Size / / /

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.


Robert Borski lives under the sea near Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and wonders if merpeople suffer from Ichthyophthirius multifilis. Please look for Robert's other work in our archives.



Robert Borski works for a consortium of elves repairing shoes in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. You can read more of his work in our archives.
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30 Jun 2020

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