A Smack of Jellyfish

In the children’s zoo: an orb

xxxxxxxoccupied by jellyfish, glass

at child’s height, a light

xxxxxxxchanging color perpetually,

the not-really-fish (medusae) themselves

xxxxxxxjust transparent tissue

taking on the tangerine and lime hues.

xxxxxxxOne floats more idly than

the rest, drawn by a facsimile of

xxxxxxxcurrent—artificially generated

or the others’ wakes—mostly

xxxxxxxresting on the bottom, clearly

dead. Like the lattice of a pie-topper

xxxxxxxrolled out from dough and lifted over

apples or berries. When triggered, the tentacles’

xxxxxxxnematocysts pierce the skin

with venom, the plaque says,

xxxxxxxcan bring on anaphylaxis.

When we saw a rash on our son’s lip

xxxxxxxafter peanut puffs, I held

his arms down while they scratched

xxxxxxxhis back with allergens,

when they drew his blood into a

xxxxxxxsyringe. If need be, I would

stab him with a needle to kick-start

xxxxxxxhis heart, relax constricted

airways. To be fair, these bell-shaped

xxxxxxxgelatinous invertebrates

produce a collagen that might suppress

xxxxxxxarthritis. You can scrape the stingers

off with a credit card, apply hydrocortisone,

xxxxxxxbe fine. They “use a form of

jet propulsion to move,” together can be

xxxxxxxcalled a bloom or smack or swarm.

Mostly water, when they wash up on shore,

xxxxxxxthey start to evaporate. Soft fossils

in sediment, they’re preserved in Utah’s

xxxxxxxancient seabeds. A swarm at a nuclear

power plant’s water intake shut it down.

xxxxxxxThey’ll likely outlive us as a species.


Lisa Ampleman is the author of two books of poetry, Romances (LSU Press, 2020), and Full Cry (NFSPS Press, 2013), and a chapbook, I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You (Kent State UP, 2012). Her poems have appeared in journals such as Poetry, Image, Kenyon Review Online, 32 Poems, Poetry Daily, and Verse Daily. She lives in Cincinnati, where she is the managing editor of The Cincinnati Review and poetry series editor at Acre Books.


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