Manatee: a Retrospective

What moved you, manatee?

This morning, when I wake tense against the noise of the coming day, knowing I’ll need to retreat from it so I can hear, I am thinking of the manatee. Of the fingernails on its flippers from when they walked on land. 

I am wondering, what moved you, manatee?

Legend has it you were a young woman, bathing at the river’s edge. Then came a hunter and you knew: better to throw your body into the water than to risk staying where you were. Since then, they watched after you, puzzled after your retreating form–– comparing it, I imagine, to their memories of other women, gone.

They call you sea cow, but watch your fluent dance: now alone, now a pair, now an aggregation, all after the same dying grasses. It’s the algae, they say, fed by runoff, blocking the light.

The mothers when the calves are born, lift them to the surface, to breathe. You will wait to breathe when needed. You will wait to breathe, when sleeping. You will not wait forever.

Your curiosity draws you to the nets. Your hunger draws you to the grasses, entanglement in fishing line. Your calves would feed beneath your flipper, except when the line chokes your milk, and they say your name comes from the word for breast.

When you can’t get warm, there are lesions on your flippers like frostbite. On the surface of the water, you sigh rather than breathe. Do you whisper, too? You must have known the hunter once. How else could you know when to leave the land? 

What did you know, daughter of the river, before you entered, and where are we supposed to go now?

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I am here to wonder out loud. The point is not to get a clear answer, a complete picture, but to remember how incomplete the picture is, to embrace the process once again, of discovery, of questions, to notice the stirrings of wonder. To leave crumbs behind, for the next traveler.

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