BURGESS SHALE



Let us imagine for a moment we are paused
satellite-like above the Canadian Rockies,
our eyes peering through the lenses of 508 million years
into the cosmopolitan melting pot of a warm, shallow
Mid-Cambrian sea.
                                    Evolution has been frenetic
with her crayons, but as yet lacking the hand-eye coordination
the early efforts are rather awkward: consider
Tullimonstrum, “Tully’s Monster”, there among the weeds,
with the streamlined body of a squid, a single
terrifying claw on a long proboscis like an arcade game,
and two eyes on stalks tacked on the sides
as an afterthought; and over there Opabinia, segmented,
waving its Japanese fan of a tail to impel
its legless self, staring out the world through five eyes
and a claw (fashionable it seems) on a snaky trunk;
 kite-shaped Nectocaris, “Swimming Shrimp”, with twin
tentacles to thrust lesser horrors into its funnel maw;
disc-mouthed, armoured Anomalocaris, “Anomalous
Shrimp”, metre long, weaving somnambulant through
green, amniotic waters with powerful, thorned arms furled;
aptly named Hallucigenia, ancestor of worms,
inching along ambiguously, swaying its blunt head
and waggling its spines; armadillo-scaled Wiwaxia
gliding on its stomach foot; and the autonomous
innersole Odontogriphus, “Toothed Riddle”. Yea, 
slimy things did crawl with legs upon the slimy
sea, nightmares from a dim and distant pre-Eden to haunt
paleobiologic fever-dreams, Nature’s first draft,
that even a native trilobite might take a second look,
and then, one day, suddenly all gone, the Delete
key struck, but not before some always-prepared girl scout
gorgon gave the scene a hard stare, petrifying a snapshot
as a mineral cancer replacing soft tissue cell by sell
with hard crystals of silicon for we second-rate arrivistes
of a later creation to gawk at safely behind glass.
From slime we rise, but only in dying do we chance
to find a place among a billion deaths

within the cool and gentle memory of stone.

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