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Ira Desmond Sep 22
Our trajectory is unknowable, you tell me: the planet
corkscrews around the Sun, sure,

but the Sun corkscrews around a black hole at
the heart of the Milky Way,

and our whole galaxy travels on some mysterious,
incalculable vector. But sister, I saw a photograph

in which two whale sharks were brought to
heel by men in simple reed boats just

off the coast of the Philippines. All that they had
to do was often feed

the sharks many gallons of grocery-store frozen
shrimp, poured from plastic garbage bags into

their yawning six-foot maws to portside.
Gargantuan, sure, but still

as obedient and eager for food as backyard
squirrels. I remembered a grainy

internet video—I saw it probably seven or
eight years back—in which

a captured whale shark was winched
ashore in Madagascar, or

maybe it was the Philippines again—no matter—
the thing still had life left

in it and struggled to breathe while a crowd of
people gathered around—there were

women carrying babies, girls holding baskets atop
their heads—and then the

men came with a long slender blade and sliced clean
through the whale’s spine, vivisected it

right there on the dock, and the onlookers stood there quite
unfazed—I remember

being shocked at the effortlessness of the cut,
the pinkness of the whale’s blood,

and the boredom in the onlookers’ eyes. Our father
took us down to San Antonio

on one of his business trips there when we were five
or six—I think

you were probably too young to
remember it—

it was when you and I saw the ocean for the first
time. We drove down to the Gulf

of Mexico, and we saw waves breaking
out near the horizon in pale

sunlight. I kept scanning for a dorsal
fin off beyond

the breakers, thinking that I might spot one—
sandy brown, mottled with

cream spots and glistening—so that I might be able to
say to you, pointing, “look,

sister, there is a whale shark!” Years
later we would learn

that he traveled down to San Antonio so
frequently because he was a philanderer. As

a child I believed that whale sharks
crisscrossed the ocean following

paths that we couldn’t fathom, that
their concerns were somehow

beyond our comprehension, but then
Keppler pinned down

the shape of the Earth’s orbit over four
hundred years ago,

and the lives of ancient sea
titans are sundered

by men with indifferent faces.
Ira Desmond Aug 19
The oil's spilled; the weekend’s spent.
Battering rams adorn our newest cars.
The coral's bleached, our girders bent,
and as the ash falls, drones fly on Mars.

The poker chips clank on the felt.
Sweltering mules sway drunk in bars.
A toddler falls, receives a welt,
and as the fires grow, drones fly on Mars.

I could not bear to speak the truth
when you had asked me where went the stars.
A cow sits in the kissing booth,
and as the sky blackens, drones fly on Mars.

The wind has fangs; my heart now sags.
A feral pig grunts to mass applause,
Now childish men hoist cryptic flags,
and as the crops fail, drones fly on Mars.
Ira Desmond Jan 1
Winter had arrived
overnight, and

we had slept soundly through it, the
snow smothering

any sounds that dared
try to escape.

The morning arrived clear and sunny
and cold.

I was washing the dishes in that
old kitchen sink of ours when I noticed them—

footprints through the snow in our backyard—I couldn’t
say how many sets there were—

starting at the back fence and
proceeding directly

to our kitchen window. You
told me that you were going to head outside

to shovel the walk, but I told you
that I would take care of it, and I put on

my boots but no jacket, and I walked
out the back door, shovel held tightly

in hand. The tracks traced
the full perimeter of our house—

they appeared to be searching
for something—and they stopped

right outside of her
bedroom window—I couldn’t say

how many sets there were, or how long
they’d stood there while she slept.

I don’t know what
compelled me, but I turned the shovel

over, hurriedly using its edge to scrape
away the footprints there beneath the

window, the grass beneath them still
green and struggling to breathe.

