Jessica Kim's "Whalien 52" may seem like a strange selection for the year's first poem spotlight. After-all, the poem's from the May 2021 issue of Oxidant|Engine, a pub that's currently on hiatus. You've probably never heard of Oxidant|Engine or Jessica Kim and that's a shame. Click on the pic above to take a look around the journal and also to read the full text of Kim's gem.
The first thing to note is how Kim angles right for the heart from the poem's opening lines:
It’s strange how the beach in winter
makes her even lonelier.
Never underestimate the power of tying powerful conflicts to archetypes. In this case, loneliness and the sea provide what can only be called an elemental setting, meaning this is as human and primary as poetry gets. So how does Kim twist newness out of such a massive mythic footprint? Well, she promises something unexpected with a single word: "lonelier."
We're all lonely, but we're all also very curious to know if our loneliness marks the extremity of the experience. Or can it get worse?
Let's do something really crazy now and jump immediately to the last line of the poem:
a signal that does not reach her.
Clearly, Kim has touched a deeper loneliness. She wants us to touch it, too. Not out of spite or malice. Not out of poetic opportunity. She wants us to feel the loneliness of the world. She wants us to see that our personal loneliness is connected to the whole globe, the seas, and everything that swims in them.
These lines show us the purpose of loneliness:
She wails into the curvature
of her backbone, sculpted with abandoned
girlhood. On the other side of the earth,
even the blind whales can see her.
However we are broken, it is nature that heals us. When we feel that certain loneliness that no friend, no family member, and no social media can fill, it's a call from that world we've left behind. Our childhood world when animals, stars, tress, and planets swam with possibility through our imaginations. When we not only wanted to run barefoot over mud, sand, and grass, we did it, and usually with someone we loved (or wanted to love) chasing us or running away.
This is masterful poem not only because it sees so deeply, but because in order to see so deeply, Kim had to feel this for us; she had to drown in what we mostly try to avoid. The poem is evidence that the whale-song, that signal of earth and childhood joy she speaks of in the poem, reached her fully intact.
I, for one, would like to thank her for sharing the music with us.