David Punter

Selpae

There were a few other animals I think Selpae

floating about. There is a  very minute animal

which I have several times noticed

in the tropical seas

moving about on the surface of the water

like a small water beetle

or a fly trying to get out  of a bowl of milk.

I cannot at all see its form

but merely the commotion it makes.

Expect to get into Bombay on Thursday next.

 

(excerpt from the diary of Samuel Archer MRCS, Cork to Bombay 1857)

 

Selpae

 

Selpae: asleep, elapse, please, all you get

of this creaturely life afloat or adrift

are re-formations, but they too make a kind of sense:

 

these tiny creatures, too minute to see may indeed

be asleep until disturbed by the attentions of the naturalist,

and as he watches, alert for the merest movement,

 

the slightest indication of purpose, motive, motion -

will he notice time elapse as, transfixed as on a pin

and constant in his endeavour to match, to find

 

similarity, to invent new sea-borne metaphor,

he fails to notice the slipping away, the hiatus

in mind as he is possessed by this new sense of being,

 

by these creatures who appear to do exactly,

confidently, with commotion, unintelligibly

even to these marvellously adapted senses of man,

 

whatever it is they innocently, indolently, please?

Commentary

This is one of a series of poems written as responses to extracts from the diaries and letters of passengers held in the archives of the SS Great Britain, the great steamship now berthed as a museum in Bristol Harbour. The whole collection will be published later this year under the title Ship's Log.

Selpae.webp