Acorn Barnacle

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series Bestiary


Semibalanus balanoides

Imagine being plankton:
small & adrift, little more
than head & rudder & a single eye,
food for whales.
Then one day the barnacle larva
grows a two-piece carapace
& is consumed by a sudden
sense of purpose.
Now it has working legs
& the power to swim wherever
it wants, but what it wants
is to find a spot where
it will never have to swim again.
Acutely sensitive feelers sample
every hard surface for evidence
of others of its kind, & in so doing,
deposit the same sign.
It tries out each potential anchorage
by standing on its head,
& if satisfied, secretes
from the base of its antennae
one of the hardest cements
known to science. Imagine
making that kind of commitment.
But only now,
attatched by the forehead
to rock or reef or oil tanker hull,
can it embark upon the final stage
of metamorphosis, become an adult
& build its ridged turret.

Two years later, packed among
its companions-for-life,
it reaches sexual maturity.
Though lacking a heart, it wields
in proportion to body size
the world’s largest penis,
which is also disposable
& re-grows every winter for
a new orgy. They enter each other
with the sureness of blind fingers
reading Braille, opercula open,
able to accommodate
as many as six at a time.
The mating season over,
each broods a clutch of fertilized eggs
within its shell until they hatch
& for a little while thereafter,
giving what we can only call live birth.
And all the while, the feathery appendages
that sprouted where legs used to be
keep up a delicate stroking
of the ocean current —
the barnacle’s first & probably
greatest love, inescapable,
full of the taste of distance
& the savory plankton.

(Thanks to Creature Cast for the inspiration)

Series Navigation← Purple Sea UrchinSkunk Cabbage →

6 Replies to “Acorn Barnacle”

  1. “Imagine being plankton …”

    That’s the kind of thinking I do, all the time. Being copepods, being a spider, a fly larva … Or at least, a relative of the critter in question.

    But I can never spell it out as you do. This is wonderful!

    1. Thanks. As an opener, I thought that was less than amazing — it’s possible I’m too critical — and spent much of yesterday with a different first line based on the Odyssey, with the whole thing recast in blank verse. But it came off too much like “The Rape of the Lock,” so I went with “first thought, best thought” instead. For now.

  2. Both the last and this made me think of Blake’s proverb of Hell:

    How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
    Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?

    1. Well, I thought I’d better try and grind a few more out before April, so you’ll have something to do while I’m busy reviewing poetry books.

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