In 1965, a bottlenose dolphin christened Peter was the subject of a scientific experiment. For six weeks, he lived in a flooded apartment in the Virgin Islands with a woman named Margaret Howe, who was tasked with teaching him human language. Needless to say, this was not successful.
Peter and Pam at rest beside the inflow;
Sissy is circling by the hydrophone.
A flip, a swoop, and then a nibble — oh,
a dolphin dance! his teeth along her throat.
I stand there with my clipboard in the dry
late summer heat, and none of us are home.
They hassle. Peter bites at Sissy’s eye,
then both are squealing, both are spinning round
delightfully. This gives me time to write.
One day in March, we let a ball just bounce
neutrally in the centre of the pool,
as if for anyone. When it was found,
it stayed with its first owner. That was all —
no squabbles, struggles, not even kiss-chase.
Peter swims up, the sweet aquatic fool,
along Pamela’s flank — then face to face,
he strafes her with his sonar. She wigs out,
flukes flicking crazy. Bops him. Off they race.
That’s dolphins, I write later. Guilt and doubt
can’t get a foothold in their element.
Now Sissy’s leaping up and smashing down
two times, a third, and whatever that meant
I know that it must feel sensational.
Now Peter’s nosing into Sissy’s neck.
She slams him with her tail. I feel the swell
and stare, confused. It stops. Service resuming,
I wrap things up and leave to read Pierre Boulle,
at John’s request. Much to consider. Foam in
the hot, deep bath kisses my bitten nails.
Why must the ape subordinate the human,
the man the ape? Why should the larger whales
come for our cars and houses once they’re vocal?
Ethics in water wears quite a different style.
So might our cherished discipline, so-called.