Why Whales Are Back in New York City

Rajiv Mohabir
After a century, humpbacks migrate
again to Queens. They left
due to sewage and white froth

banking the shores from polychlorinated-
biphenyl-dumping into the Hudson
and winnowing menhaden schools.

But now grace, dark bodies of song
return. Go to the seaside—

Hold your breath. Submerge.
A black fluke silhouetted
against the Manhattan skyline.

Now ICE beats doors
down on Liberty Avenue
to deport. I sit alone on orange

A train seats, mouth sparkling
from Singh’s, no matter how
white supremacy gathers

at the sidewalks, flows down
the streets, we still beat our drums
wild. Watch their false-god statues

prostrate to black and brown hands.
They won’t keep us out
though they send us back.

Our songs will pierce the dark
fathoms. Behold the miracle:

what was once lost
now leaps before you.

More by Rajiv Mohabir

Ode to Richmond Hill

then the drunk teen scatters
a cascade of copper on cement,
the old Uncle yells, eyes silver
eyes in disbelief, Pick up yuh
paisa, na man! no worry
on this slate day youths dem
speak no Hindi to know paisa
means money, a taxi speeds 
by blaring chutney remix
Kaise Bani and you remember
your Aji dropping her rum
at Aunty’s party to jump up
and your mother’s awkward Hindi—
you bit your fingers with each roti
she rolled, each mantra she taught you
floods your throat in front
of this puja shop on 127th and Liberty
front strung with plastic marigolds,
a replica strung of polypropylene
like you are now and not like
long time when Par-Aja came
from India, you are a forgery
that will one day burn
not on a pyre but in an incinerator,
not on a riverbank, but
in a crematorium, your prayers
in Hindi accented in English alveolars
neither devas nor prophets
recognize as supplication
but on Liberty Avenue
in the waft of a spliff drag,
and sandalwood a coolie Uncle
in a kurta mouths Marley
as you walk by
you start to sing praise
to Queens where you are
Chandra’s son or so
and so’s buddy ke pickni,
where you wipe oil from doubles
on your jeans and cuss up
the car that backs into stacked crates
of strawberries, to where you
return after three years
and Richmond Hill opens
its coolie arms pulls you close
and in your ear whispers
dis time na long time.

Kabira

hathailiyan ke mehndi halki hoike gayaab
ii sarirwa mein bhala kaa tikaav

You will your house of clay and breath
a fortress. One day, ash and smoke will play fire

games in the courtyard. Remember this hovel
is of five senses —

Does wind stay trapped in a room when its windows
yawn? Without country it flows as river water,

a traceless origin. How can this structure
of earth and bone be home? Says Kabir, “However

beautiful — gold or silver — when the cage
door cracks what bird stays inside?”

                                       The palm’s mehndi lightens then disappears;
                                                        what permanence is in your body?

Vestigial Bones

jaunse tu bhagela ii toke nighalayihe
je andar rahe tohar jahaaj ke nast karihe

The remnant of hind limbs puppets an origin
play that strings baleen to terrestrial

ancestors. Occasionally whales sport hind legs —
as in Vancouver in 1949,

a harpooned humpback bore eighteen inches
of femur breaching its body wall. Disconnected

from the spine, what is their function but to rend
the book of Genesis into two? Why regard

scripture and exegesis as legs and fluke,
sure to fall away, and not eat beef or pork? Why

do I need Hindi in Hawaii as a skeletal
structure, a myth to hook my leviathan jaw?

