Corsets of Whalebone

by | Jun 11, 2024 | CNF, Issue Thirty-Nine

What does it feel like to be dry-drowned by the jaws of a whale?

Stays swim up through cotton channels.

Hooks, black-eyed buttons dot navel to breastbone.

Ribbons braid like a spine.

Stiffness softens with the heat of our sore skin, our beating hearts cresting above.

My mother’s mothers may have worn the bones of beasts they never saw, never knew, never dreamt, caught like krill in the baleen.

Did they know? Could they imagine? What swallowed Job now layering its ribs over ours.

In labor, our voices mimic theirs, a kulning search. Breath swallowed, expelled. Larynx, the pipe of wind. Pharynx, from pharanx, meaning chasm, deep trench. Chords, cords, from khorde, like string, like music

like song.

We mourned and celebrated the dead when sprung steel replaced pliable keratin.

All women dream of the bowhead of the northern right of the blue.

We, hunted by hunger, by myth, by prospect.

Our bodies rendered to oil and struck to light.

Find us in the dark, keening to each other, a waulking song through wind and water.

These women—

Pulling skeleton from skeleton—

            A red cry, the first swallow of air—

Traveling in open boats or feet stung by biting sand,

Standing in harbors with their bright bones—

Bound, pressed in by cloth, by mountain, by circumstance.


A great eye surfaces, waves parting like hair. We scrape scales from our skin, hide whiskers and webbed breath. The moon drips light. Fear will ascend like bubbles, we warn men by pulse, by lullaby, by bellow—when we begin to unbind.

When we begin to breach.

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