The great moray eel whips her head out
of the cave, demon-faced, cursing,
a prehistoric ghost.
Even with the glass between us, you pull back
from the glittering eye, the thirsty mouth,
this spectacle of ruined survival.
I want to say, yes, death comes like this—
powerful-jawed and unrelenting—
to remind us, by contrast, how fragile the anemone is.
Watch how it waves, tentacle-bright.
That kills, too. Just in brilliant color.
Death always comes out stinging—
bite & poison, eel or flower,
disguised and hidden in the craggy reef.
I want you to know I see the coral
is the same color as the bedsheets
at the nursing home, the same color
as the scrubs of nurses who wipe your mother’s
mouth and wheel her to Mass. And I want
to say, yes, I, too, see her face in the moray’s—
the mouth gasping open and closed,
the trembling jaw that spells mortal.
We will all have our moment like hers,
we will all be spit out into that unfathomable blue.
The cave’s invisible veil will float us
into primordial sea. But until then, slip
back into the darkness with me. Hold
my hand among all the glowing tanks,
all this breakable glass, hold me close
in the water until the inevitable last.
Christine Butterworth-McDermott’s latest poetry collection is Evelyn As: Poems (Fomite, 2019). She is the founder and co-editor of Gingerbread House Literary Magazine. Her poetry has been published in such journals as Alaska Quarterly Review, The Massachusetts Review, Prime Number Magazine, and River Styx, among others.