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Crinoids

By John I. Blair

It was a hot and dusty day
In central Kansas in the 50s
And Lake Santa Fe
Appeared like an ambitious puddle
In which the sailboats drifting by
Looked like bathtub toys.

We boys were in Geology.
Mr. Kaufman, tyrant teacher
As he seemed to us,
Had tasked us to retrieve
As many fossils from the limey soil
As we could find and pry.

Kansas was a sea of grass
And now a sea of wheat;
But 250 million years ago
A veritable sea extended here
And we walked upon a floor
Where tropic waters glimmered once.

Many possibilities exist
For residues of life
Within a Permian deposit;
So our hopes were high
As we clambered down the gulleys
Eroded from the earth below the spillway.

I think I was the first to spot them,
Tiny rings of chalky white
Embedded in the clay between the rocks
That lined the channel,
Washed there no doubt in floods
Off towering mountain slopes

That had vanished into peneplains
Long before the dinosaurs decamped.
We grubbed them out by handfuls;
Fodder for our term reports,
Oddities to fill some cardboard boxes
With little labels on the sides.

It was hard to spy in these
The gently waving arms,
The curving cups on snaky stems
That crowded colonies
Feeding on the rich debris
Of life in a primordial soup.

But our unique ability, and fate,
Is to do just that, to picture
The invisible, flesh out a form
That hasnít been since time
Was only half begun, see
Our own end before it comes.

And our blessing, our reward Ė
Perceiving beauty, meaning,
In cold stone;
Courage in crumbling bones;
Lasting love in weak flesh
And God in a morning star.

©2010 John I. Blair


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