Friday, April 13, 2012

Gastrapoda Poems

It was with considerable delight that I discovered, several years ago, a previously unheard-of genre of poem. I suppose it's the Victorian precursor to the SPCA/PETA verse-plea ("The Eyes of a Dolphin," "Baby Seal Brains," etc.). They were popular in anthologies and periodicals of the period.

And the theme?

Why stepping on worms is bad.

Yes. That's right. A slew of poems I found in the British Library circa 2008, a veritable slew, and I wish to heaven I'd written some of them down. They were moral pieces about the necessity of being kind to the least of God's creatures. I have a distinct memory of one, wherein the speaker avowed (passionately!) that he could ne'er befriend a man who cruelly stepped ... etc. Poor worms. Poor man!

Anyhow. In ransacking the Bibliovault for this month's verse treasures, I was delighted to find the beginnings of a second genre, related not by family or phylum, but--ahem--by presence of slime. If I find any more to add to the collection I shall. Seems the gastropod poem, with themes of death, sex, the passage of time, is more ambitious than annelid verse. Is the snail the more ambitious animal? The slug? It's yours to discover.

Time as Escargot

Eric Ormsby
from Time's Covenant (2007)
originally published in Daybreak at the Straits (2004)

Suppose time were not spirally and filigreed
but rather went
ambling more randomly. Imagine
time as escargot, as succulence
with all remembrance curved
concentrically inside a patterned shell,
thick toward the middle then more tenuous
as newer chambers belly out above;
that is, not cyclical but
diatoming inward on itself, a
pulsing palimpsest of the ever old
configured as the new:
O Snail,
the sexual residue you leave on dials,
on watch-crystals and on grandfather clocks,
your glistening viscosities of time,
your sweet slime,
patina instants, all
heirloomed in a chiton’s curl.


Zachariah Wells
Track & Trace (2009)

Leaning into the trash box out back—
all those garbage days forgotten
or passed over due to sloth—
I hauled up moldered slabs of rotten
boxes, reeking wrack
of plastic sacks and scraps of cloth,
and unwrapped
twelve monstrous spotted slugs.
Some pardic cross
of cunts and cocks,
they slimed there in the sludge;
stretched out long,
then squished compact,
they scudged around the box’s bottom,
crossed paths in an erotic splay
(no earthly act
so slow and solemn
as slug-on-slug foreplay)
while others humped
motherly their spineless shlong
bodies across
clusters of eggs—and one
began a sluggish crawl
up the box’s wooden wall,
trailing after a glistening track,
till halfway up it poked
its head-end through the gap
between two slats
and paused there—
seemed to soak
the world in through its feelers,
wriggling in the air—
then out it squeezed
like the bored striptease
of roadside tavern peelers.
It spent a steep minute in the sun—
and turned back,
back through the crack,
back with its fellows in the wet warm vault.
It stiffened with that lot
in a shower of salt.

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