The Sirens

by Tyler Mills


Pilot whales beach their black bodies
on sandbars off the Cape. With my grandparents

I watched them dying on TV in August,
when tourist children poured more sun

onto the whale fins with neon play-buckets
of warm water, tried to push them out,

push them out past the stripes of gleaming
snails but they kept coming in again at high tide,

and when water bled away from their heavy forms
they cried soft dog noises that humans also

make from a place in the ribs that opens
a chamber, a cathedral, where an echo

echoes and loses itself. Ear training involves singing,
knowing how to sing a series of pitches in your mind

before your mouth finds strange leaps
in sound with the tongue and throat, not a melody,

these facts to learn. Stuff your ears with wax,
fall asleep on the deck of a motorboat

near the jagged granite rocks people arrange
into jetties to guide the land. Guidance, what, people say,

some women need and they had it coming. I remember
braiding the hair of a friend’s doll by myself in her bedroom,

and the sheer curtains whipped rain against the walls
and then the tornado sirens howled, first one,

then another, suburban wolves, as all the nearby
towns called and called to one another.

The babysitter downstairs told me I heard
nothing and flipped the radio on, piled flashlights

near her sandals, so my friend and I checked

the basement but yellow clumps of sewage

had backed up to the bottom step, strewn flowers
of toilet paper to clog the wheels of the pool table

so upstairs we made sure the cathedral windows
opened to trees, close to the house, so dark,

and we sat listening, knowing from school that when
the storm comes, you have to let the wind in.


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