Monday, February 8, 2010

Deep in the coral reefs, in a dark
unlike the land's most unstarred night,
beyond quicksilver flickering shoals
of fishes where neither shark
prowls, or porpoises cavort

at the dim yet lustrous feet
of pagodas of albino white
or alizarin crimson corals
wafting in the slow
yet ever expanding diastole
of the unsurfaced sea

among anemones, barnacled debris
fluorescent polyps, bones' filigree
inconspicuous, and in disguise
the carrier shell is found

whether from Darwinian severities
or because, as ethnologist
Adolph Portmann suggests,
nature practises
concious mimesis
it performs a peculiar task

sifting through detritus from
subaquatic latitudes above
for periwinkles, wentletraps
as obscure upon
the ocean floor they drift

incessant search
chiefly unearths
fragments, shards,
these it discards
yet on a signal
may find, complete
a perfect shell

spinning out of its own entrails, then,
an epoxy which can resist
the sea's dilutions, it attaches
to its own carapace, at an exact
interval from the last
such find, the new found prize

the largest of these inevitably is placed
at center; in neatly graduated degrees
are arranged those of diminishing size
upon the outward rim;
nor are there mirrors to admire
this display--or even eyes
in our sense--all this is done
by touch

above these shells patiently gathered
occurs another of anomalous nature's
upon the topmost whorl
of the migratory carrier shell
grows a form, half mineral, half-plant
rising lightly, branching out
into a white sea-flower

as if all this eerie creature thought
as through detritus it had sought
perfection, or protective camouflage
had become a kind
of crown.

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