The Lazarus Taxa

John Burnside

                              Still they stood,
A great wave from it going over them,
As if the earth in one unlooked-for favour
Had made them certain earth returned their love.

Robert Frost

If anything is safe
to love, it is

the jellyfish, Aurelia aurita,
that pink and silver

moon-cloud, drifting wild
in every harbour from the South

to the Bay of Reykjavik;

or Hippocampus,
monstrous to the Greeks,

though shaped like horses,
gentle as the wind

in August,
moving softly through

the weeds, the brood male
gathering the eggs into his pouch

like treasure, while the female swims away
to miles of seagrass; coral;

                              If anything is safe
to love, it has to be

the Starry Smooth-Hound,
gliding through the bright

salt water, innocent
of need, its joys

too quick to be remembered
or betrayed.

I would not choose the Bluefin
Tuna, Hector’s

Dolphin, or the Humphead
                              Right Whale, Blue Whale, Fin

Whale, Yangtze Finless
Porpoise, and The Maltese Ray are equally

(they will not be here long).
                              In years to come,

the market will experience
a glut in holy relics, scraps of bone

and slivers of dubious tissue, hermetically sealed
in ampoules, with old diagrams

of how things would have looked
had they survived:

convenient gifts
for those who would believe

that absence is its own
reward, a cybernetic

fiefdom of Saxon
gold, the cold

as hallows.

If anyone were safe
to love, it would be

Lazarus, awake between two worlds,
until a word recalls him from the field

where he had strayed, bereft of song and flight,
(no live birds in that place, no

parakeets or hooded orioles;
only the script of Archaeopteryx

consigned, but not reduced
to blueprint

in the marled folds
of hereafter).

The moment he turns,
he finds the world transformed,

the animals he knew, the ox, the ass,
the cattle in the fields, the flocks

of vultures over bloody Golgotha,
all gone, and in their place

a host of resurrections, long-lost
fishes, given up

for dead,

and mammals, skipper flies
and pine voles, coming to life

forever, as he blindly makes his way
through gardens of round-leafed birch

and café marron, the fountains
teeming with Black Kokanee,

painted frogs,

chalumnae, Latimeria

and, out in the furthest shade
of the jellyfish trees,

Mahogany Gliders,
calling his name in the dark,

as if, for now,
the earth returned his love.