Ming the Clam

Quahog two hooves clenched among two hundred brothers.

With an awl, someone counted your stairs
leading back to a dynasty:
five hundred years of tide,
near two thousand anvils of sunshine—

and you, fat in the castanet you made,
a home calcium, dedicated room.
If it weren’t for us, you’d be living
calm as a dawn

That’s where witnessing you alive—
as gazes tilt away from your lip,
a glint, the flashbulb rings of Saturn
seen through a lens, its ice flying apart

there sit the rings
a still, tilted hat—
here to find out
how to leave things alone


Copyright © 2023 by Cynthia Arrieu-King. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 29, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

About this Poem

“In 2006 climate researchers from Bangor University in the United Kingdom pulled a quahog clam from the waters off the north shore of Iceland. Researchers on that cruise named the clam Hafrún, or ‘mystery of the ocean,’ and froze it for later study, thereby killing it, not realizing it was the oldest non-colonial animal [that is, the oldest animal not composed of other animals that live together as a modular organism, such as a coral reef] ever discovered. Journalists later named it Ming, as it had been born during the Chinese Ming dynasty. It was initially thought to be four hundred and five years old due to its four hundred and five rings, but carbon dating and comparison with other shells from the area revealed it was five hundred and seven years old.”
Cynthia Arrieu-King