Poems by Gary Brower

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Baiji

by Gary Brower

From Canary December 2008

"The first species to be erased from this
planet's...cetaceans in modern times...
appears to be the baiji, a white, nearly
blind denizen of the Yangtze River."
—New York Times (12/7/06).

"The dolphin by itself is an allegory of
 salvation."—J.E. Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols.

In legend, the pallid porpoise princess was once human.
Refusing her family's demands she marry a rich, old
warlord with long, curved fingernails, she was taken
to the center of the river, pushed overboard.

But before she could die, Princess Baiji became
Goddess of the Yangtze, mother of the white,
fresh-water, near-blind, river dolphins,
finding fish by sonar reverb, like her relatives
in the Amazon, La Plata, Ganges, Indus.

But now, we have succeeded where her parents didn't,
pushed the species, which cannot live in captivity,
into the ocean of oblivion.

In this Chinese opera, humans are villains,
Yangtze dolphins, dying swans.

After twenty million years, the baiji are gone,
their watery space at river's head dredged for ships
in the polluted flow, as they were caught in fishermen's nets,
killed for food, destroyed by electric fishing, vessel collisions.

In an ecocidal echo,
a thin, high-pitched, cetacean song from her consort,
comes the last message of the baiji princess
as she drowns in the ignorance of the world:

When you have killed all animals in the wild,
remember us, waiting for your death,
waving like pale handkerchiefs
in deep river currents,
albino ghosts in dark water.




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