How Whalesongs Were Invented

by Alicia Lai

My brother says this is how to fool
the ice—this is how to rinse
your wrists by the glaciers, each melting
under the pressure exerted by their own
weight—accumulation, ablation, fault.

He takes the plumed fish and peels back
the skin, unravels the spine, each slit along the fins
the same dashed lines of the furrowed diagrams
I slept with under the pillow. The liver he throws
to the jaegers, their wingstrokes cracking the air
along the soft underbelly of the sky.
The earbones, the respiratory system,

the matchstick bones he pinions under
the scalpel, counting the archways
of the white hollow the way he marked my height
on the doorframe of our Pennsylvanian pantry.

My brother orders his glaciers by shape. He files
his oceans by temperament. My brother holds
a stopwatch, then snaps the mercury thermometer
along the edge of the tank—the silvery
mouths of the metal corseting bone, threaded ribs
transcending Cambrian, Ordovician.

When our plane stumbles into flight,
my brother warms his breath by the furnace
under the lab’s slat-break roof, keeping us
inhabitants of this frigid, foreign land.

Alicia Lai is the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of The Postscript Journal, a national literary magazine for high school and college students ( She is also a 2014 YoungArts National Winner/Finalist in Writing, and the recipient of the 2013 Easterday Poetry Prize and a scholarship from the Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize. She has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the Poetry Foundation, and the National Council of Teachers of English. Her writing is published in the Kenyon Review, National Poetry Quarterly, Apprentice Writer, and Curio Poetry, among others.