Using his license, the poet writes, 'We had gills once.'
Yes. Submerged beneath our customary selves
the shark patrols its killing field
heaving its sleek shape through the mind,
the deep sea caverns of our perfectly modern lives.
But - and this is what I am
- I cannot let it go. We had gills?! When?
When we were not ourselves
but creatures wholly of the deep
all unconscious and ready to kill
at the twitch of a nerve, the bare hint
of weakness. I have seen men behave like this (philosophers
they called themselves) maddening
at the slightest billow of red, engorging themselves
on the flesh of the wounded and helpless.
But even so. We? Had gills?
Crude and brutal as any philosopher
I won't let a metaphor be, want every truth
four square and literal. You see, either what had gills
was not us, or we are all things
at all times, the whole history of life
from protoplasm to the waif-thin,
hairless, buggle-eyed monster who will one day
replace us. Oh not everything,
the poet corrects, a mere phylum - as though
compared to genocide, mass murder were a trifle.
Is it mere fussiness to worry where we put
our first persons? But if our 'We's and 'I's
grow too large and encompassing, what will we not consume,
what hope, what breathing space
will be left for what we are not, the world
beyond ourselves, our home and neighbours, the alien
universe we inhabit and the others
we share it with?
You see, I am a shark, I go in for the kill.
My jaws are cool logic and they clamp shut
when I bite. But I cannot breathe
in water - never could, not me.
I leave such metamorphoses to fairy tales.
I am what I am
and that brief history compassed
by what I once was and what I will become.
Beyond that lies a world of otherness
- other hunters, other victims, and neither -
a world there before me and despite me,
of unending mysteries, unfathomable creatures
and exquisite nightmares.
Jeff Klooger has had work published in a number of Australian literary
journals, including Meanjin, Overland and Westerly,
with more to appear in Famous Reporter, Retort Magazine
and dotlit. He has a PhD in social theory and philosophy from La