September 2023

Back to Issue 14

What’s in a name?

By Ron Wilkins


I recollect the old dry watercourse   

where I was seated, splitting shale, each hammer blow 

revealed to my expectant gaze another silent sea floor fragment   

from 400 million years ago— 

when in the rock appeared, against all odds,  

the clean cast of an unknown fossil with some crinoids, brachiopods, 

the common fauna from its marine source. 


The paleo-biologists were swift        

to ascertain this fossil was a new carpoid 

and as Victoriacystis wilkinsi they linked this creature to my name,  

whereby I can’t avoid 

but marvel the coincidence that two  

so disparate lives in space and time were thrown together through 

the vagaries of continental drift. 


It’s hard to comprehend a form of life 

its line extinct, with nothing like it living now. 

A flattened sack of calcite plates that differ front and back, two 

openings—an anus, mouth, we can allow— 

but we have no idea which is which,  

a stalk perhaps to fix the creature to its chosen sea floor niche,  

or with a prod propel it out of strife. 


How strange that this obscure and let’s agree  

unknowable thing, so long extinct, no claim to fame,   

should through binomial appellation be posthumously appointed 

                                                to be forever guardian of my name. 

If locked in rock it emulates Lot’s wife  

it might be said that by my gaze I gave it resurrected life— 

that in its turn will do the same for me.