by Kirk Schlueter
Off the stern we sighted—
fins like devil’s pitchforks reaching
for the sky. My grandmother used
to say if you see only the head of
a stick protruding from a pond, don’t
pull: there is nothing beneath, and
your own strength will drag you down
under the algae. That was how they looked,
like something out of a half-true legend,
their play turning easily to hunting lessons
for the young, and then back again. A symphony
of crashing bodies we dropped our guns to.
I forgot the leaping in time, but never their
sense of power, so similar to the way our destroyer
darkened the waters unassuming and confident
watching below the sky with hardened, dancing eyes.
Years later I saw one again, suspended
in glass for bronzed and burnt tourists to gawk
at with goosey tongues, inside walls built
to contain their skittering calls. This was the
reversal: the orcas had pulled too hard.
Now they were caged, and I was free to move
about my world. In one glassy eye I saw my skin
burning midnight black, my mouth ripped
apart into a smile of daggers, teeth six inches long.
When the lone patch of white skin stayed near
my eye like a birthmark, like the last snowflake
of a blizzard, I knew. With a shrug of my flippers,
I climbed the barrier into the enclosure. I sank
for the bottom, their vocals clattering around me
in sympathy, waiting for my tail to appear.
Kirk Schlueter is currently an undergraduate at Truman State University in Kirksville, MO. His work has previously appeared in Thin Air, Glass Mountain, Prairie Margins, Catfish Creek, and Allegheny Review.