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From: Vol.10 N.01 – Private: The Transformative Now

Whale fall 

by Annie Hunter

“Know how to raise up, now in this day especially, the limbs of the Shekhinah, in order to redeem her from exile, for this is the tendency of our souls … to build her and to prepare her with a qomah sh’leymah [complete body]” [Ze’ev, Wolf of Zhitomir, Or ha-Me’ir]

“Who is a beautiful maiden without eyes, her body concealed and revealed, she emerges in the morning and is concealed by day, adorning herself with adornments that are not?” [Sabba de-Mishpatim of the Zohar, 5:2] 

I’m thinking about the rain of whales—not the reign of whales that began in the Eocene—but of bodies seeded with penthrite grenades, bodies hoisted out of their necessary element, bodies flensed on the decks of factory ships, the ocean blooming carmine, how we burned their bodies, 47 tonnes being the average total volume of oil extracted from a blue whale—oil with a kinematic viscosity of 35-39.9 square millimetres per second at 37.8 degrees Celsius—no, I’m not going to explain that—what’s Google for?—and anyway, I don’t mean those bodies but the ones who fell, whose baleen plates 

                                                                                                      were hacked from their mouths—for the bowhead, 350 pairs of plates each 4.5 metres long—and the bodies thrown back into the ocean—how we made from their keratin a universe of useless things—bed bottoms brush bristles crinolines carriage springs riding whips walking sticks divining rods fishing rods tongue scrapers probangs pen holders paper folders boot shanks shoe horns policemen’s clubs—where are they all now?—and still it goes on— their bodies collide with container ships carrying cars computers white goods flat pack furniture concrete mix running shoes bananas spa baths books marble bench tops packaging in which a toy is trapped somewhere —which must be cut away, slicing fingers as you do so, then extracted for the impatient child who plays with it plaintively, while you place the shards of plastic in the recycling bin, to be put on another container ship along with all the other recycling, great junks heaving with junk, moving through ocean swells to an uncertain destination—yes, I’m thinking of bodies 

                                                      bow-struck, the spindle cells of their insular and cingulate cortices winking out, their cold flesh bound in corsets of drift net— bodies exploding fathoms beneath the surface—bodies blighted and starved by the blasts of seismic airguns—bodies falling through light to a darkness lit only by creatures whose flames burn like menorot—falling like drowned aircraft, their passengers unstirring through three thousand fathoms of water—look, if this poem is too bleak for you, go to the gym or something—just leave me alone to wonder—how does the body of a whale fall?—does it pirouette through water like an abscised leaf; plummet like a hammer, heavy head first; or stagger down the cold staircase of death, as if drunk—and really, isn’t this just as the Jewish mystics have told us?— 

                                                                              that a fallible God created ten vessels of primordial light, but being too fragile to carry such brilliance, they shattered and fell as divine sparks to the lowest of realms so the righteous might gather them up—but who among us can claim to be righteous?—and surely it’s an insult to think that the holy Shekhinah might dwell in the corpse of a whale—I know, but why shouldn’t these blameless bodies be themselves divine sparks?—weren’t they once creatures who loved, worried and imagined?—and what could be unclean at a depth of 4,000 metres, at a hydrostatic pressure of 1,000 bar, where the temperature has remained constant at four degrees Celsius for millennia?—but it’s not your tradition—so how else can I find redemption for all these whales?—and what about the ecologies that flower 

                                       on the broken bodies—creatures of darkness, finning and drifting and crawling across the vast abyssal plains, drawn to the ohel of the whale carcass, the tabernacle of its vaulted thorax—first, hagfish, sleeper sharks, snow crabs, sea scuds, brittle stars—then polychaete worms—and last, sulphur-reducing bacteria—there you go again, calling up the reviled— hang on, give me a chance!—it’s a thought experiment—take the Osedax mucofloris, the Bone-eating Snot-flower Worm—no, not a death metal band, but a decomposer, slim and sessile, without eyes or mouth or gut— a harem of suitors secreted in her central tube, a crush of endosymbionts 2 sheltered in the green sheath of her ovisac, in the ruffled margins of her root-tissues—wicking whale oil through the short sleeve of herself, she unfurls from her bone sanctuary, rosy palps rising from her mucus-slick trunk like a flame—a lamp lit for the Mysticeti, for the Odontoceti—the host of her kind settling on cetacean bones like a fiery curtain, a respiring veil. 

Published: April 2023
Annie Hunter

has had a chequered career, having worked as a waitress, farmhand, factory worker, environmental activist, public servant and researcher. She came to poetry writing relatively late in life. Or rather, it arrived like a seed that suddenly broke its dormancy, imbibed the currents of her unconscious, foraged nutrients of which she had no knowledge and grew into something she could barely recognise. She is learning to live on Dja Dja wurrung country in Victoria.

An Australian and international
journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics.

Plumwood Mountain Journal is created on the unceded lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to elders past, present and future. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the lands this journal reaches.