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Poetry in Ocean

by Rochelle S. Cohen


Disco Inferno


Way down deep in the abyss

The nether world is all amiss

There you’ll find the main event

To be the hydrothermal vent

Where there’s a crack in earth’s shell

Life is like a living hell

Four hundred degrees Fahrenheit

A perpetuity of night

And there’s an unexpected thrill

A sudden switch to artic chill

The water pressure’s hard to bear

No one with a lung would dare

Chimneys choking charcoal clouds

Creatures sheathed in dark grey shrouds

Down here in the bios scene

Not unlike Halloween

All of life looking shady

Befitting residents of Hades

Yet, here in this cauldron’s brew

Where you would expect a seafood stew

Nature’s will is to survive

In the vent stayin’ alive



Moving On


The water temperature was rising

And the oxygen content was low

Fish had to become enterprising

Millions of years ago

In shallows where fish could swim

Mother Nature took the plunge

She made the fin a limb

And gave them primitive lungs

The transitional fishapod

Evolved a bony rib frame

And, with a wink and a nod

Adam’s Eve rose to fame

Evolution’s other miracle

Was a primitive ear

The fish evolved a spiracle

Now it’s music that we hear

A movable neck was in style

Atop its head shifted the eyes

Just like a crocodile

Fish could look up at the skies

When Nature wrote her memoirs

They were not melancholic

Now we can reach for the stars

Thanks to the fish tiktaalik



Gulliver’s Travels


Heb een kijken, Have a look

Said Anton van Leeuwenhoek

Water from a Delft kanaal

Was anything but banal

Lenses ground by diminution

Magnified the lilliputian

He called all these miniscules

By the name “animalcules”

Bacilli, cocci and spirillum

Bacteria that would thrill him

Once there was a small explosion

With gunpowder he went a nosin’

 Just a peek he was so inclined

Luckily, he did not go blind

Of all the creatures he saw squirm

Most remarkable were sperm

Everyone was quite surprised

To know that eggs are fertilized

In the heartbeat of a water flea

He fathered microbiology



Peter Pan


Don’t think that you have hit the bottle

When you see an axolotl

Because I say with utmost candor

This is a strange salamander

Its gills are outside instead of in

That’s odd for an amphibian

It’s perpetual monotony

Is a of state of neotony

Straight out of J. M. Barrie’s pages

Here’s a youth, who never ages

‘Cause it won’t grow up like Peter Pan

Won’t give up its larvae-like plan

With a tadpole-like form and cute smile

It’s an adult not juvenile

Never goes through metamorphosis

Like Prince Frog this calls for a kiss

A native of South of the Border

An animal made to order

For biologists to contemplate

Just how its limbs regenerate

We’ll learn from the Class Amphibia

How to regrow a tibia

Those with a pet axolotl

Surely name it Aristotle



Head Games



“Off with her head!” said the Queen to Alice

For she was full of hate and malice

The Queen could not be any scarier

Alice wished she was a planaria

For you can cut off its head to no avail

It will grow right back as does its tail

And if your head was split in two

Then there would be a double you



When they beheaded Marie Antoinette

The Dauphine de France would have had no cause to fret

She could remain anti-eqalitarian

If only she was a royal turbellarian



John the Baptist’s head was served on a tray

By the beautiful dancer Salomé

What a surprise for stepfather King Herod

If like a planaria John grew a bod




There is no one whom I would rather
Be than the jawless fish Agnatha
I rue the day that nature's law
Ruled vertebrates evolve a jaw
From sharks to gators and the crocs
Hyenas, lions and the fox
When earth's sweet sounds became so shrill
With the blasting of the dentist's drill
With my jaw I'd take delight
To gnash his fingers with one bite




For my father, Noah Cohen


Noah was a federal government man

For natural disasters he had a plan

For hurricanes he drew a schema

For an ark, he was head of FEMA

No animal species were swept away

When Noah was head of the EPA

For those rheumatic pains and aches

He invested in NIH

For those whom the storm left worse for wear

Noah had universal health care




For Zoe Asta


Puffins are the “clowns of the sea”

Comical birds with irony

With black tuxes they look très distingué

But big orange striped beaks give them away

With puffed out chests they appear quite elite

But not with their floppy, orange webbed feet

They cannot soar like the swift peregrine

Their short wings flap like a flying machine

Puffins catch fish from an Icelandic fjord

In their backward teeth, it’s a smorgasbord

And for spring romance it is very thrilling

Beak to beak, a behavior called “billing”

It’s a kiss you think, you’re right to suppose

For a pair of puffins in love nose to nose




I had a Paris lycée chum

Who was a Paramecium

Le vin he drank at l’école

Until he filled his vacuole

The verb he loved to conjugate

Was the present tense “to mate”

If he wanted to be more

There was no time for l’amour

Paramecia must split in two

Before they dance a pas de deux



Starry Night


When the sea is still the dinoflagellates Noctiluca float secretly on the surface

