Laura McCullough
Crucifix Block

More whales, that's what they say, the conservation programs started in the 60's and 70's worked — not much else from then seems to have stuck, but we have more humpbacks. How much can be attributed to that album — remember turnstiles — called Whale Song, the one my father brought home around the same time he was writing letters to free Hurricane Carter and brought the boy home from Newark, the only black child anyone in my neighborhood had ever seen close up. His name was Raymond, and the kids on my block —Tommy, Patrick, Jimmy — they were won over in a day, as were their families. Raymond was just a kid who played stickball, kick the can, olley-olley-oxen free (whatever that meant) just like us. It was the summer of whales, of bellowing in the woods behind the house, of singing with your whole chest, your throat a megaphone, and my father going to the post office every day with more letters. Today, the humpbacks have made a comeback, and still we know so little about them. We don't know why they hold their breath and go still underwater or why they gather off Hawaii; we do know only males sing the famous songs and that different groups have their own song that changes each year. We know the males rise up out of the water, their bodies tall, the tails submerged, their fins extended like the cross. Scientists say this is to block other males from charging a female they have their sights on, but I don't buy it, it's too grand, too high out of the water, the mating dances far below. This poem isn't about my childhood or my father or even about whales, it's about the beginning of things, and how we never really know how they will end. Yet who wouldn't rise above the ocean of their life if they could? Whales live in a world they hold their breath to survive in. We breathe the details of our lives like oxygen isn't the endangered species it is. A fog has rolled in, and someone's been disappeared, no charges filed, and none of us are singing or writing letters, or even, simply, complaining at all.