tanka

tanka--
small songs I sing
to join
my voice to other voices
hidden in the grass

Monday, November 14, 2011

Three Songs of the Body Eclectic



1.  Ossicles

Watching the fence swift—how the rough
gray bark of his skin vanishes into the rail
while blue flanks announce his readiness
to make more of his own inestimable kind,

I am gladdened by knowing
that inside the temple of my own ear
lie humming three ancient jawbones
of this small lizard’s kin—

the chain of ossicles, ancient migrants
through the planes and valleys of my skull,
three bones tiny enough to dance
all together on the head of a pin,

and dancing now to the eardrum’s rhythm,
transmitting to my grateful brain this feather of sound—
swift feet scritching on sundrenched cedar,
a message spoken in bone and token of kin.

2.  Limbs

Fish’s fin, hippo’s hoof
and my own hand stroking
the firm gray flesh of flippers
that hide, beneath their streamlined shape,

bone for bone the bones of my open arms—
humerus, ulna, radius, thickened and stout,
finger bones lengthened and cunningly webbed
for fluid flight, spin and sea spume

and the whole curve of Earth enclosed
in the leaping dolphin’s arc, the sea-silvered
song of a mind as different and as kin
to mine as the common curves and linkage of our bones.

3.  Mitochondria
How many of you, I wonder, sluice
down the drain each time I wash my hands—
you old invaders,  now tenderly wrapped

in my own cells’ membranes and powering
my liver, kidney, lungs, the hundred thousand
daily squeezings of my heart? Your nearest kin

are named for Proteus, shape-shifting god of the sea,
slippery prophet. Could he have foreseen, I wonder,
this—panther, cuttlefish, dragonfly, me—

blithe symbiotic satchels of bacteria
at home inside our cells and there empowering
even the cauliflower convolutions of my brain,

and all of us, dear sisters, from the eel-grass to the eel,
made of the same astounding particles of matter—
live dust from ravaged stars—from which flow out

this tenuous thread of thought,
the mad illusion of the separate self,
and the charged, sea-changing pulse of wonder.


Anatomy & Etymology 1:4, November 2011

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