Jennifer Clark
Upon showing a long-lost photograph to my father,
an invertebrate zoologist

We come from the deep and the slow. A colony of bottom dwellers,
we got our start in the abyssal dregs, below the groans of whales,
just above the quaking earth, living long lives in the cold sea,
bearing immense pressure, raising children in the dark.

We lived in the ocean until some of us came out.

Clearly, by the 1900s we’ve made it to land.
Sober and dry, our kin stare into the camera, its eye
too small to take in the mossy woods and Great Lakes.
I point to my grandfather wearing a bowler hat and my father’s face.

Look, I say, you even have the same willowy hands.
My father studies the photo, then says, We have never been alone;
we held hands with flora and fauna as soon as we ventured
out of the primordial soup.

This is your grandmother, Magdelina, right? Her husband
isn’t in this photo because he died long before, left her to raise
eight children on her own, right? I search her eyes that squint into sun
or sadness, feel fragments of old grief lodged in my bones.

My son wanders by on two legs.
‘I’m bored. There’s nothing to do’.
‘Good’, I tell him. You’ll figure something out.
We come from a line that always does’.

I squeeze my father for more information and learn this: We spin
on a world dripping with cousins and cousins many times removed.
Our cousin Sponge, an animal of simple cells, can hold hope and water.
Even the most remote relations leave watermarks on our genetic code.

Over time, we grew guts and mouths.
In Belding, Michigan, children with dusty boots
grow hints of smiles.

Ah, yes, this is your great-grandmother, Magdelina, he says, pointing
to the woman I’ve been wondering about. I almost didn’t recognize
her with that dark hair. I knew her when she was old, her hair white.
She’d keep it coiled on top, held up with pins. She stayed with us kids
when our folks went to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
At night, I’d watch her release the pins and comb her long hair.

It has taken a long time to get to these waters.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise; it’s taken billions of years
to get to this grainy light of day – all the greats gathered on a wooden porch,
great-uncle Frank leaning against a pillar, great aunt Lucy, the pearls
of her eyes glinting, and what looks to be a starfish in her hair.

Photographer unknown, The Belding Family Reunion, photograph, circa 1909