                                                    What you run from will swallow you,
                                                       what’s inside will splinter your boat

Related Poems

Borderbus

A dónde vamos  where are we going
Speak in English or the guard is going to come
A dónde vamos  where are we going
Speak in English or the guard is gonna get us hermana
Pero qué hicimos  but what did we do
Speak in English come on
Nomás sé unas pocas palabras  I just know a few words

You better figure it out hermana the guard is right there
See the bus driver

Tantos días y ni sabíamos para donde íbamos
So many days and we didn't even know where we were headed

I know where we're going
Where we always go
To some detention center to some fingerprinting hall or cube
Some warehouse warehouse after warehouse

Pero ya nos investigaron ya cruzamos ya nos cacharon
Los federales del bordo qué más quieren
But they already questioned us we already crossed over they
already grabbed us the Border Patrol what more do they want

We are on the bus now
that is all

A dónde vamos te digo salí desde Honduras
No hemos comido nada y dónde vamos a dormir

Where are we going I am telling you I came from Honduras
We haven’t eaten anything and where are we going to sleep

I don’t want to talk about it just tell them
That you came from nowhere
I came from nowhere
And we crossed the border from nowhere
And now you and me and everybody else here is
On a bus to nowehere you got it?

Pero por eso nos venimos para salir de la nada
But that’s why we came to leave all that nothing behind

When the bus stops there will be more nothing
We’re here hermana

Y esas gentes quiénes son
no quieren que siga el camión
No quieren que sigamos
Están bloqueando el bus
A dónde vamos ahora
Those people there who are they
they don't want the bus to keep going
they don't want us to keep going
now they are blocking the bus
so where do we go

What?

He tardado 47 días para llegar acá no fue fácil hermana
45 días desde Honduras con los coyotes los que se—bueno
ya sabes lo que les hicieron a las chicas allí mero en frente
de nosotros pero qué íbamos a hacer y los trenes los trenes
cómo diré hermana cientos de
nosotros como gallinas como topos en jaulas y verduras
pudriendóse en los trenes de miles me oyes de miles y se resbalaban
de los techos y los desiertos de Arizona de Tejas sed y hambre
sed y hambre dos cosas sed y hambre día tras día hermana
y ahora aquí en este camión y quién sabe a dónde
vamos hermana fíjate vengo desde Brownsville dónde nos amarraron
y ahora en California pero todavía no entramos y todavía el bordo
está por delante
It took me 47 days to get here it wasn't easy hermana
45 days from Honduras with the coyotes the ones that—well
you know what they did to las chicas
right there in front of us so what were we supposed
to do and the trains the trains how can I tell you hermana hundreds
of us like chickens like gophers in cages and vegetables
rotting on trains of thousands you hear me of thousands and they slid
from the rooftops and the deserts of Arizona and Texas thirst and hunger
thirst and hunger two things thirst and hunger day after day hermana
and now here on this bus of who-knows-where we are going
hermana listen I come from Brownsville where they tied us up
and now in California but still we're not inside and still the border
lies ahead of us

I told you to speak in English even un poquito
the guard is going to think we are doing something
people are screaming outside
they want to push the bus back

Pero para dónde le damos hermana
por eso me vine
le quebraron las piernas a mi padre
las pandillas mataron a mi hijo
solo quiero que estemos juntos
tantos años hermana
separados
But where do we go hermana
that's why I came here
they broke my father's legs
gangs killed my son
I just want us to be together
so many years hermana
pulled apart

What?

Mi madre me dijo que lo más importante
es la libertad la bondad y la buenas acciones
con el prójimo
My mother told me that the most important thing
is freedom kindness and doing good
for others

What are you talking about?
I told you to be quiet

La libertad viene desde muy adentro
allí reside todo el dolor de todo el mundo
el momento en que purguemos ese dolor de nuestras entrañas
seremos libres y en ese momento tenemos que
llenarnos de todo el dolor de todos los seres
para liberarlos a ellos mismos
Freedom comes from deep inside
all the pain of the world lives there
the second we cleanse that pain from our guts
we shall be free and in that moment we have to
fill ourselves up with all the pain of all beings
to free them—all of them

The guard is coming well
now what          maybe they'll take us
to another detention center we'll eat we’ll have a floor
a blanket toilets water and each other
for a while

No somos nada y venimos de la nada
pero esa nada lo es todo si la nutres de amor
por eso venceremos
We are nothing and we come from nothing
but that nothing is everything, if you feed it with love
that is why we will triumph

We are everything hermana
Because we come from everything