Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2015  v14n1
an online journal of literature and the arts
 print preview

I Sing the Body Aquatic

When I offer my sweaty hand in greeting
I can see the future. No matter
how gently you squeeze, I know
when our hands meet you will crowd
my crooked index and pinky fingers
against their straight-as-an-arrow brothers
so that my hand looks more like a fin
than an appendage perfectly evolved
for tying shoelaces or wiping a tear
from the red face of the missionary
who rode his bicycle under the sun
all day to reach my porch.
When he takes my hand he won’t find hope
or brotherhood or whatever
he’s looking for. Because I can see
the future at times like this
and because I have an unshakeable faith
in the law of averages, I know
when our hands embrace he’ll find
proof of natural selection
in the shape of my fingers, evolutionary
holdovers from an era of gills
when the earth was all aquarium
and some distant relative with sleepy eyes
and splayed fins who tired of being mocked
by handsome carp said, To hell with it
and climbed out of the sea and across
moonlit dunes toward a sandy life.
In that moment he couldn’t have predicted
300 million years later one of his
descendants having long since grown legs
would be belly down on a beach
before an ocean that would carry him
and his own to the land of Montezuma
to roast in the sun for four centuries
where their conversion into dry Catholics
would be so perfect you would never guess
I can’t swim to save my life
or anyone else’s or that the sound of a wave
pounding a rock makes me nostalgic.
You would never know any of this
until we met on the street
or you knocked on my door and embraced
my hand and felt Galilee on my palm,
which you might mistake for nervousness
unless you were familiar with the embarrassment
of having the only wet fins at a party
because somewhere in your family there was a pike
or two hailing from one of the lost schools
that under pain of death swam
far from the Atlantic or Mediterranean,
around both of which I hear shame
and fear are still the coins of the realm.  end  

return to top