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Adaptive Behavior


Five miles deep,
on the Japan Trench floor
the forecast is the same today
as for the last million years:
near freezing, cave-black,
five tons of pressure per square inch.
Slow rain of flesh.
Snailfish ask nothing more.
Their plump head-bodies are pale
with dark eyes, reports
the submersible, peering
through portals of solid sapphire.
Energetically, gracefully,
they congregate over a meal of shrimp,
waving their ribbon tails.
Snailfish bear large eggs,
deal carefully with their young,
move swiftly in the dark,
in an ocean of pressure—and here
the observers, so easily
drowned or crushed,
thought to find only
feeble, half-paralyzed creatures.
Snailfish move as if joyous,
never pine, fear no grief;
they are strong,
like Staphylococcus bacteria tried
for generations by hospital protocols,
strong like earthworms
in old mines who swallow
copper, lead, and arsenic,
yet thrive, excreting
milder poisons.
A snailfish ripples
through Pacific depths,
an earthworm tunnels under England,
and neither bears an enormous brain
that must be fed,
a hearthfire demanding
every tree for miles.
Such brains belong
to the ones who invented
a camera that can plumb the sea
and return, and the ones
who poured the metal
and mined the stone, the ones
who mow their lawns,
wear shoes that hurt,
deafen themselves with music;
the ones with bad backs,
bad knees, terrible eyesight,
who stay up late,
speed on highways,
don’t eat their vegetables,
sometimes sit on one side of a bed
too sad to pull on socks, and sometimes
fall in love
like mangoes hitting the ground;
the ones who scrounged for grants
and skipped having kids
so they could be seasick over the trench
where hypothetical,
solitary, anemic beings
listlessly lived—and who leaned
toward their video evidence
of vigorous fish
and made noises of pure delight.


Sarah Lindsay

Parnassus: Poetry in Review

Volume 33, Number 1 & Number 2


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