Ernst Haeckel, in his famous
theory of biogenesis, postulated
that as embryos, we pass through
the same stages of development
that we did as a species.
As evidence of this he pointed to what
he called transitory gill slits—actually, as
we now know, they're pharyngeal
arches and have nothing to do with
recapitulating any fish stage.
Too bad. I've always cottoned to the notion
that as proto-life, in the placental aquarium,
we were as adept at swimming as any minnow
or sea sprite.
How else, too, to explain the instinct found
in babies a few months old? Put them in
a pool, blow on their faces, and they
will automatically hold their breath when
you let them go into the weightless,
chlorine abyss, then begin to swim—
as if they've been baptismally returned
to the amnionic sea.
On the other hand, "a fish out of water"
is how your parents described me behind
my back (remember those pharyngeal arches?
Some of them give rise to the middle ear
and I have always had exceptional hearing);
while everyone in my family called you
either "prize catch" or "definitely a keeper."
In the ontogenic breakdown of our marriage,
I like to think of them as land people
who never ventured out beyond the pier or shore
while we ourselves angled the deeper
waters of ocean and life together.
Of the whirlpools we encountered, the sirens
and riptides, the storms and seawrack,
you know better than I. Odysseus
himself had nothing on us. But even he
eventually came home. Hence the reeling-in
time of the current moment.
About your throat, where my hands
have wrung shut your airpipe, there
are a series of five red marks
on each side of your neck.
Haeckel would be pleased—although
in his scheme there never was any such
things as mermaids.