Jenn Carter.

starfish moving underwater

Jenn Carter (she/her) is Androgynous, Shy, Queer, Crazy, a lover of nature and books, a mom, a survivor, and an educator. She writes poems about all of these things and resides in Portland, ME.

Cuttlefish Looks

From the ocean’s interstellar
Dark, deep space bioluminescent
Plankton galaxies,
I emerge

An alien
PurpleBlueYellowBlack hologram,
Poison humming
In cold blood,
My flamboyance a warning:

Here, in these seas,
Predators learn
Even a stare has a price.

I am nobody’s snack.

Brittle Stars

Ophiocoma wendtii have no eyes
but they are not blind.
Scientists call this extraocular vision:
brittle stars see
with their whole bodies
but only when they are red.

Light receptors
called opsins
coopt chromatophores
(color changing skin cells used for camouflage)
as screening pigment
to enable spatial resolution,
creating vision.

Referring to echinoderms
and other animals,
a shift in the function of a trait
is called exaptation.
Referring to humans,
it is known as trauma behavior.

I marvel at the genius
of our cells,
the brittle stars and I,
the parts of us designed to keep us safe
transformed to help us see.

But what difference could being red make to seeing?

I wonder if brittle stars
experience emotion in the body
as humans do, if chromatophores are like heat maps,
if, on the ocean floor they light up
with feeling, if that is part of the difference
between perceiving light and truly seeing,
and if vision is just light being given direction:
a way through
a way forward
a way home.

This poem contains information from these sources:
Frazer, Jennifer. “The Brittle Star That Sees with Its Body.” Scientific American,
July 28, 2020: online article. The line “what dif erence could being red make to
seeing?” is taken directly from this article.
Sumner-Rooney, Lauren. “Extraocular Vision in a Brittle Star is Mediated by
Chromatophore Movement in Response to Ambient Light.” Current Biology,
Volume 30, Issue 2, pp. 319-327
Douclef , Michaeleen. “Mapping Emotions on the Body: Love Makes Us Warm All
Over.” National Public Radio, December 30, 2013: online article.