thirty-one (portrait of our mother)

by nike, November 14, 2014
water flea

The common water flea. Scientific name: Simocephalus, Daphnia and other unnamed species. Phylum: Arthropoda. Subphylum: Crustacea. Class: Branchiopoda. Order: Cladocera (source of image unknown)

The story I am writing about you takes place during your fall. It begins at the top of that building in Manhattan, when you step off the roof, and ends when you reach the sidewalk. It begins with a recitation, and ends in silence.

After your death, I fell silent. It might be more accurate to say that after your death I fell into silence. The way a stone falls into a pond. I settled in depths like an ephippia — a sleeping daughter of the water flea — a cyst that only hatches in the winter, when the rain falls.

Did you know that, like our own family, the family of a water flea is almost entirely female? In the heat of summer, when the vernal pool begins to stink and turn anoxic, half of the females become male. They mate with their sister-wives in order to produce ephippia: reserve daughters who lie in the bottom of the pool for years, sometimes. Forever. Only hatching when the pond becomes so hot and shallow the mothers cannot reproduce by parthenogenesis.

You once took a photograph of a mature water flea. Its brood pouch heavy with eggs, its carapace a tracery of fine white lines. Portrait of our mother, you called it. She seems deathly, alien, except for the fact that within her asymmetrical body she is holding a diffuse and beautiful light. There is something so uncanny about this portrait, so familiar, that my fingertips tingle when I see it. My gut turns. It makes me feel covetous, and queer.


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