“One must always present something
Among the dying” —W.S. Merwin

When writing poems about extinction
it’s important that you make the poems
deep but uplifting.

Nobody wants to read a bummer poem
about endangered orcas and their dead babies.
Keep it light. Keep it motivational. Encouraging.

It’s important to accommodate your gentle reader.
Don’t say anything about how if you won’t swim in it,
why should they live in it.

Don’t say that. Honesty is offensive
in this day and age. It’s always been offensive.
How else do you suppose we got here?

Maybe, instead of saying something like,
“The orca and salmon are going extinct
because of ordinary greed and apathy,”

say something like, “The noble creature
with his power and grace shall journey away
forever through the portals of time.”

Good taste omits mention of
(baby orcas, abducted to be theme-park clowns—
decades in chlorinated cages, taking their eyes—

how during the capture, so many died.)
Don’t forget to forget what you know
about human cruelty—

how the baby orcas that didn’t survive
had their bellies slit and filled with stones,
then were sewn closed

and dumped into the sea,
to sink into a silence so dark and so deep
public outrage couldn’t reach—

a depth unfathomable as a mother’s grief
too heavy to carry for one day, much less 17*.
Among the dying, shall we pretend

that in the end, we too shall not be listed
among the dead? Yes. Let's pretend,
when writing poems about extinction.


* This detail is referring to the seventeen days that an endangered Southern Resident orca carried the body of her dead calf on her rostrum for more than 1,000 miles in what the media called a “tour of grief.”

Copyright © 2019 by Rena Marie Priest. From For Love of Orcas: An Anthology (Wandering Aengus Press, 2019). Used with the permission of the poet.