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"Beyond Us: a poem for whales"

Beyond Us:
a poem for whales
by Christopher Walsh
2/11/2018-2/25/2018



Whales know of air.
They know it exists
On the edge of their world.
From shore-hugging shallows
To the pressing, squid-dotted depths
Each whale knows to swim up
Exhale
And suck in more life.
They must go to it.
From birth, they know to.
Thanks to evolution
They hold far more oxygen, far longer
In far-richer blood
Than we would ever need to.
Whales think of air.
They must consciously take it in.
When we are conscious of breath, something is often wrong.
But for whales, involuntary breath
Would be disastrous:
They'd be strangled by what surrounds them.
Water is for whales to move through
To speak (in a way) through, and
To find the food that swims as well.
Water forms their world.
They understand it,
In a way beyond how we can.
Whales think
In a way beyond how we do.
Their intelligence is not our intelligence.
Their sensory input is not ours.
Theirs is not as alien as the intelligence of octopuses,
Who almost might as well be aliens,
But it is never fully knowable
To us.
We will know more.
There is more to know,
More that can be known,
And we are willing to study.
Whales can know more about us, too.
We were once a worldwide threat to them,
Hunting and hunting and hunting them,
And they fought
Since it was, in a way, a war.
We hunt far fewer now.
We watch and learn and
Mostly
Leave them be,
Touch on their world on closer to their terms,
As much as we can know those.
Meanwhile,
There's a problem:
We add trash and noise to the oceans.
Whales can't communicate as far.
They can't hear as far.
Echolocation
(for finding food and avoiding obstacles)
May tell them less.
Whale song
(something whose full role we still don't know)
Does not go as far.
There may be microscopic plastic in the fish or krill they eat.
Their lives are, incrementally, more difficult.
We don't truly know by how much.
We can't ask them;
They can't tell us.
Our intelligence and their intelligence
At best
May sense each other across a gulf.
This could be unbridgeable.
We can, though, at least,
Learn more.

Whales know of us.
They know we exist
On the edge of their world.
What we don't know is
What whales think of us.

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