A Letter to Sylvia Plath

Dolphins in wartime

Melissa Doherty, Frill no. 4. 2010, oil on board. 10” x 10”.

Dear Ms. Plath,

I’d like to try to get the story of my death out of the way: no more of this terrible anticipation. This is the soldier in me speaking. I have the US Navy to thank for training me to do the deed, then deal with the deed, though it’s in failing to deal that I died. Word games as primers, Ms. Plath, you’d appreciate that.

The other animals who have told their stories here are not as burdened by previous and often foolhardy attempts at cross-species communication as I feel I am. We have a ridiculous history together, humans and dolphins, made more ridiculous each time a dolphin raises her head from the water and hams it up for the camera, or performs another inane trick for the sake of a tossed fish. Scientists have tried to transform us into serious objects of study, but even then there is something a bit off about what happens when they get down to work. Marine biologists start writing tacky utopian tracts about the possibilities of telepathic communication with us; animal behaviorists can’t resist trying to get us to tap away at underwater keyboards to break codes. Science-fiction writers generally use their poetic license to imagine screwing us, which is unsurprising; we have long understood that we occupy a special place in the human erotic imagination.

So when I was first asked to tell my story, I thought, Absolutely not. But the brief became more interesting when it was suggested I think about a human writer who meant something to me, and let my thoughts of him or her infuse whatever I decided to say. I said I’d participate only if I could use the third person, to avoid becoming a parody of myself, the self-aware dolphin wielding “I” like a toy ball propped between my fins. But, as it turns out, “I” is irresistible.

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