I thought at first it was a man-made form
for nothing natural I ever saw so noble:
how ironic that the Noble Pen Shell
is a natural Mediterranean marvel.
In less than the fifteen years since I first came here
its population, all but disappeared
in fact, this area is a conservation zone
with efforts made to halt the steep decline.
In Spain, 99% of the population killed by a
newly-discovered parasite, in the short time since 2016:
this parasite forces the shell to stay open
rendering this shellfish defenceless.
Of course, we can’t be sure that humans are to blame
we once spun the byssus into fine sea silk
now that industry’s dead, as these molluscs almost are:
I can’t help but think we’ve had a hand in this.
Even here, where you can still see live shells in the harbour
the sea looks sick: blooming with red-tide algae
or frothed with jetsam, here where no fish swim
ironically, another endemic species is named the Arca Noae, or ‘Noah’s Ark’ shell:
What Ark can save us once the seas are dead
and all the land burns, like a living hell?
Written for earthweal
This week, Sherry hosts ‘The Great Forgetting‘ challenge, which makes for sobering reading. She writes:
For your challenge: Today we will remember the lost ones, and the ones who will soon break our hearts by leaving. Choose a creature that has gone extinct, or one you love that is endangered. Tell us about it. Get inside its head as it lived, or is living its slow dying. Or, to take another tack, show us your creature in its glory days, when its demise would have seemed unimaginable. Let’s remember the wild ones, so they won’t fade into the Great Forgetting.
I chose the Pinna Nobilis, or Noble Pen Shell: a giant clam, endemic to the Mediterranean, which can grow to a length of 4ft (120 cm)! It’s true that the first time I saw them in Portorož harbour, I thought they were too large to be clams, and that they must be some man-made product of the fishing industry. When we lived in Spain, I found fragments of their shells on the Costa del Sol (see featured image) and wondered what marvellous sea creature I had discovered. It was only when we moved to Slovenia that I found out more about them. The population in Spain is already all-but extinct. Here, they hold on by a tenuous thread, fine as the silken byssus by which they attach themselves to the rocks. This thread used to be spun into a super-fine, golden cloth known as ‘Sea Silk,’ which itself has a fascinating history.
The quote ‘for nothing natural I ever saw so noble’ is taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, when Miranda sees the princely Ferdinand for the first time (1.2.418-419). Prior to this, she had been accustomed to the company of the beastly Caliban, timeless emblem of colonialism and enslavement. It is ironic that the supposedly savage Caliban possesses a unique understanding of the natural world which he inhabits. At the end of the play, Prospero admits his own hand in Caliban’s state of moral degradation, ‘this thing of darkness/I acknowledge mine.’ (5.1.276) How much more ironic these lines seem now, with all the darkness of extinction that we have inflicted upon the natural world.
Finally, an apology: my lines are a bit off and clumsy this morning, and I think this poem may need some revision. I was busy with The Anthropocene Hymnal Live yesterday, and today I am pretty tired. I am happy to say that the event was a huge success, and I hope to have a video recording to share with you soon. With this, I leave you a picture of the ‘Noah’s Arc Shell,’ as mentioned in the closing lines of my poem: