This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series Bestiary


Three thousand feet down where
an unmanned vehicle probes
the ocean like an endoscope,
a sudden carnival float ripples
into view: Siphonophore!
The scientists all rotate toward
the monitor, open-mouthed
as shepherds at the hush of wings
not grown for any air we know.
Siphonophore. Free of all
hard parts, including that nugget
the self. Corporate being
whose members are truly members—
co-dependent, specialized
as organs in a body, most
made of clear gelatinous tissue
through which, lurid as a sunrise,
the digestive apparatus winds.
Some species can reach
130 feet in length. They glow
blue or green when disturbed—
or fly to pieces, some so delicate
a cone of light alone can shatter them.
They’re almost impossible to collect.
What do they tell us, these prodigies
whose motion is a music,
weightless & translucent as
the dreams of birds?
That life is a conversation
matter is having with itself?
That cooperation at the highest level
is indistinguishable from genius?
All are predators.
Their apparitional tentilla wave
or glow to lure prey—those
so foolish as to possess central
nervous systems—into the range
of poisonous harpoons.

Series Navigation← VolvoxFluke →

8 Replies to “Siphonophore”

  1. I just had to look up siphonophore and saw an awesome video of spiral deep sea siphonophore (among other videos), which made your words come alive for me. I will never forget them, now that you have led me to them! Thank you.

    1. Thanks! Yes, that video from Creaturecast was awesome.

      I actually wrote those lines and some others a month ago, but wasn’t able to finish the poem until now — I’m not sure why.

  2. Amazing, the poem and the creature. I also went off to learn more about them.

    “Life is a conversation / matter is having with itself?” really jumped out at me as well. There’s a thought that’s likely to roll around in my head a while.

    1. Cool, thanks. I’m not sure I expressed it as well as I could’ve, but siphonophores really challenge some of our most fundamental assumptions about what it means to be an individual.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.