Interlude with eels and whalebones

A whale's skeleton on the Atlantic ocean floor, picked clean four months after its death (BBC).

A whale’s skeleton on the Atlantic ocean floor, picked clean four months after its death (BBC).

A change is as good as a rest, they say. So here’s a poem.

I wrote it about 20 years ago, inspired by some personal crisis now half-forgotten, and by an old Chambers Cyclopaedia I’d picked up cheap in a charity shop. The science was probably out of date even when I wrote it. But I am inspired to haul it up from the depths after watching the BBC’s Blue Planet 2, which today (accompanied by the voice of David Attenborough) plunged into the ocean deeps. Among other, more beautiful scenes the programme featured a whale carcass drifting down to be feasted upon by idiot fish. Jaw-dropping, literally.

In the Abyss

Beneath light, where pressure smothers motion
and leaden miles of inspissating liquid
tower upon the backs of lice, the ocean
drops its dead among the pennatulids,

clamp-jawed eels, crinoidea, polyp masses,
huge octopods and prawns upon audacious
stilts, antennae reaching through molasses
like worms in the gut, blank, voracious.

After its pilgrimage around the world
(if it escapes the whaling fleet) the whale
rots to mulch here, its nerves in leagues uncoiled
for idiot fish to feast upon its deshabille.

This sliver between receding sky
and the deep, this urgent silvery brim
floats on its dying generations’ lye
below the nine-day plummet of the Seraphim,

morass and slough of half the globe.
All things slip down, disintegrate and scatter,
but in monastic silence monsters probe
preposterous on unseen legs the slew of matter.

© John Garth, 2017. No reproduction without permission.

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1 Response to Interlude with eels and whalebones

  1. Wow, that is really lovely! I will reread it tonight and look deeper, but it is bewitching at first read.

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