The Lazarus Fish

Coelacanths (play /ˈsləkænθ/, adaptation of Modern Latin Cœlacanthus "hollow spine", from Greek κοῖλ-οςkoilos "hollow" + ἄκανθ-α akantha "spine", referring to the hollow caudal fin rays of the first fossil specimen described and named by Louis Agassiz in 1839 [1]) are members of an order of fish that includes the oldest known living lineage of Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish and tetrapods).

I ask him about love
the real kind
the meant-for-each-other kind
and though he doesn’t think it’s
any more likely than a unicorn
he pretends to consider the question.  He says
he’s heard of it but never
seen the thing itself.
I sense the rationality
behind his words, and am crushed.
I think of all the lovers I have known
I search for one pair among them
who live in the kingdom I imagine:
peopled with dragons and princes
queens and the courtly knights who would win them
and suddenly the wakeup call is too much.
Like a child who abruptly knows the kindly man
with the laugh-lines and white beard
and an overabundance of gifts
is not and never was real
I am awake
and grieving for the dreams.

But who among us knows love?
If it exists at all it’s so rare it is barely a rumor:
someone said their grandparents had it
somebody else witnessed it once, in passing
at a cafe in Paris.
Fairy tales and stories, children’s games
something you grow out of
something nature fools you into
for a few blind years, then leaves you stranded.

The real thing is an animal
that may have gone extinct millions of years ago
like coelacanth, that strange wild-eyed fish
long relegated to the fossil record. 
Some crazy biologist is out there hunting it
against all the evidence that this thing is still around;
like that child who won’t let go of Santa
like that staunch believer in Sasquatch.
There is a gleam in the biologist’s eye
an imbalanced, uneasy gleam.
Why doesn’t she just settle (the sane wonder)
for an ordinary fish? So many cod and salmon,
thousands of tuna; why the coelacanth?--this creature
that if it ever existed, will never be seen again.

Meanwhile, off the coast of South Africa
a pair of fishermen in a small wooden trawler
are hauling up their catch:
there among the rays and sharks, cod and tuna
the Lazarus fish, gone these 65 million years
a living fossil, rare beyond rare.
Coelacanth gapes impossibly up at them
five feet long and real as the blinding sun
its hollow spine and lobed fins writhing.
It looks nothing at all like a fairy princess
nothing at all like a unicorn, a courtly knight
or Santa Claus. 
But that crazy biologist doesn’t care--no:
this is the fish for her
this is the thing she’s after.

I wait a few hours and then I ask him again,
my rational lover: have you ever seen it?
The real thing, the thing itself?
He looks at me this time
the way you might look at a creature
fresh from the kingdom of impossibility
looks, closes
his eyes, says

©KB 10/3/12


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