Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Strange Story of a Goddess’s Daughter

Meet the archerfish. This wonderful creature watches the world above the surface and shoots down insects with jets of water spit from its remarkable mouth. The archerfish (genus Toxotes) is a physics and ballistics expert, able to hit an overhead target up to six feet away.

I happen to be an archery expert myself. At the age of 33, I won a crossbow-shooting contest in the Swiss Alps while under the influence of a large amount of slivovitz. I’m not kidding you. I have some kind of animal-horn blower thing to prove it. It’s true the competition consisted of a bunch of American journalists on a European press tour, but still. I was three sheets to the wind and a dead-eye shot.

I met the archerfish because I had to write a poem about one. The famous weekly Poetry Bus, invented by an Irish poet who calls himself the Totalfeckineejit, which he isn’t, is busy touring the animal kingdom this week.

This animal thing is the brainchild of Titus the Dog, a fine poet out of Scotland who is not a dog but a human named JoAnne McKay. She’s making a poetry booklet about animals to raise funds for humans who have arthritis. My dearly beloved beagle Riley has been crippled by arthritis. Someday maybe we’ll do a poetry booklet about humans to raise funds for animals who have arthritis.

So. On to the archerfish. This fish has very sharp eyes very close together by its snout, which allows the fish to hang about right at the surface of the water and look upward, without creating any telltale disturbance of the water’s surface. There, it slyly watches the overhead vegetation for the movement of insects.

It has a tongue-and-groove kind of mouth that can form a narrow tube and spit a forceful jet of water, but first, the fish somehow calculates complex physics problems that I know nothing about, regarding the refraction of light through water and the curvature of the jet of water as it is pulled down by gravity. Then the archerfish changes its firing angle to compensate, and whammo! The insect, struck by the water jet, is knocked into the pond, where it disappears into the fish’s mouth.

How am I to tell you all this bizarre engineering stuff in a poem? I decided I wouldn’t. So I turned the fish into the daughter of one of history’s greatest archers. You’ll find the rest of the animals roaming at Titus’s place.

The Archerfish Tale

I saw your daughter today, Artemis,
hunting with your bow and arrow
in a mangrove swamp. You would be proud
of Toxotes, if you had seen her stalk
her prey with your own cunning,
disturbing not even a ripple of air
as she moved. Your daughter is fierce
and graceful as you once were,
Artemis, when you served this earth ~
Goddess of the hunt, of wild creatures
and forest lands, She Who Brings Light
to the night, Slayer of men, Avenger
of maidens. Your daughter Toxotes
is the huntress now, the Bringer of Death,
She Whose Aim Is True. She honors you,
daughter of Zeus, daughter of Titans,
Mistress of the Moon. Take pleasure,
Artemis, in your child, the Archer
unsurpassed in all the kingdom. Tell
your friend Orion, your brother Apollo,
that the skill of Toxotes is supreme.
Her arrows of water, shot from the strange
bow of her muscular mouth, unerringly
find their mark. I watched her, Goddess,
as she bent laws of physics and gravity
to her will, as she conquered light itself
bending at the boundary of water and air.
She has your shrewd eyes.
Smile, Artemis, in your retreat
on the moon’s dark side.
In your daughter, you live on.



Brian Miller said...

nice verse...i am impressed the more i learn about you...archery...i learned it as a young lad myself but have only recently been using it to work with one of the boys i counsel...nice hit on the the archerfish as well...

Titus said...

Oh, my heroine! The archerfish! At last the archerfish!
Back to read properly later: busy day in praise of mothers here.

Jinksy said...

I would that we could all bend the laws of physics and gravity
to our will! (I wouldn't mind being able to spit like that fish, either! )LOL

Niamh B said...

Excellent take Oak, love the classical touch, and the bending at the boundary of air and water. Fab

Emerging Writer said...

Oh yes, their grasp of physics and light refraction is poetic indeed

young-eclectic-encounters said...

