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Mussels

 

And spent from larval drifting,

our bodies made a wall.

Open-anchored, we learned to trust our stillness

about the sea’s revolving:

abundantly filled, abundantly empty,

and dreamed inside our nacreous bed,

slick with the fat spilled in our thriving;

our softest parts, the parts that hold us here.




Summer Block

levelheaded: Mussels

 

Poems about animals are often poems about humans, and the mussels here are no exception. They work as an analogy to parts of human life. They are “spent from larval drifting” just like we may be exhausted into adulthood. Like mussels, we settle – even thrive – in our own “stillness.” The “fat spilled in our thriving” observes our tendency to excess. Much of the pleasure of this sort of poem comes from making human connections to an unalterably alien way of being in the world. We can’t know the life of a mussel, what it experiences, but we can use language to stand for our mutual existence.

 

This poem is overt about its intention to speak about “us.”  The first-person plural “we” and “our” seem to want to count the reader – again “us” – as members of its sad tribe. But the technique is most effective in establishing the speaker as someone straining to turn her conclusions outward to connect with others. Her conclusions may be true, but either way we almost can’t help but empathize with a speaker who chooses a bed of mussels – hard, and dingy, and everywhere – as a counterpart to humankind. We don’t need to stretch too far to understand what our own ideas of the life of a mussel say about us. We supply our own stories. We can all blame “our softest parts” for freezing us in place.

 

If the poem has an argument, it is that our lives – the lives we settle into – become normalized through the inertia of an animal instinct, the same instinct that causes fat to be “spilled in our thriving.” Broadly, this is a poem about stasis. Even as there’s a touch of fatalism in the poem’s idea, the poem doesn’t make stasis out to be all bad. The mussels’ world is “abundantly filled, abundantly empty.” They dream in a “nacreous bed.” There is beauty and space. There’s a “wall,” but then the vulnerability of “our softest parts.” The comparison is not precise. The “o’s” and “a’s” that open most of the lines enact an open abundance, a broadness. It’s tough to match the mussel moments to their precise counterparts in human experience without making some assumptions about the speaker. But the poem reminds us how we ease into our ways of being, alternately anchored and dreaming.

 

 

-The Editors