Poets for Science
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Salt Same Sea (for Mary Anning)

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It seems the salt-same sea
but think more lizard,
less seal and whale, tuna and sole.

And thank Mary Anning
for filling the aquaria
of our minds with these

stranger biologies—
four-finned reptiles
porpoising for air like dolphins—

improbably necked plesiosaurs
serpentine and fishy.
What Anning unearthed

the men had trouble classifying
as if she were writing
into history fantastic creatures

to be sketched
only in the ancient inks
she cracked from fossil Belemites.

She traced the ghostly dust
of British limestone
for animals not named in Bibles.

Her confounding zoologies
attenuated time,
beggared belief—it seemed

the salt-same sea
until Anning followed the land-
slides of Lyme Regis

that uncovered
the bones
of others’ contentions.

 

 

 

Mary Anning (1799-1847) was a British fossil hunter and paleontologist who worked in the limestone of Lyme Regis in county Dorset, a coastline that came to be known as the “Jurassic Coast.” Among her discoveries is the ichthyosaur (a specimen she meticulously dug out when she was 12 years old) and the Plesiosaur. Her findings led to arguments among the scientists of the day, all of whom happened to be male. Anning’s work was never published under her own name; in fact, many scientists took credit for her work. The Geological Society of London would not admit her, despite her scientific credentials. This poem celebrates her work, and hints at the knee-jerk reactions of her fellow scientists regarding her and her discoveries.