Elegy for the Noise of Touch

Jessica Bell Rizzolo
| poetry


Even in the memories of the longest-lived
whales, the ocean
has never been quieter; this virus cuts
a silent wake. Deep in their earwax,
the dank white of baleen, whales fester
the adrenal stink of our harpoons,
our shipping lanes and ghost
nets, even the wars
where we only
bloodied each other.

The noise of us thrums so loud
that whales bleed from the inside
out. Even those who survive
live the slow dim
of their species, suffer for
the chance to birth or speak. One mother carries
her dead calf over a thousand
miles, the body slowly darkening
into particles on her back.

I too resound sublethal stress:
the scientific term for suffering
that almost, but doesn’t quite,
kill you. Now my daughter
clasps my raw face
in the dark.
Seeing is no longer enough.

Whales now calve
the ragged quiet, pulse
across an ocean clear
of noise. Even as I hear that
I hear this too:
I may never touch my mother again.
Like whales we speak
beneath the surface, our fear
as slick and sharp
as all the ghosts still hovered
in their bodies.
It almost, but doesn’t quite,
kill us.

Jessica Bell Rizzolo is a conservation scientist who holds a joint PhD in Sociology and Environmental Science and Policy from Michigan State University. Her academic writing has been featured in Global Ecology and Conservation, Society & Animals, Crime, Law and Social Change, Science, and elsewhere. Her poetry has appeared in Artis Natura and Memorious.

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