I. I DO NOT THINK THEY WILL SING TO ME
Once Geryon had gone
with his fourth-grade class to view a pair of beluga whales newly captured
from the upper rapids of the Churchill River.
When I was in Grade 2 we learnt the “Baby Beluga” song:
Baby Beluga in the deep blue sea,
Swim so wild and you swim so free.
Heaven above, and the sea below,
And a little white whale on the go.
Baby Belugas are generally not white, but a slate-grey to reddish brown.
Baby beluga, baby Beluga, is the water warm?
Is your mama home with you, so happy.
We did a project on belugas after learning the song. I learnt many things. Belugas inhabit artic and sub-artic waters only. They swim among icebergs and ice floes.1 They are very fat consisting mainly of blubber and they squeal when they are harpooned.2
Way down yonder where the dolphins play,
Where they dive and splash all day,
The waves roll in and the waves roll out,
See the water squirting out of your spout.
Belugas are generally found in shallow coastal waters, often in water barely deep enough to cover their bodies (Ridgway and Harrison, 1981).
Baby beluga, baby Beluga, sing your little song,
Sing for all your friends, we like to hear you.
I took my girlfriend from England to the Aquarium. We looked at the belugas through the underwater observatory. I sang her the Beluga Song and she laughed. The whales liked us, or were curious, or were bored, because they kept swimming by us. She took photos. There was a New Year’s party at the aquarium where you could be “dancing, mingling, and partying with the fishes.”3 [Each duct contains the nerve ending which is called a neuromast and it is these that can detect any vibration within the fluid. This is one of the reasons why tapping on the aquarium glass should be avoided, the fish will find this very stressful, almost like you would if you were wearing headphones and someone turned up the volume to full.4] I don’t think the DJ played the “Beluga Song”.
When it’s dark, you’re home and fed,
Curl up snug in your water bed.
Moon is shining and the stars are out,
Good night, little whale, goodnight.
Afterwards at night he would lie on his bed with his eyes open thinking of
the whales afloat
in the moonless tank where their tails touched the wall –
Baby beluga, baby Beluga, with tomorrow’s sun,
Another day’s begun, you’ll soon be waking.
“Sadly, the belugas living in the Gulf of St Lawrence are so badly polluted with chemicals that when they die they are treated as toxic waste.”5 The belugas in the Aquarium chirp and coo like pigeons. The trainers feed them fresh, clean herring and rub their noses.
Baby Beluga in the deep blue sea,
Swim so wild and you swim so free.
Heaven above and the sea below,
And a little white whale on the go.
You’re just a little white whale on the go.
Now I am older and I can barely remember the “Beluga Song”. I have never seen a beluga in the wild. This is all I know: just the echoes of a children’s song and the thrashing white creatures in the ever blue tank.
– as alive as he was
on their side
of the terrible slopes of time.
II. FISHHOOKS & SMALL LEVIATHANS
They have near a dozen different kinds
all made of wood,
We rented a boat for the day. I wore a cap that later I would lose. None of us could fish. This is and isn’t important. [Also to keep the animals from knowing too clearly what was going on, the activity was talked about indirectly; hunting fur seals, for example was spoken of as ‘gathering driftwood’ and the seal as ‘the one that sits yonder under a tree’.6 ]
We found a cove that was deep, and the water was green not blue.
We bought our hooks and bait from Canadian Tire. The hooks came in yellow plastic packaging, but were metal. [the Nootka fish-hooks were made of bone with a very sharp and barbed point; their usual bait were muscles7 ] There wasn’t a fish to be seen. But then again, the sun warmed and the beer tasted sweet in that glow. [It is interesting that the barbed fish-hook points appear to discontinue after the early historic period. Possibly they were replaced by barbed metal fish-hooks; Jewitt claims that the Nootkans preferred his iron hooks to their wood and bone ones.8 ] We used worms for bait – apparently this is foolish. We didn’t know better.
“Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?”9
but was a European
to see any one of them
without previous information
of their design,
The bite was unexpected. But something, something certainly was hooked. [When baited the gorge would be concealed and would catch in the throat of the fish or seabird that swallowed it10 ]
he would as soon conclude
they were intended
to catch men as fish.
“And he saith unto them: Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”11
We did not catch a ling cod as expected, but a shark. [Spiny dogfish are common in the Mid-Atlantic region and are considered pests by commerial and sportfishermen because it has no great value on the local market and doesn’t put up much of a fight when hooked.12 ] It was a fight to reel it in.
“Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him? Whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine.”13
We clubbed it with the fish club. [The usual halibut club that accompanied this gear was a heavy ball-ended affair, compact yet heavy enough to give a fatal blow to the large halibut found on the banks. This club was never decorated.14 ] The fish still flopped and gasped.
