As a toddler she had caused a sensation in her family when she announced she wanted to live in a little hole like the ant. Not an ant, the ant. This might have been misheard.

She was an easygoing child, not particularly thoughtful and stubbornly inartistic. Her temperament was not in the least unruly or mystical. But when she was fourteen she was struck in the head by a surfboard and almost drowned. In a matter of moments she became an NDE-er, a member of that serene and suspect tribe of tinselly-like persuasion. Attempting to articulate her near-death experience, she found it differed scarcely at all from thousands of other accounts. There was the light, the empty road, the endless shore, the light, the tunnel, the ascent, the view of the unnecessary body below. The feeling of limitlessness, oneness, freedom, the sudden dismay at the obstruction, the shut door, the check, the thwart, the cruel boundary. Then the turning back, the forced retreat, the unpleasant feeling of being drawn down a kind of funnel, a cone …  

A therapist told her that she’d experienced a depersonalization, which is basically a psychological defense against death. The mind has many wiles.

I still feel that way, she said. Depersonalized. Like, whatever.

She wondered if she would see it again, that shining threshold, when it really mattered.






He had four thousand wings. This was simply a fact. The feathers of each wing—innumerable. As they should be. The wings sheltered the souls so they could not be viewed in transit. This too was correct. He also had a thousand eyes but not, as has been rumored, four heads. Azrael was spectacularly made and, as was so tirelessly depicted, looked nothing like Jesus, though in truth the Nazarene was not at all as rendered either. Jesus and Azrael were not well acquainted. They traveled in different circles. Jesus was surprisingly unfamiliar with death other than his own.

The birds of the air were terrified of Azrael. His murmurs of assurance were incomprehensible to them. Their bones were hollow and filled with air. The sweetest air. Wasn’t that enough?






*Friedrich Hölderlin




The  number  of  souls  is  fixed.  Each birth is not the creation of a soul but the completion of the transmigration from one body to another. There is no such thing as a new soul. The souls made no sound as Azrael transported them. Never had one attempted to engage him in thought. The journey was made in perfect silence. They seemed wonderstruck.





*Ted Hughes




She was lying on soft sheets in an old motel on the beach. The day was sunny and fresh with a clean sea breeze. It was the past, but now, she was immersed in it now. It was wonderful. She didn’t mind in the slightest that her friend wasn’t there. But then she started thinking about whales and grew sad. There were no whales here, the waters were too warm and shallow, but there were sharks. These were killed whenever seen. By the pool there was a red Coca-Cola machine with an endless supply of cold Cokes. In the room, above the bed, was a print of Foxes and Geese by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein. She’d had to look it up, what it was. A peculiar choice for an old beach motel. Someone here was being just a little eccentric she thought. They were about to tear the place down any minute and they had actually. She had come here with friends or, in any case, a number of people she knew, but now she was alone, thinking about whales, worrying about them. They were in terrible danger. She couldn’t grasp the enormity of the whale, the extraordinariness of its life. Her own life had been quite unmysterious, but a whale’s life in the ocean! Amazing. Sound never ceases in the water. She’d learned that in school and it just stuck. Funny, certain things, the way they do after years and years. The depths were not silent at all. There was always sound—ticking and groaning and singing and shattering and the whales heard and comprehended it all. Whales did no harm and were possessors of the Ocean’s meaning. But they were being slaughtered. Oh she didn’t want to be thinking this. What if this were the last thing she’d be given to think?







*Bernard Germain de Lacépède, The Natural History of the Cetaceans




On September 12, 2021, 1,428 dolphins in dozens of family pods were killed in the Faroe Islands. They’d been herded by motorboats, Jet Skis, and all manner of personal watercraft into a bay to be slaughtered on the beach. This was not commercial whaling, this was a community event, a yearly aquatic culling tradition that rather got out of hand. Six times more dolphins were killed in a single day than in an entire year. Usually it is pilot whales who are tapped for the free food in this cherished tradition but a large number of dolphins were sighted by some mariner and the community went delirious with excitement. As part of the tradition there are people on shore poised to dispatch the gifts of the sea with knives and an implement called a spinal lance, which is said to reduce killing time to one—well, possibly two—second(s), but there weren’t enough butchers on the beach (it’s always more fun to be on the boats) and so very many desperate and terrified and dying mammals that the one- (possibly two-) second refinement of the spinal lance couldn’t be humanely applied.

The intoxicating orgy of killing will have to serve as its own reward, for no one can really say how much of the flesh was processed and distributed to grateful Faroe Islanders. Or what was done with the carcasses of the families, or pods, if you will. There might be a tradition of respectful disposal though this is not likely. The remains were probably just dumped into the blood-black sea.