And now the Reef
Flowers turned to stone! Not all the botany
Of Joseph Banks, hung pensive in a porthole,
Could find the Latin for this loveliness…
– Slessor, ‘Five Visions of Captain Cook’
For them it was unassailable
an inferno of sea and sharp coral
a Venus fly-trap drawing them in. Fragile
was never the word for this underwater forest
of blooms, at low tide a vertical hedge
of skeletal rock, holding Endeavour to ransom.
Off Heron Island, incandescent
chameleon colours once visible from space,
by night the Reef’s a construction site
for marine cities, a limestone world,
the coral polyps always building, never leaving
the safety of their homes except to feed.
The reefs outside support both predator
and prey, in an intricate dance of survival.
Cleaner-fish congregate at thriving
cleaning-stations, like a suburban car-wash,
to eat dead skin and parasites
from manta rays already queued for service.
Seahorses change colour and texture, matching
the coral they cling to for protection.
Once a year, at full moon, great ribbons
of coral spawn drift on the tide, most
to be eaten by fish. Enough survive. Or would
if you could put the Barrier Reef in a glass box.
Bleaching, the crystal tines turn ghostly white
and fade, like flowers dying.
‘And now the Reef’ was previously published in tremble (International Poetry Studies Institute, Canberra, 2016)
Photos in collage from: CSIRO CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons