Karen Holmberg

Living Fossil

Horseshoe Crab, Limulidae
and everlasting:
like the hundred-
four year old
Old World
relic in the family album
who held the deed
to all that prime shore land,
propped in broadcloth
shellac’d with wear
in the shell-backed rattan chair,
seamed face pursed
to an O.
A museum plaque
details your vast
immunities: you can fast
a year, can abide
viscous salinities,
antarcticas of cold. Nothing
taxes you to change; you’ve been
granted for proper use,
benefit and behoof
a spacious class between
the high-rise neighborhoods of arachnid
and crustacean, and
life in perpetuity to boot.
Turns out we’ve adapted you;
your cupric blue
antibacterial blood
tests the purity
of our drugs. It’s what we have to do
to last: I find even I
have covenanted with you,
absorbing your chitin in my womb’s
dissolvable sutures.
How can I be
anything but glad some future
creature’s waited
three hundred million years
to inherit your estate,
while you
grow young each June,
clambering or being clambered
aboard in full-moon
estuaries, your fencing
foil gallantly sparring, churning
sperm among giant tapioca eggs,
so that by fall
your foal-
hoof young can cast
their mulch of moult
among the crisped eelgrass,
a parchment
translucence that looks richer
and more tender than
the sheerest pat of plus gras butter.

Karen Holmberg
“Living Fossil” first appeared in Southern Poetry Review, 44:1, 2005.