And when I came back inside
you asked me

what I was up to out there, and I told you
that it was too cold

to shovel, that we should put on
another *** of coffee,

that we should stay inside
and not face the day,

and let the children
keep sleeping.
Ira Desmond Mar 2022
When your sister
died, it was the blue
box of Kraft Macaroni and
Cheese. Your half-
sister from your
father’s previous
marriage cooked it up
for you—she was only
a year or
two older than
you were—and you fell
asleep there on the
floor, where it remained half-
finished for the entire
night. When you
awoke the next
day, before you had even
opened your eyes, you 
thought for a brief
moment that maybe it
had all been just
a dreadful nightmare, but
then you opened them and
there the macaroni and
cheese still sat, half-
eaten on that paper
plate. No—
it had all
actually happened.

When your coworker
fatally poisoned
herself, you made
up your mind to
buy the nicest
ingredients you could
find and to cook the best
Italian pasta recipe you could
think of in order to
show your family
how much you loved
them. You wanted to be
present with them, to be still
alive with them. You
wanted to not
make the same
mistake twice, but
then there you were
at dinner, distant
for the entire
meal, unable to even
make simple
conversation, ashamed of
the awful contortions your
brain was doing in
order to process
your guilt over
her death.

When your father
died, it was some left-
over soup you had cooked
up a week prior. You were
embarrassed about how
the black-eyed peas and
sweet potatoes had turned out;
you apologized to your
wife for their mushiness,
and she smiled sadly and told
you it was the best
soup she had ever
tasted. After a week in
the refrigerator, the kale
tasted slimy. The soup was
overhot; its texture,
nonexistent. By
this point in your life, the
texture of nearly
everything—even that
of death—had become
wholly unremarkable
to you.

And when your old
friend from college
died, there was
no meal at all—just
a hasty cup of black
coffee you poured
yourself right before the
big work presentation
began. The text
message said that
he had thrown
himself from atop a
skyscraper in lower
Manhattan, and that
he had finalized his
divorce just a few
months prior. You
thought about calling
off the meeting, but your
boss said that he
would be in
attendance and, grimly,
you decided to swallow
your bitter emotions
right along with the
coffee—you didn’t
want to let
him down.
Ira Desmond Nov 2021
The fruit of
the Pacific madrone
tree may at
first entice you
with its fiery
scarlet skin.

But bite
into it and
you’ll taste
astringent, gristly pith—
with hard seeds
like discarded
children’s teeth.

You will know
that foolish feeling
that lurks within
the shadow between
sugary expectations
and bitter truth.
Ira Desmond Oct 2021
Seasons change
and daylight burns
and shadows move
across the world,

and if you yourself
don't move as well,
those shadows may
pass over you.

If you yourself
don't move as well,
those shadows may
pass over you.
Ira Desmond May 2021
Whales were,
above all else,

about the pace
with which they
moved through the world,
perhaps to a fault,
about the economy of movement
required to propel
such incredible mass over such
enormous, empty spans
of open ocean.

Here is a humpback whale
resting, face-down
staring into the cerulean
abyss, alone
but singing, perhaps for
enjoyment, perhaps out of
boredom, or perhaps due to
loneliness and longing.

She twists
and turns a single eye up toward
the surface, her iris catching  
sunbeams and contracting,
as she gauges
the gargantuan effort she must exert
in order to gain her next breath.
In this case, she concludes that, yes,
the effort will be worth it.

But what you must know about
whales is that
on rare occasion,
they would cast these concerns
of intentionality and efficiency aside,
and choose to
activate the entirety of their being,
from the sinews to the soul,
and propel themselves,
heedlessly and at top speed
toward, through, and past the surface of the ocean,
as though they were attempting to
fully take flight,
to escape, with finality,
the cold confines of their known existence,
the omnipresent, furrowed gaze of the void below.

But invariably,
and in spite of their best efforts,
the whales would be pulled
back downward,
by forces they could not
fully comprehend,
sure as the tides would fall shortly after
the moon passed overhead.

Yes, the physical impact of colliding
with the surface of the ocean
would be painful for the whales,
but what hurt
so much more than that
was having to return
to the stark, lonely calculus
of whether or not
to keep going.
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