the reef’s every
nimble colour mirrored
by an oil slick*

* So the speaker ends on “slick,” an elusive word that, writhing like a sea snake through vaulted coral outcrops, animates the final line while wedging a stopper in our thoughts. Or so we think.

Note the shallow correlation between nature (as always, organo-goodly) and its befouling opposite. This mode is as comfortable – for any post-romantic – as are the loafing arms of an anemone to the chary clownfish. Must be, we think, more vulgar lefty commentary. But no, look deeper, these are baited words amid which lurks something devious and salty.

We recognize the form as Haiku, but Haiku have strict rules governing, laid down by clever folk on expensive paper: the above is in breach. We do not have the blessed five-seven-five on (although that’s not so unusual for clunky western voices used to casting their nets wide). Nor do we have a reference to the season: the reef, at least to layman, is a thing of constancy, no ebb and flow, no flux but that which holds to nature in the broadest sense – the old in-out and a daily bit of gobble gobble yum. In lieu of these: not Haiku, but rather beady-eyed, razor-toothed, grey-skinned Senry?, a verse form more concerned with the human, cynical and calcified, than with anything profound – a fishy structure that hints at displaced intent. Could it be the form itself is speaking? Does Haiku/Senry? hint at big Japanese boats running down their whistling harpoons round the Antarctic? But, we say, no reef in such cold waters. No, there we’ve missed the mark.

The first line opens up onto a great expanse of water, teeming with the self-consuming appetite of any ancient system. The speaker plays on semiotics, on an audience forewarned: the reef is warm and wet and all the speaker needs to do to conjure still waters and an omnivorous coral thicket, is to mutter “reef.” Speak: “reef” and the whole thing opens up before us in a rush that stings the nose. The reef is a wide and hungry maw, a dark place, begetting mystery.

Look now to the cutting word – the kireji, huh! – which cuts on “mirrored” here. Mirror, mistake, malign, mimesis. Talented chromatophores are said to breed like Onan and should not be trusted. “Nimble,” a youthful, coltish word is given to the reef’s broad spectrum. Colour is animated, given over to biological duty. Colour keeps the reef alive. We guess this might be an evolutionary advantage in a place where so much gobbling up goes down. And gobbling up’s what black oil does when riding on the wash and breaking up broad spectrums into glitz. Wait on.
There it is. Oil is at the heart of this. We know oil. We are intimate with oil. It runs in our blood, and in other places, also. Must be, then, that the speaker is saying: hooray for oil, savior, blessed thing. Oil is the answer to the dangers of the reef. Oil might yet colonize unruly polyps, make them civil, make them good, make them productive. Oil brings the fish to shore on boats nobody ever sees, and oil sees the fish get piled up on cold benches in the co-op, and there the oil has the fish congeal into a pink and white bluff of sweet flesh to be peeled by a congress of the fatted, young and old, at a safe distance from the reef.

Don’t be deceived. The speaker is no Greeny, but a hero of our time who lets oil take the likeness of its opposite to rob it of its power. To oil then, to our booming resources, and to going forward. The reef has had its time.