Marda Messick is a poet living in Tallahassee, Florida on richly biodiverse land that is the ancestral territory of the Apalachee Nations. Her work has appeared in Delmarva Review, Verse-Virtual, The Christian Century,Vita Poetica and other print and electronic publications.
Manatee, Wakulla Springs
The ranger guiding the open tour boat
up the deep spring river names the wildlife:
anhinga, egret, ibis, alligator, yellow-crowned
night heron. We lean with cameras over the side,
eager to see a bounty of manatee, a dozen,
maybe twenty, some with calves.
In the waters off Hispaniola, Cristobal Colon
glimpsed rounded bodies with comely hips
rolling in the swells, and he gazed aroused
from his caravel, expecting mermaids,
perplexed instead by the whiskers and dugs
of sirenia, sea cow, buddha of rivers.
Languid, rotund, paddle-tailed, one thousand
pounds of gliding body, the manatee once
walked on land with elephant kin, until
a missing link of longing sent them,
protean, back to the sea in the Eocene.
Other species shape-shifted waterward,
renouncing gravity, taking on fat, morphing
marine. Epochs later hominids climbed
down from trees. We made boats, harpoons,
sea monster myths and depredations: gyres
of plastic, spilled petroleum, melting ice.
Our blood inherits salt. We float
in an amniotic tide, emerging in a gush
of water, castaways in atmosphere.
We hold our breath and dive for pearls;
we submerge with tanks of air and
teach our young to swim.
Before we dock we pass the pool where
The Creature from the Black Lagoon
was filmed. Manatee drift along the boat.
A mother with a half-grown calf lifts her head,
looks at me. If I speak to her, or better, sing,
will she be gracious? Invite me in?
I have no right to ask for anything.
For E. K.
We drink sunset wine on the east-facing porch,
dogs at our feet, new year’s bright-rising moon
backlighting a glance of white pelicans
passing fast into night and vast distance,
pulled by the earth before guide stars appear,
the globes of their breasts lit gold from the west,
the same migrants we saw last winter by chance,
from so far beneath, holding our breath,
marveling then as we marvel again,
in wonder that we behold them at all.