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MANDY HAGER

Excerpt from

Singing Home the Whale

 

1. The Chronicle

I was born on a night the moon drew the sea high towards her face.
As the swell lifted my mother
I slid into the water tail first,
the cord snapping as she nudged me skywards to the icy air.
Below me rang my family’s welcome,
lapping love around me as I nosed towards my mother’s milk.

In those first few hours,
days, weeks, months,
I circled her calm presence,
never roaming from the range of her attentive eye.
When we travelled in our group,
I nestled in the curve of her vast satin side.
Her slipstream towed me with her,
aiding any feeble efforts of my own.

At two months my top teeth broke through;
by four the lower set took root.
My first flesh meal was baby squid.
I still recall its death-throe tickle on my tongue.

It took some time to learn the breadth
of all my family’s store of sounds.
Their songs told tales of times long past;
their wails, our wash of woes.
They showed me how to pulse our notes
to cut through the great swathes of sea;
how to send clicks and calls,
to sense the secrets
of the other beings who share our sea-bound world.

But the markers that made plain my family’s moods
I never had to learn
– oh no, this I always knew.
Each yearning bleeds a different stippled charge
and when it hits I feel it as my own.

Right from the start I was a seeker;
wanted to explore the workings of the waters we called home.
I glided between peaks and spurs,
rocky spines,
and boiling vents
that bubbled from the belly of the ocean’s core.

I was the minnow of our group
pandered to by parents,
uncles, aunts;
and, with my cousins by my side,
we cruised through coral coves,
groves of kelp and bladderwrack,
and swaying sea-grass meadows
that split to single stems
as we eased through.

Our days were filled with
feeding,
feeling,
floating,
amid the currents’
great convergence
and the pull of moon and tide.

We goaded flying fish,
dangled driftwood from our snouts,
– racing, chasing,
breaching, beaching –
all designed to teach me how to
grace the gifts of my sleek shape.

From the rush of air above
to the press of trenches,
pits and chasms
in the lightless lands below,
I wondered at the beauty;
I felt no one had ever known
such good fortune as the likes of me.

So if a ship ploughed through the waters where we passed
I found myself drawn to its throaty call.
I paid no heed to my dear mother’s fear.
In my eyes she was all-powerful,
while the Hungry Ones who trod the decks
seemed small and weak.
I could not grasp how they might ever do us harm.

My mother said that
in the early times,
we watched the Hungry Ones
first rise up to their feet and walk.
She said we listened and we learned
and matched their sounds
with what was leaking from their thoughts.
But we have lost this melding of our minds;
must, drop by drop,
relearn
if we are once again to live in peace.

*

I am The Chronicle,
and this will be my one last song.

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