West Virginia poet Liam Wholihan offers a lament for what appears to be several different things in his complex “Elegy for a Virgin-Born Bonnethead Shark Pup”. He explained to The Dewdrop, “In 2007, zookeepers at Henry Doorly Zoo aquarium found a bonnethead shark pup in a tank with only older females. While they initially doubted the possibility of a virgin birth, genetic testing determined not only which shark in the tank was its mother, but that the pup contained exclusively maternal genetic material. This was the first case of parthenogenesis, a form of asexual reproduction where females produce offspring without male contribution, recorded in sharks. Within hours, the pup was killed by another fish in the tank.”
“I attempt, in this poem, to celebrate that shark and its complications,” he concluded.
Elegy for a Virgin-Born Bonnethead Shark Pup
Little spade-headed baby,
with the right lawyer you could’ve been Jesus
with a cephalofoil, pectoral fins– the first
Messiah capable of digesting seagrasses,
unenunciated & non-fathered. No angel
infricting into a child’s room at night. Just
half your mother, self fertilized, gestated in
duplicate. Every hour & fifteen minutes
there’s a chance at the rink
for perfection: the ice needs cut.
Leveler up, brush arm out,
conditioner down then augur, water & pump
I wrap a dead moon in an ocean, done right
I give a sky fresh skin, one lap at a time.
I’m not supposed to tell people
my father started using his mother’s maiden name
after he got sober & it’s ours now.
We’d drive what used to be a tree
to the dump & he’d kiss my head,
tousle my brother’s hair. Even now my ears ring
to each other & I’ll wake tonight
stuck thinking of the runaway sailor
building a raft to cross the Atlantic
who shouted all signs are good when
a nest fell out of the seventh balsa tree
he needed & the mother flew off
silent, in a straight line away.
Liam Wholihan is on a mission to find a Hellbender Salamander, which are native to West Virginia, where he tends baseball fields in the summer, and drives a Zamboni during the winter. You can find his other poems, past and forthcoming, in Kelp, Red Noise Collective, Quail Bell Magazine, Bridge:Bluffton, Quiver, Cellar Door, and Catch. He serves on the editorial board of The Mount St. Mary’s University Working Paper Series in International Studies and holds an MFA in Poetry from West Virginia University.