by Kari Rittenbach
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.
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?
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,
Brined in black they ascend, a listless end:
surface death. (Precursor zooplankton
fossilized into crude oil, refined petrol –
what material irony a tanker spills!)
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]
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 lamé noodles in the hand, hanging
too kindly for their toxic sting.
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.