Issue > Poetry
Mark A McKain

Mark A McKain

Mark McKain’s work has appeared in such journals as The New Republic, AGNI, Subtropics, The Journal, Cimarron Review, American Letters & Commentary and elsewhere. He has an M.F.A. from the University of Florida and teaches screenwriting at Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida.

To His Mother

First day on land, first day inside the caldera, the sea
strangely calm after forty hours of sickening roll  
(long line, short line—how to say it, Mother?)

and now muck boots on gravel, volcanic steam,
whaler shack riding a sandy wave, interiors
wrenched open to sky and glaciers, windows

framing bones, and we, a digital gluttony,
a phalanx of pixilation (forgive excess alliteration)
snapping cetacean skulls and ribs, that rise

along the shore like sails from a previous century
(Mother, my heart beats your arrhythmia
and the ragged gardenia at your breast,

milky maze of beauty and terror)
as down-fleeced, wool-capped, we toddle among
the bergy bits, the brash ice like fallen thought

(I still believe in metaphor),
the Antarctic day not melancholy, but Mother,
if you were here, with tea or martini

in the ship's lounge, we could speak
of chinstraps emerging from dark waves,
pink-lined wings, stuck out chests, birds bowed

in a Terpsichore of eggs, and how freely mingling
with fellow creatures, verging on birth,
on feather and bone I did stand,

you, never the adventurer, ever my fragrant
vortex, could recite what you learned at the lecture,
and we would toast (to Adélie: land, wife, land, penguin)

to life, to rewrite the sorrow, Mother.

Minke Whale

Between the floes, ungraspable,
elusive target to those who want to roll flesh
with rice and ginger, to study the liver
and the feathery tongue, to research your mother,
to know the secret of heart, skin, baleen; the unborn
have their uses, the calf is sweet.

But you are fast, breath quick,
blow faint. Below glacier-lapped cliffs you glide,
a swirl of black in an inky crack. You dive,
tail not flagging the fjord's mirror,
gone from the deadly puzzle,
singing down in the ocean's deep blood.


The skin is rough
but when rubbed removes the lice
that plague us. Today, the body,
long as three males, does not shoot loud darts,
or try to strip the blubber from our bones.
The symbionts, when we arrive, have a hundred protruding eyes
that click, click, click, arms undulating like squid.
Its singing shrill, not good for gathering krill into a mouthful.
The world tastes strange like a volcano belching
as the great animal slowly retreats. Does it hear our song,
praising its beautiful, whale-like design?


Karen English

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