by Elizabeth Ensink
I have been meaning to tell you,
you should google yourself sometime.
Your pictures are all over
the internet. Even the Smithsonian
thinks you are worth
preserving, although they call you
or “a living fossil”
but it’s just because
we only had your great great
great great great great
uncle’s imprint for decades.
We assumed you were gone
from our living, swimming world,
and then we pulled you up,
all grey and yellowed and ghostly,
and you had bones extending
into limbs that don’t quite move
like fins, and extra fins
compared to Koi and Nemo
and betta fish lagging
on grocery store shelves.
It’s hard to fit you into the places
we’ve made in our minds for what
fish are supposed to be.
Like when Columbus landed
in San Salvador, and the people
weren’t Indians, but there couldn’t
be any land to the West
other than India in his mind.
And their different skin
made them not
European and so Indian.
We found you in the Indian Ocean,
and we keep finding more
except never alive by the time they reach
the surface, because you live
in that twilight zone depth
where the pressure could kill
us in so many ways.
And we already do such a good job
of that, with the pressures
to be something that fits
into people’s minds.
But if you dive a little deeper, past
all the negative comments
on the internet, you might find
your scientific name: Latimeria.
You’re named after a woman:
Miss Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer,
who noticed you in a fish market among
all sorts of sharks, she said,
you were the most beautiful fish
she’d ever seen.
She knew your characteristics were special
because they’re “ancestral”
which could sound a lot like other bad things
like primitive or old or out-of-date,
yet so many of us humans—The Chinese,
some Africans and Native Americans
(who we used to call Indians)
—worship ancestors with hazy
pictures and food and the smell
of spice and the past, and these days,
antique stores and department stores
raise prices on “vintage” items
that are really just out-of-date or old or primitive.
And Miss Marjorie, she got it,
after hours alone at the museum, setting
specimens in place, waiting
for the reason she left nursing school
for this museum at the bottom
of Africa, with a bottled
piglet with six legs,
and six sick birds,
waiting for someone to tell her
it was the right choice. Maybe
when she saw you, she saw
the way your silver scales, scattered
like bald spots, mirror the sky.
Maybe she knew that the data
and comparison to fossils
and lab work would mean more
than the color of your fins,
but at first that didn’t matter.
She just wanted someone to say,