A 20-year-old orca, known as Tahlequah, gave birth to a female calf on July 24. The baby orca died only a few minutes later. Keeping the calf’s lifeless body afloat atop her head, Tahlequah swam through choppy seas for more than two weeks.
HOW TO SWIM AN ELEGY
by Craig van Rooyen
This is a job
for your barnacle-wrecked body.
Grief, it turns out, is too much
for the mind. It enervates
the yellowed enamel of your
ground-down molars; chafes at
the skin sack separating your water
from the world’s water. Keep
your chin up. Not because
the sympathy cards tell you to,
but because the horizon’s gone,
replaced by a blubberless body
you must dive for again and again,
as it slips and sinks—body of your body
that you must propel to the surface
over and over, each time discovering
for the first time the lie of perfect form.
Fourteen days and fourteen nights,
across the Sound, afterbirth
trailing behind, swim
until your forehead becomes
an open tomb. You must balance
the weight of your old life on your nose
until the sky disappears and you become
a spectacle for pleasure-boaters.
Engines throbbing, they will point
as if the calf’s a rubber ball
you can’t put down.
The captain will turn on his mic:
“No-one knows why. Instinct? Spirit?
It’s almost human.” This will be
your signal. Swim closer, closer
until the binoculars come down
and they flee the railing,
recognizing in your dead