Ohio, 1989: A dying David Kirby is held by his father while his mother comforts his little sister. After being diagnosed with HIV in California, an estranged Kirby asked his parents if he could return home to die with family by his side. The photo is credited for changing the face of AIDS
When you tell me that a woman is visiting the grave of her college friend and she’s trying not to get irritated at the man in the red truck who keeps walking back and forth and dropping tools as he listens to a pro football game on the truck radio, which is much too loud, I start to feel as though I know where this story is going, so I say Stop, you’re going to make me cry. How sad the world is. When young men died in the mud of Flanders, the headmaster called their brothers out of the classroom one by one, but when the older brothers began to die by the hundreds every day, they simply handed the child a note as he did his lessons, and of course the boy wouldn’t cry in front of the others, though at night the halls were filled with the sound of schoolboys sobbing for the dead, young men only slightly older than themselves. Yet the world’s beauty breaks our hearts as well: the old cowboy is riding along and looks down at his dog and realizes she died a long time ago and that his horse did as well, and this makes him wonder if he is dead, too, and as he’s thinking this, he comes to a big shiny gate that opens onto a golden highway, and there’s a man in a robe and white wings, and when the cowboy asks what this place is, the man tells him it’s heaven and invites him in, though he says animals aren’t allowed, so the cowboy keeps going till he comes to an old rusty gate with a road full of weeds and potholes on the other side and a guy on a tractor, and the guy wipes his brow and says you three must be thirsty, come in and get a drink, and the cowboy says okay, but what is this place, and the guy says it’s heaven, and the cowboy says then what’s that place down the road with the shiny gate and the golden highway, and when the guy says oh, that’s hell, and the cowboy says doesn’t it make you mad that they’re pretending to be you, and the guy on the tractor says no, we like it that they screen out the folks who’d desert their friends. You tell me your friend can’t take it any more, and she turns to confront the man who’s making all the noise, to beg him to leave her alone with her grief, and that’s when she sees that he’s been putting up a Christmas tree on his son’s grave and that he’s grieving, too, but in his own way, one that is not better or worse than the woman’s, just different, the kind of grief that says the world is so beautiful, that it will give you no peace.
The two musicians pour forth their souls abroad
in such an ecstasy as to charm the audience
like none I’ve ever seen before, and when
they finish, they rise and hug each other,
and then the tabla player bends down
and touches the feet of the santoor player in an obvious gesture
of respect, but what does it mean? I don’t find out
until the next day at the Econolodge in Tifton, GA,
where I stop on my way home after the concert
and ask Mrs. Patel, the owner, if she has ever heard
of these two musicians or knows
anything about the tabla and the santoor and especially the latter,
which looks like the love child of a typewriter
and a hammered dulcimer only with a lot of extra wires
and tuning posts, and she doesn’t seem to understand
my questions, though when I ask her about one person touching
the other’s feet and then bend down
to show her, she lights up and says, “It means he thinks the other
is a god. My children do this before they go off
to school in the morning, as though to say, ‘Mummy,
you are a god to us,’” and I look at her
for a second and then surprise us both when I say, “Oh, Mrs. Patel!”
and burst into tears, because I think,
first, of my own dead parents and then of little Lakshmi and Padma
Patel going off to their classes in Tift County schools,
the one a second-grader who is studying homophones
(“I see the sea”) and the other of whom is in the fourth
grade, where she must master long division with
its cruel insistence on numbers lined
up under one another with exacting precision and then crawling
toward the page’s bottom as you, the divider, subtract
and divide again and again, all the while recording
on the top line an answer that grows increasingly
lengthy as you fret and chew the tip of your pencil
and persevere, though before they grab
their books and lunch boxes and pile onto the bus, they take time
to touch Mrs. Patel’s feet and Mr. Patel’s as well,
assuming there is such a person. Later my friend
Avni tells me you touch the feet of your elders
to respect the distance they have traveled
and the earth they have touched, and you
say “namaste” not because you take yoga at that little place
on the truck route between the t-shirt store
and the strip club but because it means “I bow
to the light within you,” and often the people being
bowed to will stoop down and collect you as if to say
“You too are made of the same light!”
Reader, if your parents are alive, think of them now, of all the gods
whose feet you never touched or touched enough.
And if not your parents, then someone else.
