Life is so quiet, you see, on the abyssal plain.
There, in a drench of dark and suffocating cold,
With feelers like feeble spines – or wooded dendrites, like the
Spires of rotted ships,
A population of sea cucumbers (more numerous, it is said, than
People on the earth above) digests, dredges, gropes the vegetable
Matter of the deep.
Perhaps they fornicate, furtive on a lightless stage.
I think they must -
Feeling stealthily towards each other, snatching each chemical embrace
A few degrees above impenetrable and appalling chill.
Self-effacingly, grittily, voicelessly, their uncoloured suckling mouths reach, as if to clasp on crusted paps. Nearby, infatuated by a source of nourishment, toothless black hagfish squirm and rasp upon the fallen cadaver of a leviathan. Here and there, silent upon silted earth, a fish (asphyxiated on an unexpected lake of brine) turns turtle and succumbs, retching, without protest.
Above these graves scud living forms that manufacture light – if only in minute proportion – so as to camouflage themselves from the rest, who might observe them from below. They are, I don’t doubt, as demure as archivists.
How well I know you, creatures of the deep. You’re the ghosts of human hope, the chimeras of those who tried and failed. You are the shed skins of talent, whose preordination it must be to plumb a depth whose brink I dare scarcely glimpse. Let me count your names. You wait where all us of must fall: you, necessary scavengers of yearning: you, reverent degenerates: you, specimen-bottle luminaries, worshipful in venerable routine, siphoning ancient dirt because, as well you know, life depends on it.
I want to pity you. I am afraid to. I’ll curse you to outlast me, knowing that you will. And in perdition, blameless, dwell.
Stephen Jackson (August 2003)
So many of my poems involve the sea: its life-giving warmth or deathly coldness: its plays of light and abysmal gloom. I am still trying fully to work out why; but here, it serves as a commemoration of all those who tried (or rather, who might have tried) – yet failed. Perhaps the depths of the blackest Pacific trenches may yet turn out to be lined with tweed or festooned with the latest hi-fi, HD television sets.