gramsci 
who developed the term 
hegemonic pressure, how
underwater it works to consolidate 
mass and to influence the body 
into surviving the inhospitable 
increase of gravity 
in all dimensions 
but in my home, it looks like 
my mother’s disparaging remark about 
Bollywood songs, too slow,
too whiny, while I play 
Kun Faya Kun for my three-
year-old nephew—
Empire’s small victories 
enthroned in our throats and how 
this adaptation of my mother’s 
comments betrays her own
secret white wish and distaste 
for her own difference 
she still passes down as 
a genetic mutation even though 
she cannot be anything other 
than herself, the mother 
of two sons: one who ran away 
to India and the other 
who scratched blood
from a police officer’s wrist
after headbutting his own son; 
mother to a daughter who stayed 
to serve the family’s splintering hull—
and this is pressure: subtle 
and scarring our skins white 
as though cookie cutter sharks
tear from us our brown dermis
while we are still living—
a pressure that is invisible 
at first but reverberates 
louder with each generation 
descending into a family 
whose youngest teach their friends 
to mispronounce their names.

Copyright © 2024 by Rajiv Mohabir. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 24, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.