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JUDY JOHNSON


Whale Songs


What a world, where lotus flowers are ploughed into a field…Issa


Praise the soft and shadow filter that masks us
as we glide under atmospheric radar.

Praise as pulsing wet we stretch the rubbered light
over our triton backs and at dusk, give in

to the hectic rush of mucous and air
in our blowholes, geysering

the salmon shoals in the sky.
Praise the horizontal swim.

The sudden upturned snout derailing a slippery
thirty-ton train at a leap.

Praise the outlines of our bodies
as we breach, eclipsing the sun,

limned with gold and barnacles,
like eremetic gods emerging

from a dark sabbatical amongst the crusty oysters.
Praise the first word which was suffused

with the mollusc-and-brine
kerthump of emotion and not the dry arithmetic

of meaning. Praise its liquid components,
how they may be sung in a round, over and over,

across the miles, the echolocation of a poem
imbued for remembrance with the qualities of rhyme

and rhyme’s dogged shadow that halves the pulse
at the foam-edge turn of a wave.

Praise the gentle, hissing lace of all repetition,
the ocean’s breathing in and out

and the slow water-test of our engines
at rest and swim, the internal rap

of enormous knuckles, corrugation by corrugation,
down the galvanised tanks of our hearts.

Praise upwelling without pretence
as we unravel, sleep-eyed

from the ocean’s misted spool.
Praise the sun’s net-catch of water

that rises on our early morning backs,
slides off in the velvet unrobing of our fall.

But most of all praise our aquatic sense of humour
as we dive, tails hovering

like joke-shop rubber eyebrows.

 

2:

When we die let us follow the paths of our ancestors,
shoreline pebbles quivering

at the lick of our whale-scented colognes.
When we sink to the ocean floor

let the razorfish twist and turn
the screw of their manic mouths;

let their bodies knot and unknot
in the white bread of our flesh.

Let the fissures of the earth cushion us,
the voice of mourning hiss at midnight

in vents of sulphur. Let the stingrays
have our eyes; the sharks our soft bellies.

Let our skeletons remain unscribbled
by the terrible beauty of scrimshaw,

our white bones shine crystal, clinging
like remoras to the deep.

So be it. Nothing more to know of joy
than its leap. Nothing more of sorrow

than a blue surface left undisturbed,
and over it, the commonplace

fishmarket shriek of gulls.