by Mark Wagenarr
“In goldfish heaven there’s peace & calm,”
my father once said when I told him my dreams:
swimming through dark waters with bodies
I could not identify. Three years old, I looked up
through the tub water & saw the bathroom lights,
like the lights of a bathysphere diving to a wreck.
Years later, I look up again through the glass
& see three bone white belugas at the top
of the tank, surfacing to feed. Maybe waiting
a long time to get out, aquarium to river to East River
to the sea. At least that would be my plan.
How often I’ve thought of them in my tank
of city streets, at my feeding times, all the hoops
I jump through each day, as I, like them,
have done my best to love my mate for life,
for better or worse. If they are shining bass clefs,
what song? Something like Schubert’s Last Symphony,
maybe, when you can hear his life fade out
from the third movement, like a ghostly body
through water. If they are radiant sickle moons
then what season? Some of our garbage ends
in the sea, so here are the saints of our throwaways,
more plastic in the ocean than desert on earth.
Someone was the first to touch an Untouchable.
A throwaway. Someone will cook a meal tonight
for the roofless. That would be them, I think, belugas
given arms & legs, same Buddha smile on their faces.
Sea canaries who imitate our voices, as vulnerable
as we are to pollution, to PCBs & the like, who pop up
in rivers & draw crowds like the pope, who swim through
menopause & the same cancer rate as humans,
who nurse their live young for a year or more.
Captured & exported like too many of us, their bodies
contain so many contaminants they’re treated as toxic waste.
Their calves return to the estuary of their birth,
as we return, years later, to our hometowns—
& they, too, recognize their mothers, & call to them,
with voices that die out in inverse proportion
to the number of ships on the sea. They will carry buoys,
small floats, even a dead reindeer for days after losing
a calf. They will rise to the right hand, & the right moon,
too, moon in the shape of their bodies: the sky beluga,
radiant body among the stars, for whom they break
the surface, bodies gleaming, to find a waterless heaven.
And after the air that was pierced by those bodies
drifted for years, it reached me tonight, in an evening
that reels back the day’s shades, as I was trying
to remember something I’d only just forgotten,
as music spills again from an open window
I know I’ll never find, some final symphony beginning
again, & as the life of its composer fades
from the music, I hold up my hands to trace
the shapes of those bodies on the air, & begin
to fit my memories into those invisible traceries,
then the names of my children, then their futures—
then, as they are borne away with this sidereal pod,
the music ends, & there is only the empty street
with the lights I’ve never counted, beneath
town-dimmed stars & a half-moon, a lone plane
hauling thirty-seven rows of loneliness,
& I’m waving, with my hands full of
nothing, at everyone bound for Topeka or
Dublin or Amsterdam, everyone who’s elsewhere,
& at the night-swimming shapes already so far
beyond me, whose breathing wake I am,
& who might only be my memory, or a half-waked
dream, but which recognized me, or my soul,
or my wounds, or some part of me that might just
survive my death, that moves easiest in water, that calls
I am here to every summons of sorrow or of beauty.