There will be whalesong at the end of the world. It will be the beginning of a new one.
Rajiv Mohabir‘s “Why Whales Are Back in New York City” feels at once fabulist and utterly real. Which is not to say that fables aren’t some of the most potent realities we learn, as children, then spend our adult lives trying to drown out. Whales, whether fantastic or corporeal, don’t drown often. One thing that can cause it is persecution.
ICE raids and whales might not, at first contemplation, have much in common, but Mohabir’s creative imaginarium, which makes room for both risk and miracle, weaves natural science and human defiance to make a drumsong. A song that peals out, “They won’t keep us out / though they send us back. / Our songs will pierce the dark / fathoms.” The whales will remind us that it’s possible to swim through chemical danger to return where no one, no governing menace, can truly tell you not to be.
Nor is Mohabir’s poem a halcyon idyll. Whales are, in fact, returning to New York. What did I tell you about fables, and for that matter, origin stories, being real? Cetaceans say fuck you, to borders. Fuck you, human persecution. We’ll swim and sing where we are.
The sole human of the poem is deeply conscious of multitudes: of the we who cannot be effaced, the immigrant we, the brown othered we, who can be carted off, handcuffed, border-threatened, but not scrubbed. Not effaced. That ‘we’ is no less than a royal we, rippling with the legacy of labour, of industry, of survival.
It took whales a hundred years to decide New York waters were safe again. They didn’t stop singing in all that time. Neither will we. Our defiance chants underwater bhajans.
Read “Why Whales Are Back in New York City” here.
Rajiv Mohabir is Assistant Professor of Poetry in the Department of English at Auburn University.
This is the nineteenth installment of Puncheon and Vetiver, a Caribbean Poetry Codex created to address vacancies of attention, focus and close reading for/of work written by living Caribbean poets, resident in the region and diaspora. During April, which is recognized as ‘National’ Poetry Month, each installment will dialogue with a single Caribbean poem, available to read online. NaPoWriMo encourages the writing of a poem for each day of April. In answering, parallel discourse, Puncheon and Vetiver seeks to honour the verse we Caribbean people make, to herald its visibility, to read our poems, and read them, and say ‘more’.