They have a harpoon
made of a mussel shell only,
Someone found a knife and stabbed it. The fish shuddered and bled and would not die. I never really thought about fish bleeding.
“The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon.”15
We stabbed it 8 times. It was a bloody mess.
and yet they have so disposed of it
as to subdue the great leviathan
“Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.”16
The shark had too many bones. And plus our cooler was too small. Someone said the meat was no good to eat. We dropped it over the side. It slipped into the water and sank quietly past the balmy sunlight of the surface, and into the hidden deep and the nothing.
Consider, for example, the idea that the Mooachahts’ word for God is the same as their word for daylight.
III. AND SPEAKING OF FISH
always toward the head, & eyes (yes) as knowing, & knowing us, or what we do.
My father eats the eyeballs of fish.
Boiled cloudy white
like my grandfather’s
cataracts. There’s a crunch
when you bite into the eye –
in something that looks as soft as jelly.
Of course, this whole eye thing is possible only due to the fact that the Chinese (we Orient) leave the heads of the fish on. Whole. As though it just stopped flopping and gasping for life.
The heads are always present:
gaze, glazed brown,
eyeless (their eyes burn up in the bbq-ing process)
from the platter. The heads
scared me as a child.
I don’t know why.
This made my brother pleased.
like my father crunching
on the fish eyes.
The Gwai Lo∗ cut
the heads off their fish. Don’t know
if they ever
eat the eyes.
Or know about the soft crunch
those cloudy balls of watchful jelly.
∗ Gwai means ghost; lo is a colloquial term for a common man. Gwai Lo is a Cantonese expression referring to Caucasian foreigners. Loose idiomatic translation is “white ghost” or sometimes “foreign devil”.
Lot’s of animals burrow holes: rabbits, moles, foxes, gophers, men. “The badger is a burrowing animal”17 . Men dug fox holes on Betio. I don’t know why they didn’t call them badger holes. People say foxes are cunning. “With the exception of foxes, dogs are highly sociable animals”18 . [My father took the shotgun out… and waited] “And even though the fox has few natural enemies, it still has to be forever on the watch for dogs, hunters and traps.”19 Maybe this is why they opted for foxes over badgers.
My father couldn’t shoot the badger.
“Badgers are solitary animals and it is only when the young are born that the whole family stays together for sometime.”20 My mother badgers me about girlfriends and hints of girlfriends.
badger (verb) – “to treat like a badger; hence to worry, tease, pester; to heckle with troublesome questions and contentious discussion.”21
Love is standing up
to the loaded gun.
“The badger is a timid animal by nature, but will defend itself and cubs.”22
“Our name for the Eurasian species of this mammal, which is noted for defending its burrow like a knight of old, may come from the badger’s knightly emblem. The creature’s white head with a broad black stripe on each side of the snout may have brought to mind a badge, hence badger. Good evidence supporting this theory is that an earlier name for the animal was bauson, which comes from the Old French word baucenc, usually referring to a white patch on a horse and also meaning “badger.” Bauson is first recorded by 1375, badger in 1523.”23
Fathers and badgers defend burrows.
Love is a burrowing.
Maybe it isn’t for foxes after all, burrowing that is. In Betio, “the Japanese garrison of 4,836 [defending their fox holes like knights] was wiped out almost to a man.”24
V. I DON’T BELIEVE IN PINK SECRETS
Icchantika is active yes
(one of the soldiers is telling Herakles) you’ll see when you get to Jucu.
The town is built into the slope
of the volcano – there are holes in the wall you can look through and see the fire.
They use them to bake bread.
The town of Huaraz, Peru exists. It is indeed high, and behind it you can see the mountain that is the volcano. But the volcano is called Huascaran – not Icchantika.25 It is not active, but extinct or at least “reticent”. I could not find any information about a village called Jucu. There is a river in Brazil and small islands afloat in it called Jucu26 , and there is an Aikiju-jitsu martial art dojo in Seattle called Jucu27 . But I can find no mention of a town in high Peru where men bake bread in lava fed ovens. There is a lava bread, but that is made from Red Algae and cooked in normal stoves by the Welsh.28 In fact, I can find no mention of anywhere in the world where people bake in volcanoes. Perhaps this is because it is simply too hot and would defy physics, or perhaps it is because we are icchantikas – disbelievers.
Icchantikas is not a Quechua word, nor is it Spanish. It is a term used in the Chinese Buddhist text the Tapan-nieh-pan ching, the Mahaparnirvana-Sutra translated by Dharmaksema in 421 AD.29 Perhaps this is strange. “The icchantikas [are] people destitute of the seed of enlightenment.”30 This translation “urged the taking up of arms to defend the Dharma and legitimized the killing of the icchantikas.”31 It is dangerous to be an icchantika.
