Basically, I spend a LOT of time watching nature documentaries. I have adored them since I was a bookish and unloveable child, squinting at the screen on a Sunday night whilst lions mated with ferocious intent. When it all got really bad at school, I’d bunk off to watch really old ones in the daytime too. Even the unglamorous 1970s ones about the breeding habits of marsh pipers.
This has left me with a ridiculous talent for that 20-questions-animal-guessing-game thing. The one kids play on car journeys. The one where you ask questions like, “Is it a bivalve?” The one where you try to trick your partner with odd choices (mammals that lay eggs, birds that can’t fly, fish that can…), or resort to mythical chimeras just to win. I am a demon at that game.
My anthropologist housemate teases me, as does my biker ex-boyfriend, about anthropomorphisation and the manipulation of narratives by documentary filmmakers pushing their agenda. Blah blah blah, say I. Where’s your imagination? We always made up stories about animals as though they were people. My very favourite nature documentaries are made by David Attenborough, with his beautiful voice and calm demeanour, who seems to feel affection and wonder even for flies and maggots.
However, this poem was inspired by the underwater shots in Werner Herzog’s fantastically weird documentary, “Encounters at the End of the World” and a vivid dream I had about diving down into the undersea trenches to find someone and save him.
a song of ascents, a terrible shard
“Sampling via deep trawling indicates that lanternfish account for as much as 65% of all deep sea fish biomass. Indeed, lanternfish are among the most widely distributed, populous, and diverse of all vertebrates, playing an important ecological role as prey for larger organisms. With an estimated global biomass of 550 – 660 million metric tonnes, several times the entire world fisheries catch, lanternfish also account for much of the biomass responsible for the deep scattering layer of the world’s oceans.” (wikipedia)
“What Beebe saw on that trip—and reported with such vividness—was a glowing world of creatures so astonishing that for decades many doubted his veracity. The clear sea stretched endlessly, and was so full of luminescence that it sparkled like the night sky. Cavalcades of black shrimps, transparent eels, and bizarre fish approached the descending sphere, and when Beebe used his spotlight to see them, great shadows and shifting patches of light hovered just out of view, leading him to postulate the existence of giants in the Bermudan depths. And below the bathysphere? There, said Beebe, lay a world that “looked like the black pit-mouth of hell itself.” (wikipedia)
When I was seven, I wanted to live in a bathysphere. – Smog
some years ago i ate mandrake roots
and i slept in the beds of wildmen
and wandered over cities, and
i sank to the depths,
of the abyssalpelagic plains
of the hadalpelagic trenches,
as many as 6000 lanternfish there.
hauling my bathysphere down
in a cloud of harps and shadow,
against walls of rain.
oh chordata! deep sea strata!
Tether my submersible
with ropes of
we were shoaling from the pinnipeds
in milky iridescent seas
low and lower,
love and lovers, flowers and plovers
dissolve in the pressured
in the drifting marine snow.
but reaching into it
all the books the fish have written
are read de profundis
by the voice of one psalmist.
into which radiates all the knowledge we have lost
and climacteric progressions fall away
voices illume the cathedral of neon flutes
diel vertical migrations
daily rise and daily fall,
photic zone to heav’ns above us
lift your voices, pilgrims,
for their shifting silver shatter
fools the sonar.
what the sailors thought the bottom was really just
five million metric tonnes of little fish.
the deep scattering layer.
cod and chips.
ascend and drop
in spring blooms
or in dark
If on your chest one wave of mine would break
(you remember, and for trains, for trains did take)