Cetacean application

I am at Home Affairs dealing with the small problem
of being a whale.
I am a queue in myself
and this distresses the large number of people thumping
at my flukes outside the doors.

I wish to apply for a license to exist
since humans seem to be the ones occasionally issuing them,
though mostly you withhold them.

I am a southern right whale (at Home Affairs).
The whale ahead of me in the line is definitely the wrong whale.
This was my idea, I mentioned it to him in passing. He
jeered, yet the first finely tuned vibrations from a nicely scrubbed factory
ship had him jumping the queue. The bastard.

Still, perhaps it shows that I am not an isolated case.

I wish to argue that I am charming, unique, picturesque,
and large:
murdering me is a matter of engineering
and dismemberment, of logistics.
Also, scientists believe I have something resembling language.
I pose a whole range of scientific questions
and if my value to myself has been ruled out by default
then perhaps my value to science is a decent fallback position
in arguing my right to exist without some crisp, sunny day
being interrupted by a two-metre steel stake through the head.*

Just imagine how much intellectual property might be waiting
in my genome, how many tourists
I might yet pull to Hout Bay and Hermanus,
how many insurance claims will arise from
my sudden appearances near Main Road in Glencairn?

I am a whale at Home Affairs.
There is a small problem of language here
and I am waiting patiently while clerks Nonkosi Smith
and Justin Pienaar listen to the refrain from “we are the world”
for the fifteenth time on the Department of the Environment hotline.
The helpline is intended for citizens willing to thrash against bureaucracy.
Justin and Nonkosi seek advice for civil servants confronted with whales.
The babies whose mothers are in the queue to collect IDs
howl as I roll my drying saucer eyes at them.
Some Somalis are clicking quietly over a Xhosa language book.

It is going to be tricky to make my application for continued existence,
as you cannot understand me.
The dolphins have succeeded in mastering some of your squawks
and grunts,
though you have yet to master any of their squeaks and whistles and so –
I will whisper this as I do not wish to offend and so harm my case –
I am not quite sure of the basis of your claim to superior intelligence.

Yes, I know you have all these buildings, machines, artifacts, etc.
But since their use is killing not only us but yourselves,
I feel those of us who forswear such gizmos
pose a case for intelligence that has yet to be answered.

I am a whale at Home Affairs
and I am having trouble breathing
and my skin –
I am everywhere in pain.
This is somewhat scary.
Soon, I am hoping, people in tie-dyed shirts from Scarboro
and others in wetsuits from Muizenberg
will arrive to pour water on me and the queue jumper.

The water will not go down well with Home Affairs security.

The tie-dye people are nice, they don’t need spreadsheets
showing how many red balls were pushed through the red hoop
by Snowball at Seaworld
before they will decide that I have a case.

They will have to get past the cows though.
Damn. Word has spread, you see.
My idiosyncratic notion that we non-human beings should apply for licenses
to live has somehow gone viral.
Other species want in.
A small herd of bovines is advancing with purpose past Caledon Square.

Cats and dogs will be last to join the queue.
They will come even behind the Shangaans explaining that they too
are South African.
They think they are special.
I fear the cows have plans for them, though.

I am a whale at Home Affairs.
There are other species, too, all shape
and manner of beings who cannot get here.
And some who are here, but too small for you to see.
Some who are being vacuumed up behind me
as we speak.

There is a great tide of life pulling back out of the world
drawn by the dark moon of your ambitions.

If you could see what we sing in our songs
if you too remembered with your hearts
you would know what treasures this world still held
before you fell in love with things.

but you are creating deserts,
deserts on land
and greater deserts under the vast unquiet waters

I am a whale at Home Affairs.
I can tell you that flying through the great watery abyssals
feeling the songs of the world past and future
sung by brethren 3,000 miles away
playing over your skin,
as strange glowing creatures far below you form their own constellations
is an experience that someone, something should be having
and that for the meantime, I feel I am
one of those most
highly qualified for this privilege
but also that being alive,
even for the most apparently insignificant of creatures
is a treasure unsurpassed and one you should
not lightly take away

I am just a whale at Home Affairs
I am telling you what I see
and I am asking if we all can live, please –
except for the bastard in front of me.

* While right whales are in fact no longer being hunted, human activities, not least ship strikes, pose a continued threat. It is also possible the speaker identifies with genus as much as with species.

© David Le Page 2010

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