by April Tierney
Recorded by author
A magnificent killer whale named Tahlequah
gave birth and caught the world’s attention.
Her calf died only thirty minutes after being born,
each of those blessed minutes a sacrament
to the progeny of love. But the real reason
journalists and photographers and millions of viewers
followed this mother’s story, was her willingness to grieve
unbidden, to become a thing utterly governed by kinship.
After a year and a half of growing this enormous life
inside of her belly, and the immense feat of labor,
and a half an hour of looking into one another’s eyes,
Tahlequah proceeded to carry her dead baby
on the tip of her nose for seventeen days,
traveling more than a thousand miles
all throughout the Salish Sea.
And some people think that grief is not
inexplicably beautiful. But perhaps it’s because
those people (who are us people) no longer see
grieving enacted publicly as a plea for sanity,
as a way of feeding that which grants us life.
There was no real grieving at my mother’s funeral––
sniffling and shoving tears back up into our eyes, yes,
but no keening. No collapsing into the bottomless cavern
of one another’s trembling arms, no crying out
into the insufferable heat of that late-summer day,
and certainly no carrying my mom’s dead body
as a holy procession all throughout the places
she ever knew and loved. So I continued to carry her
mostly on my own. I wailed in the privacy of my own home
long after the funeral was over, with only the hurting eyes
of my husband to behold me––a kind of holding
that was never meant to be done alone.
I imagine that if killer whales were not endangered,
Tahlequah would have swam those seventeen days
with a grand procession of many other glistening,
black and white giants all across the ocean.
Or perhaps she swam for one thousand miles
to personify the loneliness of her grief
in a world spiraling toward oblivion.
And our savagery for not swimming alongside her;
for taking pictures, for watching her exquisite ceremony
on our little screens as if it were pure entertainment,
as if that couldn’t be any one of us, carrying our dead
children out into the dark and emptied streets.
Recorded by Karina Lutz
April Tierney is a poet, activist, craftswoman, mother, and lover of stories. She is the author of three full-length collections of poetry, including Memory Keeper (Homebound Publications 2022). Her work has been featured in Orion, The Wayfarer, Real Ground Journal, and elsewhere. She lives outside of Lyons, Colorado, in the Territory of the Cheyenne, Ute, and Arapaho Peoples, with her husband, young daughter, mischievous dog, and wide web of kin. To learn more visit www.apriltierney.com.