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Pilot Whales, Cape Cod

Coming ashore relentlessly, the suicidal pilot whales wash themselves into the shallows, their backs like obsidian rock emerging from the white coast, wondering if Thoreau’s ghost will throw himself on them, blow air into the blowholes to save them.  They couldn’t have picked a better place—the beach chock full of pale Protestants, coated in grace, salve, and sun block. Local news makes them desperate, the helicopters flop-flop above, the environmental volunteers circle and scurry like minnows, thigh-high in the undertow, feet and sad blubber sinking down into the soft, inevitable sand. What breaks loose, makes the bleak, stark beach look like salvation? The reporters swim in the wrong direction: whale-sized despair is no mystery, so easy to understand, driving them to give up the dark depths for deadly air. They are like families we know falling apart in Lincoln, Nebraska, sons moving out of Pennsylvania, daughters in California, mothers in Florida, no longer able to live together, beaching themselves over the telephone, giving each other secret signals in cold climates, losing a grip on each other over long distances, moving as one to some unspeakable longing. Pushed out to sea by good rescuers, some cheer the effort against the surf. But they come ashore one day later and find the barrel of the marine biologists’ merciful rifles. Like a collection of jetty outcroppings, tumbled like children’s blocks left scattered, the black humps mock us, the way the end will come and strand itself on our heavy bodies, dry up leathery skin, beat on us until we agree, submit, let go this floating life, like a crashing wave in a final flourish, that dissipates and slides silent into silica.

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