Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Transubstantiation at the Aquatic Life Research Center

Are you open? I called to the young man hunched over an empty blue concrete pit in the Quonset hut on the small barrier island.

Everything died, he said, not looking up.

I stepped inside. There was a low table with crayons, tiny chairs, and a box of broken shells. Aquariums on tables. On the ceiling, water light.

They turned off the pressure last night. They didn’t tell me. There’s no communication.

In a large tank in the center of the hot room, I bent to see giant scallops, their rims of eyes black, not blue. Ribbons of translucent white flesh, shirred, wavered in the still water.

He put his face down into his hands. He said, It all could have been saved.

A small green sea turtle floated on its side against the glass, and a vacant sea horse hovered as a clef.

I did not know what was dead or what was possible. I watched the sea creatures, as though watching closely could bring back life.

Come quick, said the young man said from across the room. A caterpillar, going into chrysalis!

At the dry aquarium, I stood so close to him I felt his heat. We leaned over in tandem.

The black and white and yellow striped caterpillar hung from the branch. It curled into a tighter and tighter J and then a spiral.

Bright green skin slipped along the bottom, then the sides, then the green pouch zipped itself at the top.

The stem from which it hung grew thicker, blacker.

The emerald earring swayed gently in the glass box.

I said, I’ve seen one coming out of chrysalis, but never going in.

Why I had to speak aloud, I am not certain. I wanted to be with.

The next phase: the liquid mystery.

I guess now we’re really closed, he said.

The tightness in my back, that raw knot between my wing blades from bending and hoping for so long, so hard, faded after about three days.  

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