Poem of the Week | November 14, 2016

This week, we are excited to offer a new poem by Elizabeth Davey. Davey received her MFA/PhD in poetry and American literature from Cornell University, but for most of her career she has led the environmental sustainability programs at Tulane University in New Orleans. She edited Remember My Sacrifice: The Autobiography of Clinton Clark, Tenant Farm Organizer and Early Civil Rights Activist (Louisiana State University Press, 2007), a previously unpublished manuscript held in the papers of poet Sterling A. Brown. Her poems have been published most recently in Split Rock Review (Fall 2015).
Author’s note:

“The Aquarium of the Americas” is from an unpublished manuscript titled The Mississippi, Unmuddied. It is one of several poems that draw parallels between the beauty and complexity of language and that of the natural world. The title is the name of the aquarium we visited on a rainy New Orleans day, but, looking at it again, I like that it begins with the letter “A.”


The Aquarium of the Americas


tunnels us under the first tank, where tarpon shine
silver and stingrays flap above, squarely smiling
from the bottom of their bodies. The adults are
stunned, as if the moon, gone for years, gleamed milk
and green. The child’s question, their eyes turn down:
they speak the names as if learning to read.
A shock of species, to see a wide, whiskered, red
catfish, big as a pig, settle on the bottom,
to see the seahorse’s ampersand anchor,
tail and weed, with sea dragons and pipefish
shaped like straws. I watch the sea dragons drift
and little Stella says they are lonely,
just two in this tank. She asks the teenage docent
where the sea turtle likes to swim.
The children touch and climb as if they live here,
as if they could roll like the otter,
unable to right himself, uninterested
in up versus down, air versus water.
The Mississippi delta, next, alligator
and owl, misunderstood by this cramped room,
before we wash down the escalator
into the blue and shark-gray Gulf.
The fringed jellyfish inflate and expel
like deep breaths; their bodies have no solid.
My sister says the small ones pump like heartbeats.
Here is the children’s sentient sadness:
They learn their animals like alphabets,
then watch us as we let just fish suffice.