'Operation No Compromise', a poem by Mark Cugini

‘Pipesmoking Whale’, a photograph by Askal Bosch. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Licence.

I remember a time

when I dreamt I

was a whale shark, but

memories don’t live

like people do; they

embed themselves

in us—on our

timelines, on our

tanlines, our right

rails, the seaweeds

we weave when our

bodies get old and

hot and stale. They

gulp and swallow

and because of this

need to feed, my

mother cannot eat

a single potato

chip on Sunday

without bursting

into tears. So now

when I see the sea,

I don’t see a metaphor—

when I see the sea,

I see an epoch’s worth

of surfer bros and

synthetic ruination,

of broken boards and

bloody shores and

sorry-ass societal

suicide. Do you

ever look up and

wonder why the

sun is there? Do you

ever think the sun is

supposed to do anything

but burn us?

We love the moon

because of balance

and we love the

moon because we

can see it—it’s impossible

to look at a surface and see

the ways we’re dying. It’s

impossible to watch our headlines

melt into a blurry parallax and

see anything but a sea of waves

and ways in which we’re

killing ourselves. So

hi, life, what now? In

what other way can

you stay fucking with

my shit? In what

other manner can

you set fire to my

bank account?

The first time I saw

a harpoon pierce

the skin of a minke

whale, I felt every

tiny atrocity—every

sexist editor, every

deadstock Jordan, every

still of security footage and

every six shots and

every dead black boy and

every cheap leaf in

every ‘stolen’ cigarillo and

every flash bang and

every half-assed hashtag and

every appropriated pop song—

I felt every botched

ideological construct

conflate into colossal

catastrophe, a mass

stranding of our collective

justification for ordering

tuna salad. Whales

are not like us. Whales

have long-range vocal patterns

and sophisticated brains

and cool-ass dorsal fins

and a boundless capacity

for love and

loss and empathy.

Humans have ‘reason’.

But if reason is our firewall,

then motive must be

our malware, because

what are we but

some dumber form

of mammal? Are we

not just a species of

solipsistic shitheels,

a flock of hard-lunged

prop foulers? Do

we not contain

galaxies of uncharted

sympathy, endless

valleys of soft cells and

hard truths and late-night

phone calls? So when I say

today is a monument

and I am an amoeba

what I mean is that

tomorrow we can change

this. Tomorrow we can

build a hard drive of

profound understanding.

Tomorrow can be full

of full and light epiphany.

Tomorrow is tomorrow

and it can be a

sanctuary for all the

endangered things that

we don’t want to not

have happen to us.

Tomorrow can be

today and today

can be a million

bursting bubbles,

a million prayers

to a god we only

pray to when we

can see the ways

that we can make our

brains grow bright

and right and tasty

so—Lord, let me live.

Lord, let me be an unfucked

oceanographer sorting

through the sweetness

of all our unseen oxidants.

Let me apply a Tide pen

to all my awful drippings,

let me strut-not-swag to

a certain sort of clarity

and let me lift

my lighter up

‘til life is up

& igh igh




Mark Cugini is an American-born poet living in America. He is the author of I’m Just Happy To Be Here (Ink Press 2014) and the Managing Editor of Big Lucks Books. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hyperallergic, Pinwheel, Sink Review, Hobart, BOAAT, and numerous other publications. From July 20th to August 27th, he was the #1 ranked player of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.

'Operation No Compromise’ originally appeared in The Lifted Brow: Digital, Volume 12, Issue 2. Get the app and download your copy now.