You know someone like this, right? Someone who belongs
to the “mighty dead,” as Keats called them.
Don’t you wish that person were here now
so you could touch their feet and whisper, “You are my god”?
I can’t imagine Keats saying, “You too are made
of the same light,” though I can see him saying,
as he did to Fanny Brawne, “I have been astonished
that Men could die Martyrs for religion-I have
shudder’d at it-I shudder no more-I could
be martyr’d for my Religion-Love is my religion-I could die for that-
I could die for you.” My own feet have touched
the earth nearly three times as long as Keats’s did,
and I’m hardly the oldest person
I know. So let this poem brush across the feet of anyone
who reads it. Poetry is
my religion—well, I wouldn’t die for it. I’d live for it, though.
If upon reading this poem you are not struck by such emotion and a sense of knowing, yes, there is just such a person or persons in my life I owe great honour to, then you must sit and be still and look inside your own heart towards your own light… In knowing your own, you will come to be open to knowing and respecting and honouring others. Give of yourself and it will flow freely back to you.
Buxom Book Brief: Death At Sea World: Shamu And The Dark Side Of Killer Whales In Captivity, by David Kirby
I won this book through the First Reads giveaway.
I wasn’t sure if I’d like this book. I’m on the fence as far as animals in captivity go, and I didn’t see why orcas were different. However, I grew up watching Free Willy, wearing skirts with killer whales on them, and even visiting Keiko when he was in Oregon, so I was eager to learn more about my childhood obsession.
Death At Sea World did not disappoint. Kirby follows the stories of the activists, scientists, and trainers who found themselves opposing Sea World’s use of orcas for entertainment. In addition, he gives brief biographies of individual whales, and while he might anthropomorphize captive whales a bit much, he also gives an enormous amount of information about wild orcas.
The book is clearly biased, but Kirby doesn’t exactly try to hide this, and he makes a solid case for ending killer whale captivity. Overall, it was an engaging tale of the killer whale industry.
You grew up loving Free Willy.
You like meticulously detailed books that follow legal cases, such as Gordy Slack’s The Battle Over The Meaning Of Everything.
Kirby: Magolor, you’re so over-dramatic. Magolor: You wanna see over-dramatic? I’ll show you over-dramatic. *pulls out Master Crown* Kirby: Magolor, come on, don’t do anything stupid. *a few moments later* Kirby: What was that all about?! Why did you destroy the universe?! Magolor: You wanted to see over-dramatic.
*Trigger Warning, very violent scene and death below*
“Now approved for Level 3 waterwork, Dawn was one of the few people in the park who were given the okay to perform every behavior in the whale’s repertoire, including all the hotdogging stunts such as hydros and rocket hops. Dawn was a star in Orlando. A picture of her, smiling next to a Killer Whale, was part of Seaworld Orlando’s advertising campaign. Dawn was often featured in TV news stories about goings-on at Seaworld and was profiled in Orlando newspapers and magazines as well.
[Discussing Tilikum during the February 24th 2010 Dine With Shamu when Dawn was killed] "Guys, this is the largest male killer whale in any facility around the world,” Jay [trainer] said as Dawn dropped more fish into Tilly’s mouth. “I kid you not. He’s about 12,000 pounds! That’s six tons of fun and love!” The audience chuckled. Dawn gave Tilikum another hand signal, sending the whale into a barrel roll and then straight toward the tables across the pool.
“There he goes,” Jay said. “A big hello for Shamu!” Tilikum rose up in a spyhop right in front of the delighted guests. “Whoa! Shamu!” Jay said. Tilly began screeching like an EMS siren.
“Of course, one of our main responsibilities is helping them to have fun,” Jay continued. “Whales love to have fun!"
Dawn held up a silvery fish. Tilly nodded as if to say "Yes, please.” Dawn signaled him to raise his left pectoral flipper. He complied. Tilly slammed his big black paddle onto the waters surface with a resounding thwack.
Dawn gave Tilikum the signal for a “raspberry” (the farting sound Orcas can make with their blowholes). But he offered her only a half-hearted, long exhale instead, which earned him a LRS or three second neutral response.
The behaviors and banter continued. Next, Dawn sent Tilly to a slide out area for a final pose, and fed him a few more fish.
