After we order dinner, my dad in a voice
he especially wants my daughters to hear:
Before we started taking oil out of the ground, we
hunted whales. We killed them. Thousands. For
light. It’s as bad as the cooking show I chose
last night for all of us, not expecting a side of hog
hung on a hook, butcher in a white coat, cutting
skin & bone & flesh like butter, meat so oddly
dry, so pale. He must have told me this same story
years ago. And still my best question is Everywhere?
Why do I go with him toward the history of whaling?
Not just Inuit? Not just those stone lamps? This is over
a smorgasbord of terrine and chicken liver paste, dabs
I mete onto little rounds of bread for the girls to try.
All over the world they were using whale oil for light?
I don’t know why I think this is the way. He says, We have
a lamp with a glass chimney. We have it at home. Whales
dying. For light. My daughters listen. I do remember
hearing this. I remember knowing it—it stopping
what tried to rise in me. Whale oil, no detail. The other way
is But that doesn’t justify, and then Never said and
Would you rather we’d. Now the quiet that says
nobody’s willing. My husband silent. My mother
silent until Dad says, They were killing whales all the time
anyway, for ambergris to make perfume (who can argue
with someone who remembers ambergris?) and Mom
says And for corsets. They used whale bones for
corsets. To my daughters: To hold your waist in. One
daughter: I thought corsets were lacy. How could bones—
I start to explain, then a woman whose face I forget
right away arrives with pasta, and my mom is still
mimicking squeezing in her waist, cheeks sucked in
and her hands at her ribcage. Whale bones.