This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

January-February 2018


New poetry by Sonnet L'Abbé

Sonnet L'Abbé

Stinging cells tip the tentacles fringing the polyps’
mouths. Family to sea anemone, hydra, and jellyfish,
corals live in many-minded masses, anchored to
hard surfaces, growing together in sync. They grow
over centuries, agglomerating into reefs by secreting
exoskeletal calcium carbonate under their derrières
(or, they poop the architecture of their limestone
foundations). Cities of Poseidon, Nemo and Marlin’s
apartments, Ariel’s geographically impossible kingdom,
these ecosystems house species, offer hiding places and
habitat. Sea turtles, puffer fish, clams, octopuses, snails,
jellyfish, groupers and parrotfish orbit the colonies’
stony forms. Waves deliver little animals to the lethal
nematocystic fingers, but dinoflagellates symbiotically
residing in the soft flowers of coral also eat light and
spew photosynthetic shit down the coral hatch—so food
happens to sessile reefs. Quietly, coral reefs ate plankton
and built themselves into majestic infrastructures. They
are a tenth of a tenth of ocean floor—where a quarter
of all marine life dwell. Even tropical rain forests cannot
brag of such biodiversity. Clown fish need mangrove
detritus; sea urchins need spiny lobsters. Surgeon fish
need dolphins; a shark needs a wrasse. Human appetites
need fishermen who need their catch. Foraminifera
need the same water quality as reefs. The temperature
of the world rises; the oceans warm. The gentle balance
of symbiotic algaes and pigments shifts. The microbes’
hosts’ water heats; their favour for their resident life
forms ends; the corals expel all their colourful, friendly
zooxanthellae. Tendriled mountains grow pale under
the shallow sea. The display of colour now blighted,
the corals look white, like forests affrighted forever.
I cannot shape a metaphor environmental enough to
say our fear. Our nature is inescapable; our fear morphs
into new forms; people write and write. They say Fabien
Cousteau is making polyp homes out of the substrate
natural coral use. He’s making man-made structures
they can use—making limestone skeletons, via three-
dimensional printers, for underwater worlds to use

Sonnet L'Abbé's chapbook, Anima Canadensis, published by Junction Books in 2016, is nominated for the 2017 bpNichol Chapbook Award. This poem is from her next collection, Sonnet’s Shakespeare, in which L’Abbé “writes over” all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

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