Ambergris Caye

by Rachel Neve-Midbar

Did whales once live here near these shores? Impossible. Impossible. Impossible this island, sand bar poor, the water table just two feet down and a barrier reef right offshore, the water tepid as tea all aquamarine and green, a see-through wavy mirror. Watch the fish under dive for your hook. Watch them over, whole schools rising together like a lame cape glinting in sunlight. Wind enough to pull a girl’s sailboat home. Our house right under the tallest palm, the one that grows in the mangrove. We never visited that tree. Why would we explore the jungle when it was so easy to remain dormant on the lip of desire, beauty spread before us as our own quiet demise. Ambergris, amber grisea, ambergris or gray amber found in the belly of a whale and set aflame like candlewax. The smell fecal, of sex, of a newborn head blood spattered and perfect. Did sailors once think this island stunk? A scent that called them, a siren song, the nighttime cries of whales, that other mammal who survives her own fertility? The acrid scent of rotting fish. Seaweed gathered onshore. Ambergris aged into a fixative for perfume. Like desire. Age. Our changes. A sun setting behind the tallest palm.

Poet, essayist, translator, and Fulbright Scholar, Rachel Neve-Midbar’s collection Salaam of Birds (Tebot Bach 2020) was chosen by Dorothy Barresi for the Patricia Bibby First Book Prize. She is also the author of the chapbook What the Light Reveals (Tebot Bach, 2014, winner of The Clockwork Prize). Rachel is currently a Fulbright postdoc in Israel translating the poems of Holocaust poet Abba Kovner. She is also the co-editor of Stained: an anthology of writing about menstruation (Querencia Press, July 2023).

International Standard Serial Number
ISSN 2297-3656