“Concerning icchantikas you speak of, they perform such acts as bodily acts, verbal acts, mental acts, acts of grasping, acts of desiring, acts of giving, and acts of understanding, but they are all wrong acts. For what reason? Because they do not seek proper causation. Sons of good families, it is like haritaki’s roots, stalk, branches, leaves, flowers, and fruits which are all bitter. Acts of icchantikas are like this.”32
“The etymology of the term icchantikas remains a mystery. It has been suggested that the icchantikas, who typically disrupts community life and defames Mahayana, was modeled upon the sudra, the fourth caste that is destitute of the sacred thread.” Being destitute of the sacred thread is apparently hopeless. Helpless.
There is of course a great deal of argument about this amidst Buddhists – “whether icchantikas, the “untouchables”, might become Buddhas.”33 Perhaps there is some argument whether one can bake using volcanic lava. Perhaps there is a village called Jucu nestled in the Andes. Perhaps it is arrogant to call a volcano extinct. Perhaps Icchantika is a better name than Huascaran for a volcano we do not believe in.
His never slumbering plan –
Confided are his projects pink
To no precarious man.
VI. WHAT DO THE GAUCHOS SAY?
Well you know what the Gauchos say
The Gauchos were “the horsemen of the Argentine pampas” 34 . The word “were” is used because we are told they no longer exist.
The so-called cowboys of the Argentinean south were pushed into obscurity by the dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas in the early part of the 20th century. They are liked (Gauchos not Dictators) because they are gone, because it can be documented and listed as the “gaucho’s rise, fall and odyssey from history to myth”35 .
The Gaucho acquired an exaggerated notion of his own destiny
from the simple act of riding on horseback way far across the plain.
This is easy because it is far away and remembered to be forgotten. “And yet, and yet . . . Denying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations.”36
The Gauchos were pushed out, disenfranchised, and shot. This is romantic.
[Everyone loves Byron – Keats is even better because he died younger.]
The Gauchos were snuffed out by consumption – not the lung kind, but fattish ranchers and pale cattle and feed for cattle. This is convenient and tidy
[We have all of Keats poetry.]
because it allows lovely sweeping statements: “Vanquished in reality, the gaucho still rides a romanticized frontier pampas”37 .
Of course, all of this is untrue. The word Gaucho still refers to “the inhabitants of the Brazilian State of Rio Grande do Sul”38 and parts of southern Argentina. They still ride horses.
[We do not have everything of Keats. Incidentally there are still poets. Some are even Canadian. No one reads them.]
This is not romantic. No one even remembers to forget.
Something about riding boldly into nullity
6. Drucker, p23.
7. Dewhirst, p181.
8. Dewhirst, p181.
9. Job 41:1
10. Efrat, 12.
11. Matthew 4:19
12. Spiny Dogfish Shark
13. Job 41:11
14 Drucker, p23.
15 Job 41:26
16 Psalms 74:14
17. Rood, Ronald. Animal Champions. Collins: London, 1973. p102
18. Bailey, Kenneth. The Animal Kingdom. Collins: London, 1976. p57
19. Rood p128
20. Discovering Animals. Hamlyn: 159
21. Websters Universal Dictionary. Harver Educational Services: New York, 1970.
22. “Nottinghamshire Badger Group”. Online. Internet. 22 January 2005.
23. “Dictionary.com/badger” from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language. Online. Internet. 24 January 2005.
24. “Operation Galvanic (1): The Battle for Tarawa November 1943”. Online. Internet. 23 January 2005.
25. “Cordillera Blanca, Peru, South America” Online. Internet. March 29 2005.
26. “Barra do Jucu”. Online. Internet. March 29 2005.
27. “Jucu Dojo – Aikiju-jitsu at the Dome”. Online. Internet. March 29 2005.
28. “Section B – Red Algae”. Online. Internet. March 29 2005.
29. Lai, Whalen. “The Mahaparinirvana-Sutra and Its Earliest Interpreters in China: Two Prefaces by Tao-lang and Tao-sheng”. Journal of the American Oriental Society. Vol. 102, No. 1. (1982), p 99.
30. Whalen, 99.
31. Whalen, 99.
32. “Fifth Chapter”. Online. Internet. March 29 2005.
33. Pearce, Scott. “Status, Labor, and Law: Special Service Households Under The Northern Dynasties”. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 51, No. 1. (1991), p 132.
Carson, Anne. Autobiography of Red. Vintage Books: New York, 1998.
Kearns, Lionel. “Lionel Kearns | Convergences”. Online. Internet. February 23, 2005.
Kroetsch, Robert. Seed Catalogue. Turnstone Press: Winnipeg, 1986.
The Holy Bible. King James Version. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode Limited, 1986.
Marlatt, Daphne. Steveston. Rondale: Vancouver, 2001.