What a fantastic poem I would have never have thought of the comparison but it was so appropriate. Wonderful thoughtful poem
Johnina :^A

Andrew said...

Your mind is simply amazing Chris.

Reading you is such a treat for me.

Much love dear one.

Yvonne Osborne said...

You are a woman of many talents. Love that archerfish....and the poem. I wish to get back on the poetry bus, soon as I juggle arch enemy.

Helen said...

This is a Poetry Bus masterpiece. Captivating and educational too.

Monkey Man said...

You really put a lot into this.

Titus said...

The introduction would have been enough in itself (who knew?) but the poem is good. Very good.
The initial conceit pretty inspired, and obviously unexpected, and then because you went full-on with the heightened tone and language it just worked so well. And yes, the
'I watched her, Goddess,
as she bent laws of physics and gravity
to her will, as she conquered light itself
bending at the boundary of water and air.'
is brilliant. On so many levels.

Titus said...

And if I could use this in the artist's book project I'd be really grateful. If it's a yes, e-mail me at TitusmckayATaolDOTcom with the name you'd like it to appear under.

Magpie said...

I guess there might be things in your life you wish could have gone differently, but I think it's safe to say you're a woman who has lived her life to the fullest.

Jess Mistress of Mischief said...

I can hit anything dead on too, but it's only when I'm not aiming. Once hit my boss between the eyes with a rubberband on a dare I just pulled and shot (assuming I'd hit no where near his head, got him right between the eyes. The 6th grade girls who had come to learn what we do for a day were in fits of giggles when that happened).

:) I love how mythology and nature collide in the verse you write!

Peter Goulding said...

I was going to opt for the archer fish with some nonsense about him riding sea horses and attacking sandcastles but after reading yours, I'm glad I didn't! Both a history lesson and a poetical tour de force in one.

The Bug said...

I love it! I really wanted to write about the archerfish, but I couldn't come up with anything inspiring - I'm glad I didn't because it sure wouldn't have matched this one!

hope said...

Well done! You paint a beautiful portrait with your words.

Love the archery theme and that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact hubby owns an archery shop. ;)

Argent said...

Very nice poetry indeed, and thanks for giving the background; the bit about calculating the arc with reference to the refraction of light - I had not thought of that.

120 Socks said...

A really accomplished poetry bus ride, wow and wow!

Mama Zen said...

Very cool!

Doctor FTSE said...

Tiny technical point, and I hope you don't mind me pointing it out. Not even an archerfish can bend the laws of phys. and grav. And whadya know! If by toxotian magic, she could so bend them, she would always miss!

Emerging Writer said...

the fish could tame the laws maybe or harness or something like that

Dominic Rivron said...

"as she bent laws of physics and gravity
to her will, as she conquered light itself..."

Very appropriate. Reminded me of gods as written about by Homer.

Lucy Westenra said...

The previous two comments are interesting. She doesn't have to tame them, or harness them. She CAN'T HELP BUT USE THEM! (Though I agree with EW. "Tame" or "Harness" are better poetically than "use".) The amazing thing is . . she knows more about physics and gravity than most physics undergrads . . . but she doesn't know what she knows!

E.Oak . . I'd planned an archerfish poem. Then I read yours, said "Wow!" and wrote something else!

Kat Mortensen said...

Oh, I love how you dove into the Mythology of it all! Excellent!


NanU said...

ooooh, that's magnificent.

how do you shoot when you're sober? I bet the archerfish calculates nothing at all. He just steps up and does it, like so many who are so good at something it just comes out, like that. those who miss starve.

Totalfeckineejit said...

To say I am not a fan of Greek mythology in poetryis to put it mildly, but this is wonderful, the first poem to mention such things , and there are thousands of them ,that I have liked.Some achievement. Bullseye!

Love the intro too and a three sheets to the wind archery winner? Cool!!

Syd said...

Very impressive poem about Toxotes. Fish are neat creatures.