Invertebrates

by Kari Rittenbach

Alice Channer, Sample and Hold

Fig. 1.

hoh, sea slugs!
are you creatures of dusk
or early dawn?

Rosen, 17th Century

Make ready for the water dance:
nylon-spandex blend stretched taut
over ribs, all extending limbs, then
seal up each well-conditioned chignon
in a mucous mould, soft seemly pro-V perfection.
Insoluble petroleum jelly! Layers like resin, a knucklebone thick,
let go no singularly joyful strand
between surface dives, kaleidoscopic beats;
pointed pedicures kicked through a chlorine calm.
The back bends now, now breathe deep.

A dramatic end to the repertoire there. Stopped dead in the water like corpses.
Disquieting.[i]

Fig. 2.

Their saltwater cnidaria sisters
assemble sweet elegance with far less art;
fewer corners, straighter desires,
balletic two-way processing
(feed and shit via selfsame lips), and
melting over again and again
in a reproductive fishtail spiral:
polyp to medusa to polyp to medusa
to polyp &c. Exactly which
number (to-the-trillionth-power) generation
are today descendant from,
those Cambrian complexities?


Fig. 3.

All of the time in the world is under the ocean.
So for rhythm – Exxon Valdez, Deepwater
Horizon – unfortunate caesurae in
the ecological metre comprised by
differentiation and other mis-
transcriptions of mRNA; wound up
cloudily now into several, gelatinous,
phantasmaglobular shapes.
Brined in black they ascend, a listless end:
surface death. (Precursor zooplankton
fossilized into crude oil, refined petrol –
what material irony a tanker spills!)

Fig. 4.

Radial symmetry sees no left, no moral right
Up is light, depths dreaming, sentience
in the stream of side-to-side.
SPINELESS cuts like steel on dry land,
but paraphyletic invertebrates share more
dissimilarity; the sea a solvent for the gravity of men.
Here the Gorgon’s head bobs free, Venus’s girdle
find loose on the tide, suspended among the
Nereid annelids – in an equalizing soup.
So bare a life scorned by existentialisms,

It is soft, yielding and compressible. Its stickiness is a trap, it clings like a leech; it
attacks the boundary between myself and it.[ii]

Fig. 5.

Environmental organism of the mediatic!
For this bewildering jelly, peeled open like
silk pleating, embraces the external with all anatomy.
Between myself and it: no edge
All pleasure; ether condensed to
milky mercurial matter. As if the object of
Pygmalion’s desire, had been Poseidon –
and in the heat of passion,
the sculptor’s block quickened to a molten aluminium;
twisting into longspears, then slenderer tendrils,
limp lam noodles in the hand, hanging
too kindly for their toxic sting.


Fig. 6.

Aloof on millennial swells: long-stranded,
curlicued, luminescent, blue. Grand elastic
expression of a will to formless.
To the port side, unceremoniously, see
the men o’war swarming
pale anklebones, periscoping.
A Busby Berkeley Slasher in open-water rehearsal,
nature’s telos straight to DVD
Toss out the life-preserver!
buried, there under the wet kelp, dying squid.

There’s a shocking amount of genetic similarity between jellyfish and human
beings, said Kevin J. Peterson, a molecular paleobiologist.[iii]



[i]
M. Langshaw, ‘Olympic Synchronised Swimming, Day Ten’, Sports Mole, 6 August 2012.

[ii]J. Sartre, Being and Nothingness, H. E. Barnes, trans., New York, 1956.

[iii]N. Rich, ‘Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?’ The New York Times, 2 Dec 2012, MM32.

Figs. 1 – 6 are taken from items in Alice Channer's studio.

Fig. 1: Jpeg from 3-D scan of plaster casts of fingers, July 2012

Fig 2: Cover of Metro, London, Friday August 31st 2012

Fig. 3: Photocopy from Haig H. Najarian, Sex Lives of Animals Without Backbones, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1976. Illustrations by Martha Miles Gordon and Marjorie Babine Shaw.

Fig. 4: E-Lites advert, Metro, London, Wednesday March 14th 2012

Fig. 5: Jpeg of Michaelangelo’s Pieta Rondanini, from Wikipedia

Fig. 6: Photocopy from Jean-Baptiste Panafieu and Patrick Gries, Evolution In Action: Natural History Through Spectacular Skeletons, Thames and Hudson, London, 2007.

LINKS