The Papers Read: Today, She Was Stolen

by Robin Cedar

You could hear the mothers screaming,
my customers say, remembering
the day Tokitae was stolen.

These crusty old men who stare
at my breasts each morning
and tell me to loosen up, relax, laugh,

smile, baby, smile,
always look grieved
when talking about her.

The blood staining the water,
these baby orca hauled up into the boats,
so many of them flailing.

And their mothers screamed,
flashed the water foamy in distress,
hurling themselves up onto the boats

to save their netted offspring.
My customers dab their eyes and then dab
their fingers into lukewarm coffee,

sure it’s still warm
and tell me, you should enjoy
what you’ve got, babe, yeah just the coffee.

Home from work and mom’s nestled
a fire in the grate – sees my face,
opens up her arms to me,

and cradles me, combs her fingers
through my hair while I think
about how Tokitae was stolen

ten years before we thought
to put children’s faces
on milk cartons,

think about the water tanks
that aren’t big enough to house an orca
now forty years older, fin deflated,

attacking her handlers, renamed
for a heroine
of what’s called a love story,

but a story that was only
ever about a man
forcing himself on a child.

Lolita, Tokitae – she’d still remember
home, still remember her parents
who are dead now.

The mothers returned to Penn Cove
for weeks afterwards, the pod curling
in a spiral, but the boats

were gone, not even a smear
of petroleum to betray
they’d ever been there.

Robin Cedar’s work has appeared in Blue Mesa Review, Front Porch Journal, Crab Fat Magazine, Moon City Review, and elsewhere, and has been nominated for the Best of the Net. She received her MFA in poetry from Oregon State University and served as poetry editor and social media manager to its lit mag, 45th Parallel.