On Cambrian Sands
(after reading Dawkins’s The Ancestor’s Tale, especially
I watched on the sands of a Cambrian sea
My ancestors wriggle and splash up to me:
A metre-wide arthropod waved a huge claw,
And an annelid worm left tracks near the shore,
A frilly mollusc, like chewing-gum with arms,
Her ungulate outside concealing her charms,
Soft-bellied her sly way to mate with a snail
Then engulfed him in predatory folds of her tail;
Parasitical barnacles, slung beneath crabs,
Probed their soft tissues with feeding tube jabs,
Avoiding their vitals to cosset reserves
They ate first their sex organs, dainty hors d’oeuvres,
Since castrated crustaceans grow fatter as food
When not wasting energy furthering their brood.
Behind me stretched barrens of reeds, thorns and thistles,
Where only rain hisses and wind sighs and whistles,
A lifeless expanse of unforested waste,
I viewed it with agoraphobic distaste.
No hairy apes wandered nor smooth pachyderms,
No creature at all that digs, burrows, or squirms,
No stalk bore chameleons, no crocodiles
Basked in the sun with related reptiles,
No bird, bat, or pteropod soared in the sky,
Insects would only evolve by and by
So no plant displayed flowers to brighten the ground,
No messengers transferring their pollen around.
Spiritless back to the protozoic soup
I turned my attention on one concestral group.
Ventrally chordate, abdomen segment in scales,
Twi-breasted, asexual, dispensing with males,
Cloned progeny of one kelpy-haired matriarch
Which surf-sped upon me, mesmerically stark,
Five eyes coldly alight, jawless mouth agape.
My knees turned to putty, despaired of escape,
Bilious fear gripped me, blood drained from my head.
I woke still uneaten because I’d looked dead,
Hearing bubble from its gills dismay and disgust:
“This incomplete starfish, lights out in the dust,
My finless descendant? Malformed and thin-skinned,
In a borrowed carapace, it lives in the wind!
Least fit for survival, the end of my line,
I’m sorry I summoned him, to see its decline.”
Brian S. Lee
If you have any comments on this poem, Brian S. Lee would be
pleased to hear from you.
The complete text of Robert Browning's Pacchiarotto and
how He Worked in Distemper: With Other Poems can
be found online here.