Nina Powles


Kaikoura, 1844

She plants daisies in a corner plotted out with bones
pulled from the ribcage of a sperm whale.

Her favourite thing hangs by the front door,
a string of whale’s teeth polished wonderfully bright.
Her father brought them home for her eighth birthday

which was a particularly good day
for whaling. A pod of dolphin-eaters chased
a humpback calf, breaking its jaw quite rapidly.
They are baby’s teeth, he said, that’s why they are so
white, just like yours.

When whales forget their maps, they strand. The first time
she thought they were rocks but the funny shapes spat air,
little cloud prints floating just above. By tea-time they had died.
The whole place smelled like sea-monster, said her mother.
Their black skin had white patches where big eyes ought to be.

Her father always says a whale’s tail can knock you
right out of your boat. The most dangerous part is just as
the harpoon goes in — you can see the white of the eye,
then blood, whale-groans, big waves. So it’s very
important, he says, not to scare the whale suddenly.
She wonders how you kill a whale without
scaring it suddenly, and if down there
on the beach
is the least sudden place to die.

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