Questions of Replication: The Brittle Star

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Why now, under seven fathoms of sea,
with sunlight just a sheen on its carapace
and someone's dark paddle stroking above?
Why, at this moment, does it lift from the reef
its serrated jaws, its four undulant,
tendril arms—the fifth atomized
by a predator's nudge—to begin
the body's slow unbuckling? Near the reef
a kick-dust of plankton hovers. And eel grass.
And far down the sea floor, the true starfish
in their dank, illegible constellations.
What salt-rich analgesic allows
this self-division, as the disc parts
and tendril arms, each with a thousand
calcite eyes, sway into slender helixes?
Half disc and half disc. Limb pair; limb pair.
Two thousand eyes; two thousand crystal eyes—
that must notice now the emergent other,
aslant but familiar, slowly swimming away:
its butterflied, genetic list, its tendency
toward luminescence. Limb over limb,
where is it headed? And when will its absence
echo, adrift in the sea's new weight?
Half shape; half shape—how far will it stroke
before loss, like daylight, lessens,
and the one that remains twines its optic arms
to look to the self for completion?

Linda Bierds teaches at the University of Washington. Her new collection of poems, First Hand, will appear this spring.
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