The Whales Chronicle Our Arrival
After Stanley Kunitz
I. That Night Was Silent Passage
Even the krill on our bodies stands silent, dense
vessels moan across the Atlantic. We witness
the taking, the ocean heaves in revolt. Nomadic
ships carry carcels, wrestling a vast and endless sea.
II. What Drew Us, Like a Magnet to Your Dying?
How the plunge devours them whole. The bodies arrive
bound to flood, such tragic escape this journey brings.
The bodies float, in search of swelling release—
creatures of the depth release light.
III. Which Ancestor First Plunged Through Zones of Colored Twilight?
A mother’s grief. A clearing scream. Hallowed eyes,
resurrected to bulge. A future death. A rooted wound.
Gravity flays buoyant existence, soaking skin back to
IV. Scour the Bottom of the Dark
An ancestor lives on every acre of the deep. Here they
gather wrangled gods. Here they cherish the depth of
their skin. Here they praise descendants of Cain.
Their song finds our echo, ripples sonic hymn.
V. You Have Become Gods in Exile
The ocean billows survival, a haunting psalm. What
scattered inheritance this sin bears. How you’ve become
us, endangered in the dark. Marine-ridden and
immortal, yielding holy flood.
Listen to the poet read “The Whales Chronicle Our Arrival”
Because We Were Poor and Unpretty
After Gwendolyn Brooks
Our home haunted our clothes
smoke dwelled in the thread
Made us cases in folders
In the office for the principal
For the social worker, for the
Teacher to understand, to sigh
To wish, to hope us somewhere
Different than how we arrived
Every morning, ravaging
Cartons of chocolate milk,
For its rare sweetness, in our
Brown bellies bloated with
Soup and bread slightly stale
Edible, on the weekends from
The nice woman who smiles at us
With our empty bowls, winter jackets
Heavy on our backs at the shelter, my mother
Goes to alone, some days while we are
Learning and forgetting
The house, our mother,
her hands sifting
Cigarette after cigarette
Her lips breathing fog
In the evenings
The clouds dense
Her anxious lullabies
crooning us to
Listen to the poet read “Because We Were Poor and Unpretty”
Tatiana Johnson-Boria (she/her/hers) is a writer, artist and educator. Her work was selected as a finalist for the Black Warrior Review Poetry Contest (2020), the Solstice Literary Poetry Prize (2020) and received honorable mention for the Auburn Witness Poetry Prize in the Southern Humanities Review, judged by Vievee Francis. She’s also received honorable mention for the 2020 Academy of American Poets Prize and is a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee.
Tatiana’s writing explores identity, trauma, especially inherited trauma, and what it means to heal. She completed her MFA in Creative Writing at Emerson College. Find her work in or forthcoming at Ploughshares, Black Warrior Review, Foundry and others.