do the whales remember?

here wild freesias grow
on the forgotten graves
of slaves and sailors

there whales flirt and float and flap their tails
and bear their calves in rolling waves
and sing their songs to all who heed

and just there on the harbour wall
men wielded knives and shouted jokes
there, the vats stood on burning coals
and boiled and stank of flesh and fat

the sailing boats are in the bay
summer winds blow through the pines
the mountain wears a pelt of flowers
wheeling seagulls cry and scream
who asked the question? Who will answer?

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8 Responses to “do the whales remember?”


  1. 1 soloneili September 25, 2011 at 11:47 am

    I really enjoyed this poem and the final line sends me back into it and into a bigger picture. There are sounds of a poet sensitive to the voice of nature and humankind plus it takes me to a great place, one that I love, whales. Perhaps you may care to listen to Incantation, I Call The Whale, a poem I’ve shared on my blog, if not no worries. I still like this poem very much indeed.
    Best. Neil

    • 2 Kalila September 25, 2011 at 8:49 pm

      Your incantation mixes sound, vision and words in a beautiful evocation of the sea and the whales. It’s a wonderful skill to be able to create a poem that can be heard exactly as you imagine it.

  2. 3 John Stevens September 25, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    This is a deeply satisfying poem. I love that sure-footed, gentle and deceptive opening stanza, and then the contrast of mood in the second with the whales out at sea – followed by the shock of whales being cut up and their flesh cooked (with echoes of the graves of sailors and slaves earlier) … and finally that gentle rural scene which is quickly undermined by the seagulls’ raw question (which we can infer).
    There’s a lot going on here but it’s all so tightly controlled, and well-balanced in shape and in tone. I’m full of admiration.
    Incidentally, in the 3rd stanza, I just relish the way the second line repeats the word “there”. It underscores the precision in the change of scene and mood.
    I’ll have to come back to this one from time to time.
    My son-in-law, who knows a lot about birds, would say you should refer simply to gulls not seagulls – but I mention this in a desperate attempt to find some fault with which to quarrel!

    • 4 Kalila September 25, 2011 at 8:45 pm

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. It’s a poem that came about as I walked in the early morning, yesterday and today. The ending was the hardest part – I re-wrote it many times trying to strike the right balance, so I’m happy to hear that it works. As for the seagulls… I think they need to be seagulls to give the line the right number of beats. I did think of calling them white gulls but it didn’t work quite as well.

  3. 5 John Stevens September 26, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    I’ve been re-reading – with pleasure.
    I’m sure you’re right about the seagulls : )

    • 6 Kalila September 26, 2011 at 8:39 pm

      hmm – gulls, rhythms and the English language have been a part of my thoughts today – it’s good to think about how a poem and the words all come together and what we use because it’s right and what we use because it’s convenient or easy… or because we can’t come up with something that fits perfectly…

  4. 7 John Stevens September 27, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    I agree. It’s like walking a tightrope isn’t it?

  5. 8 John Stevens November 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    I’ve just re-read this. I like it as much as when I first came across it.


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