Twilight over Tioga Lake

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Poems About Invertebrates

That is exactly what this is. I like creepy, crawly, and slimey creatures, what can I say?

I am inspired to show these poems because of what covered Ocean Beach the other day: hundreds of giant dead jellyfish. I think it happens once a year here. They were in the water, on the sand, everywhere. People and dogs eyed the purplish blobs with wary interest.

The first poem is an earlier one, from 2001. It concerns the same phenomenon, except that time they were tiny jellyfish. The second poem is from a more recent experience concerning a slightly more popular creature: butterflies.

Enjoy and enjoy the rest of the summer. It sure went fast...sigh...

Small Death

The day sparkles violently; thrashing foam and glinty sand hit my eyes.

Coins of perfect clear appear under my feet.

Closer perusement reveals pellucid blobs, lying calm on the sand.

It is an unearthly creature in water: half-fluid, it undulates with grace no land walker
could achieve.

But here small shards of rock and screeching sun slowly east the fluidity out of underwater life.

There is no jealousy of the creature in death. Thinned-out, its tentacles grip the sand with rigormortis strength, and organs are frozen in crystal clear gelatin.

Expecting jelly-softness, my reaching hand finds a firmly swollen body, turgid and unnatural.

Not all lie dead. One pulses with minute life, its hydrozoic heart beating, hoping for water.

I help the slippery life meet an unfurling wave. An act of kindness? A sandpiper eats it promptly, or the ambivalent surf rips its dying body, most likely.

But maybe the being softens into full life, and enters the shallows that can become so saturated with small spheres it is like swimming in tapioca. Out of my body and clothes I step into such a sea.

Both of us free from burning land, I watch the embryonic form pulsate with rapture that comes with reinvented life. It gulps sweet saltwater and receives electric life force through the tentacles of others that stroke their found companion. The tentacles also find me. They do not sting; they are feathers that constantly caress.

When I return, I walk without disturbing the mass grave. It is just small death, melting.

Second Communion

At the gardens. Outside air is perfect-fresh, yet I choose damp imprisonment.
Into the Palm House.

It rains in here. Full and torpid drips splat my head.

Trees grow in this House. Not all friendly, some are stoically barbed. Others have obscenely large leaves, pornographically colored flowers.

How are they? Forced to grow up quickly and never having seen the outside, except as a faint glow behind opaque walls? Frustrated, wanton, passive survivors.

Though I admire these quiet beasts, I am not visiting them.

Breeze through the orchids with their drooping doughty faces. They implore why I slight them.

Finally permeate through a membrane of heavy plastic strips into...the Butterfly Room.

Initially just more plants. But small ambushes of flying color appear in the peripherals. And I am surrounded by the plants' distant rootless cousins.

Lepidoptera lights the clingy air with a myriad of wings.

Oval Zebras are lambent over little blue flowers. Red Admirals lope heavily in the air.

They are a happiness to watch. But watching is not enough. I need them to feel me.

You are not supposed to touch butterflies. Their fragile wings can crumble on our crude hands; their tasters can clog up with our distasteful oils.

But I am selfish.

A group of white flowers are popular with some Julia Longwings. I repent down to my knees and breathe closely.

Black veins slice through the Julia's orange sails. Their eyes are convex orbs, white stones in a burgundy pond. Proboscises dip into consenting pistils. I need them to see me.

The Julia's come very close, but do not land on my perfect blue flower-colored shirt. Coerciveness becomes a necessity.

There are a number of butterflies gathered at the window. While it seems obvious to anyone they are trying to escape, a docent explains they are simply attracted to the light.

Really? Then again, they were born in here. How is it to want something you don't even know exists? What do we want that we don't even know about...yet?

I approach the placid prisoners, and try to coax some Monarchs onto my finger. My encroachment brings wing pounding protest.

Then I see many of these butterflies’ dusty appendages are battered. Suddenly I feel guilty, a supporter of ignorant imprisonment.

My shame is silent, and I almost abort my misguided mission. But then I see him.

A Buckeye is quiet against the wall. He catches my eye with his many blue-tinged fake ones. I move closer, and he does not move at all.

My Buckeye's body is thicker and hairier than the others'. His black proboscis whorls in a perfect coil. He is magnificent, and a little aggressive looking. I am kind of afraid of him.

But I see an opportunity.

My hand is now right by his legs, and I gingerly move myself under him.

Unperturbed, he climbs onto my finger!

Shakingly slow, my hand moves towards my eyes. His sticker-legs are Velcroed onto me. His eye is a liquid black world. He unfurls his proboscis and probes me; the tiniest feather on my skin.

I literally cannot believe that I hurt him.

I am blessed for an eternal minute, and then he flies.

Exhale, smacked dumb with this new experience. The greenhouse world descends on me violently. Feverish droplets clog my bronchi. My thighs stick together in an ugly way. Rush towards the exit, ignore the plants' pleading leaves.

Outside, I eat the raw air. And think.

I had a first communion once. I recall stuffy air, stiff dress, stifled senses, formalized ritual.

I do not recall God.

And this very recent moment in the butterfly house? Air moist with life, easy clothes, jolted senses, the freedom to be there or not.

The question is not whether or not God exists.

The question is:

Was God in that moment?

About Me

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San Francisco, CA
Elissa is an east coast transplant making her way through life by way of San Francisco. This amazing city provides lots of fodder for writers of all types. I find inspiration for writing through life's little and bizarre events, such as grocery shopping for dog treats, salamander hunting, and insomnia. I am a preschool teacher in "real life."