A touch on a moonless night and they become scintillating Fires of the Sea

Blinking like phosphorescent fireflies dancing in the dark

Creating an emerald starry night for the underworld

A celestial canopy for oceanic nightlife


A jellyfish medusa contracts in abandonment like a modern dancer

Listening to the music in her head only she can hear

Undulating nudibranchs, shell-less mollusks,

Move like Salomé with her seven veils

Starfish, with their five limbs lined with tube feet podia

Tap like a chorus line of Rockettes, breaking up into spokes

Each podium and limb moving separately, yet collectively, in precision


An audience of sessile coral polyps sitting in their stony seats

Wave “Bravo!” with their swaying tentacles

One more encore before the rising sun

Extinguishes the glow of the glittering sea



Early Retirement


With the tunicate we start to see

The dawn of our possibility

With a brain and notochord

The larvae is the mouse that roared

The root of our family tree

Of vertebrate ancestry

But when larval to adult stage switched

The brain and notochord were ditched

The metamorphosis was dramatic

From one spirited to still and static

The elder squirt siphons through its spout

But can’t wonder what it’s all about

Early on its song was sung

Youth is wasted on the young





Gangs leave their scars

As painted scrawls

On subway cars

And building walls


Names that will scream

For eternity

I’m not a dream

I’m reality


A long time ago

Gangs of single cells

Left a lime logo

In the shape of shells


On pyramids and Dover cliffs

In the bust of Queen Nefertiti

Nature wrote to us hieroglyphs

Foraminifera graffiti





A Swedish Jelly named Inga

Was known in the depths as a swinga

The stunning Medusa

She couldn’t be loosa

Would love ya’ and leave ya’ and sting ya’



Slings and Arrows


If you want to get rid of that worm

Call the archer echinoderm

The Robin Hood of the briny

An urchin that is spiny

And watch that scalawag squirm



Peixes no Carnaval


Meu peixe está pronto para o Carnaval

Porque se parace com um chinês animal

Com os grandes pretos e brancos olhos

O peixe é um betta, um dos machos

Ele tem um fantástico esmeralda rabo

Ele se espalha como fogo de artifico

Seu nome é Panda e é pequenininho

Tristemente, ele está um pouco sozinho

Faz as ninhos das bolhas de ar e espere em vão                                      

Não tem uma fêmea para uma relação

Então, Panda vai nadar na praia em Bahia

Encontra uma fêmea betta e diz Bom dia!

Ela é bonita e seu nome é Beatriz

Agora, o poema tem um final feliz

Porque no Carnival até o fim

Eles dançam os sambas de Tom Jobim


Fish at Carnival


My fish is ready for Carnival

Because he looks like a Chinese animal

With big black and white eyes

The fish is a betta, one of the males

He has a fantastic emerald tail

It spreads like fireworks

His name is Panda and he is very little

Sadly, he is a little alone

He makes bubble nests and waits in vain

He does not have a female for a relationship

So, Panda goes to swim in a beach in Bahia

He meets a female betta and says Hello!

She is beautiful and her name is Beatrice

Now, the poem has a happy ending

Because at the Carnival until the end

They dance sambas of Tom Jobim





Saudade, a Portuguese word, no equivalent in English,

a profound missing, a longing for a place, person or time.

“Estou com saudades,” I am yearning for that which

brings me back to my center, where I am home, at ease

to find the peace and express the creativity within.

Is this feeling programmed into our collective DNA?


It’s spring and the female leatherback turtle navigated

thousands of miles of ocean by means still mysterious.

Enormous, but streamlined, this graceful swimmer

arrives on the sandy shore of her natal beach to repeat

the primeval ritual her ancient Olympian ancestors

originated one hundred and ten million years ago.


In the dark of night she digs a large, deep body pit

in which to deposit her eggs, the adjacent forestation

affording cover for her incipient clutch. She shields

them with unfertilized eggs for fortification and

then, with a sandy blanket, she tucks them in for

their two month long sleepy incubation.


Saltwater tears from the briny sea, accumulated

during her long ocean passage, well from her eyes.

With a heavy heart, she leaves her brood behind.

Wanderlust is a potent magnet which pulls her back

to the moonlit ocean to recommence her long voyage

and to take her rightful place in the ocean’s ecosphere.


The hatchlings crawl on their oar-like limbs to the

water’s edge, as fast as they can, mindful of ravenous,

famished fish, dogs, seabirds, raccoons and ghost crabs

foraging for a feast. Only one hatchling out of a thousand

survives. Fifteen years after her maiden voyage she thinks,

Estou com saudades, and returns to the beach of her birth.



Bio for Rochelle S. Cohen


Rochelle S. Cohen is presently Professor Emerita at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was the recipient of the 2008 College of Medicine at Chicago Distinguished Faculty Award. She is a neuroscientist with publications in synaptic structure and biochemistry and hormonal effects on brain and behavior. Rochelle is presently studying the Brazilian Portuguese language. Her love of marine biology is reflected in her present endeavor of writing a book of poetry about marine life and science.  She was married to the writer and artist Rex Sexton.


Some of these poems were published in: The Avocet, PoetsWest and Lone Stars.  privacy statement