Adaptive Behavior & Sailing Kraken Mare on a Moon of Saturn

Adaptive Behavior

Five miles deep,
on the Japan Trench floor
the forecast is the same today
as for the last million years:
near freezing, cave-black,
five tons of pressure per square inch.
Slow rain of flesh.
Snailfish ask nothing more.
Their plump head-bodies are pale
with dark eyes, reports
the submersible, peering
through portals of solid sapphire.
Energetically, gracefully,
they congregate over a meal of shrimp,
waving their ribbon tails.
Snailfish bear large eggs,
deal carefully with their young,
move swiftly in the dark,
in an ocean of pressure—and here
the observers, so easily
drowned or crushed,
thought to find only
feeble, half-paralyzed creatures.
Snailfish move as if joyous,
never pine, fear no grief;
they are strong,
like Staphylococcus bacteria tried
for generations by hospital protocols,
strong like earthworms
in old mines who swallow
copper, lead, and arsenic,
yet thrive, excreting
milder poisons.
A snailfish ripples
through Pacific depths,
an earthworm tunnels under England,
and neither bears an enormous brain
that must be fed,
a hearthfire demanding
every tree for miles.
Such brains belong
to the ones who invented
a camera that can plumb the sea
and return, and the ones
who poured the metal
and mined the stone, the ones
who mow their lawns,
wear shoes that hurt,
deafen themselves with music;
the ones with bad backs,
bad knees, terrible eyesight,
who stay up late,
speed on highways,
don’t eat their vegetables,
sometimes sit on one side of a bed
too sad to pull on socks, and sometimes
fall in love
like mangoes hitting the ground;
the ones who scrounged for grants
and skipped having kids
so they could be seasick over the trench
where hypothetical,
solitary, anemic beings
listlessly lived—and who leaned
toward their video evidence
of vigorous fish
and made noises of pure delight.

 

Sailing Kraken Mare on a Moon of Saturn

“Every Planet therefore must have its own Waters of such a temper not liable to Frost.”
—Christian Huygens, astronomer

A bright streak, a novelty
for the dense orange sky,
and our probe splashes down, then bobs up in
the limpid methanes of Kraken Mare,
largest lake on Saturn’s largest moon.
We’ve administered to Titan a capsule
to cure its secrecy. Now our craft,
our silvery buoyant bean,
our space-yacht settles its slight weight
in the waves of liquid hydrocarbon
with almost no surface tension,
and triggers the camera on its mast.
Six years’ travel away from us,
our eyesight has arrived.

Saturn would loom wide overhead,
tilting its slim rings for our admiration,
were not the atmosphere so thick
that the sun forms no dimple in it.
No stars to steer by, not much horizon,
no landscape to speak of.
The skin of this moon  is young,
scarcely cratered, and shifts as though
ill-fitted to its core, so its mild features
won’t stay where they are.
And, it seems, it’s lifeless.

A placid orange smog reflects
in the sides of our vessel as it nods
between a vague shore and a single island
in an unpolluted, odorless sea.
Supposing we went on deck, a romantic
interlude in mind. A mote of candlelight
could set the lake on fire,
if it found oxygen enough, but too late
to warm our solid-frozen hands,
or thaw the humors of our eyes,
chilled like the surface to minus two-ninety Fahrenheit.

Stare on Earth at a blue sea
sharpened by sunlight, then look away:
For a second you’ll see the dim orange of Titan.
Cover your ears to hear something like
the background music beamed from Titan—
a variable, scratchy, unceasing hiss.
Winds on cold waves, we suppose, waves in cold wind.
Watch for showers of methane rain,
watch for infrared rainbows. Observe
as our slow and distant sun touches on
an absence of event, a purity
closed around our boat, resettled already.
What dark sea have we ever sailed
without finding monsters in it?

 

To read more of Sarah Lindsay’s poems, subscribe to the print edition of Parnassus, Volume 33.

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