Dawn walked behind Jay as he continued the narration. “During the course of our interaction today you’ve seen us use the tools of the trade. the whistle, the target, and the bucket of fish. But in reality, the real secret of this relationship-the most important tool we use- is our heart.”
Those were among the last words Dawn would ever hear.
A few minutes later, video footage shows Dawn lying on her stomach in six to eight inches of water, facing Tilikum, an unnatural smile plastered across her face. What happens next remains a huge subject of argumentation and speculation.
The video switched off at that instant to join the rest of the guests leaving the Dine with Shamu area. Then they heard a splash.
“Hey!” a guest shouted to Jay. “He took her down! He took her down!” According to Suzzanne’s (the guest) account of the event, Jay had not been looking at Dawn. When he turned and saw that she was gone, he ran to the water and started slapping the surface, desperately trying to call Tilly back.
Jan Topoleski sounded the emergency alarm as “Dine with Shamu” staff hurried to usher the remaining guests away from the pool.
Tilikum pushed Dawn around the pool, rammed her twice head-on, then dragged her to the bottom for several seconds. Somehow, she broke free. She made a desperate swim for the surface. Guests saw her head pop out of the water. She stared into their eyes with a look of panic and a plea for help.
Tilikum grabbed her again and pulled her under. The guests finally left the area.
When the alarm went off, Seaworld staff began running toward G pool, leaving behind their own duties with animal training and office work. More than thirty employees descended on the scene. Many began to deploy the emergency netting, while others continued to try and recall Tilikum with water slaps and an underwater tone call- all to no avail.
Tilikum would not release his trophy. He swam around the pool rapidly with Dawn in his mouth. When he dove again to the pool bottom, her motionless body drifted up to the surface. Tilikum swam to the opposite end of the pool, turned around, and moved toward Dawn again. He gained speed, then rammed her body for a third time.
It took more than thirty minutes to corral Tilikum-with Dawn’s body in his mouth- out of G pool and into the much smaller medical pool.
Once in the medical pool, the bottom was raised and staff managed to cover Tilikum with a net. The whale grasped Dawn by her arm and shoulder. He thrashed around violently, unwilling to relinquish his prize, causing Dawn’s body to flail around like a doll. Several staff members tried to retrieve her, but he continued to thrash around.
Rescuers spent ten minutes prying Dawn from his jaws. When her body was finally extracted, Tilikum was lowered back into the water. But then someone noticed that part of Dawn’s left arm was still in the whale’s mouth. He had to be raised up again so that the arm could be retrieved.
Someone else found Dawn’s ponytail and scalp floating in another pool at the stadium complex.
Dawn’s body was laid out on the deck next to the pool. EMS crews on the scene cut away her wet suit and attempted to resuscitate her with a defibrillator. It was no use. Dawn was covered with a sheet to prevent hovering television news helicopters from photographing her body. This heartbreaking image was blasted around the world via satellite. CNN FOX News, and MSNBC went to a split screen mode and, in a corner of the screen, showed a large killer whale floating alone in a small pool sheltered by a canopy.
Every so often, Tilikum would poke his head over the edge and gaze at Dawn, almost as if to see if she had recovered.“- Death at Seaworld Excerpt, written by David Kirby
In chronological order from 1991 to 2012, here it is: Strange-Looking Exile, Boy Trouble(couldn’t resist putting in the two book collections - as that’s what the zines culminated into), and THREE. I’ve done several other zines but these are the queer-specific ones. Most of the art shown here is by me, w/ other cover guest appearances by David Kelly, Michael Fahy, Joey Alison Sayers, Eric Orner, Ed Luce.
"A for ally" was there not just to provide cover for questioning youth, but because straight people who lost loved ones to HIV and violence stepped up and founded lobbying groups (Matthew Shepard Foundation), safe spaces (Pulse, Orlando), and allowed for their grief to be used as potent symbols of protest (David Kirby's family). Many more raised funds, worked the hospices, performed funerals, were defrocked for performing weddings, wrote the laws, went to jail, and litigated on our behalf.
Those are some good allies who deserve recognition - but I don’t think the people who are saying “A is for ace, aro and agender” are saying “and therefore A can’t be for allies” - it’s the people going around saying “A is for allies” who are saying that it can’t be for ace, aro and/or agender people as well.