Life Without a Spine

Taxonomists have described more than a million species … divided into more than twenty phyla. Of this plethora, vertebrates represent only part of one phylum, and a mere 40,000 species or so.

—Stephen Jay Gould


Try to imagine your entire body as a face
and your mind a color, an electric
secret kept even from (especially from) you.

But we want to think about terrestrial life—
we’re like this great museum muralist
who blotted out sea creatures and insects

once the vertebrates appeared. We’d rather gaze
at reptiles that run like dogs, and mammals
trundling towards us in a great progression,

than conceive of the underwater mindflowers
floating oceans covering (to this day)
seventy percent of Earth’s surface.

Even now, I whose language breathes
my mind out in airy tendrils, I
diminish them by pointing my finger bone.