Three Poems

by Ashley Mace Havird Issue: Fall/Winter 2019 Special Issue on Margins

Tour of Grief

Heat waves, wildfires ... Waves
of migrants, children ripped from parents—
their blankets of glittering foil.

Polar thaw … and the slick
curve of a whale’s black back,
her laboring spout—beside her head,

small dorsal fin. A killer whale
with her dead calf. Tahlequah.
With forehead and fin

nudging the calf to the surface.
Floating it there on her rostrum.
Clutching its tail in her mouth.

The calf breathed long enough
for milk to come, for it to nurse,
for her to bond. Its blowhole sputtered. Flukes

fell still. In spite of currents, waves—
Tahlequah, Two
Together. How human her grief seems,

even scientists marvel.
With trills and clicks and whistles,
other whales in the pod

offer the rare,
once plentiful, Chinook.
Ease the calf away,

float it themselves. How human.
Seventeen days,
one thousand miles.

Only when a thrumming, like breath,
wings from the calf’s slack jaw—
a plume of flies—does she release it …

Heat waves, wildfires, polar thaw,
ocean of glittering foil.
A mass of high pressure, which weather maps

color the Indian Red
of my childhood’s crayons,
squatting over the West.

Note: From July 24 to August 9, 2018, scientists observed Tahlequah (J35), a southern resident killer whale in the Pacific Northwest, carrying the carcass of her newborn calf—a record-breaking “tour of grief.” For the previous three years, no calf had survived among these orcas—all of whom suffer from malnutrition, thanks to pollution and the demise of Chinook Salmon, the main food source. … During the spring of 2018, the U. S. government began forcibly separating families seeking asylum at the southern U. S. border.

Golden Dawn

To this day
(the Athens taxi driver said),
my father has a hole in his head
from a Nazi boot. He was crawling
on his belly under a fence
to reach some garbage.
He was that hungry.
The soldier kicked him.
The toe of the boot was metal.
My father was nine.
Just last week a woman sat in my cab
where you are sitting.
She was seventy years or more.
The Nativist Party would fix everything,
she said, rid the streets
of migrants with dark skin
who soil the sidewalks, who steal
from decent Greek people.
She talked and talked.
The more she talked, the more
I wanted to drag her out of my car
and strangle her. But I would stay
for the rest of my life in prison. That
I could not do—not with children,
a wife. So, I strangled myself.

Ghost Net

                For Joan Hall, Global Contamination: A Gulf Project

We are bound
the sea sounds with every voice
it can muster. Breeze-thrown seafoam,
breakers and swells,
stampedes of storms that fail
to wake us. Sign language
of dead zones, red tides,
coral bleached to bone.
Whales—huge, confused,
heave ashore.

Beneath fever-laced blankets
of carbon, we dream
tributaries rich with fertilizer,
pesticide, industrial sludge.
We dream of taking.
Of dynamite and cyanide;
longlines and trawling net;
gill, tangle, and drift net.

Our leavings … Mooring ropes,
frayed and barnacled,
lash the oily shores of the Gulf.
Fishing lines knot
sea fans, sargassum, strap alga,
turtle grass—knot them
into bouquets, ceremonial decay.
Ghost nets,
forgotten by fishermen,

ride the waves, ripe
with rotting bycatch
and plastic—turtles, toothbrushes,
dolphins, flipflops. Casting
and reeling its tides, the sea aims
to hook open our eyes, save us
from our drowning
selves. Like a parent, forgives
as long as it can survive
to forgive.

Ashley Mace Havird

Ashley Mace Havird’s fourth collection of poems, Wild Juice, will be published in the Southern Messenger Poets Series (LSU Press) in Spring 2021. The Garden of the Fugitives (Texas Review Press, 2014) won the X. J. Kennedy Prize. Her poems have appeared in many journals, most recently Image, Sewanee Review, and American Journal of Poetry. Her novel, Lightningstruck (Mercer University Press, 2016), won the Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction.