The scientists don’t know why the whales are beaching themselves

but you insisted we go see them. That we lie
on the sand next to corpses, blubber, the rubbery
smell of death everywhere, under your arms,

between my open thighs, underneath our beach
towels, gone wet with sweat. You touched their fins,
climbed their backs, sank into flesh that wasn’t ours

to have—violated their nature with your fingers snug
in their blowholes as I took photographs, documenting
your every move, sketching your body next to theirs,
………….man is so small, so fragile.

And when you slid down their tails the beach was silent
as a funeral, the whales only piles of skin and bone. Yet
I longed to get inside them, inside you, your mouth gaping

wide, wanted to feel the need of water, the regret of land,
………….the sand rubbing our bellies raw.

In November we went back, you in your plaid coat,
I in my boots and hat, the one you made me out of old
yarn, dust, and string. We hoped to find a graveyard

of rib cages, big enough to set up a home, a domestic life
to match our polished faces, our ability to smell each other’s
………….presence, our fear of aloneness.

A domestic life, where I’d cook you dinner and you’d eat it
inside the skull of a giant fish, might even fall asleep,
dreaming of water so vast, so green, a sea that could

choke us both. But they were gone, the whales cleaned up
by men in hard hats, with cranes, fish hooks, mermaid
voices. Only a few pieces remained, a fractured tooth,

a bit of vertebra. You picked them up one by one holding
them to the sun, examining their hollowness, sticking
them in your pocket, buttoned for safety. In the car you

took my hand as two boys clinging together after a storm.

Previously published in The New York Quarterly.

Stephen S. Mills holds an MFA from Florida State University. His poems have appeared in The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, The New York Quarterly, The Antioch Review, The Los Angeles Review, Knockout, and others. His first book, He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices, is out from Sibling Rivalry Press. “My father reads my poem in a Chinese restaurant” was one of Stephen’s first poems ever published back in 2007. Stephen’s “My father reads my poem in a Chinese restaurant” and “Mistaken Identity” are also in Reprint.

Object(s) to bring back to life: “I’d bring back drinking in the office (like on Mad Men).”