“Living Fossil, Living God,” a Poem by Quan Barry

From the Collection Auction

September 27, 2023  By Quan Barry

Admittedly, there is something about its face,
the boxy pugilistic snout, the prehistoric eyes
that seem to stare down through

80 million years back to the very days of T-rex.
Though taxonomically the frilled shark is no snake
cutting through the lightless waters 5,000 feet down,

the creature looks to be the very essence
of the reptilian brain—cold-blooded, beyond
even the crocodile, that seemingly soul-less

armory of plates, a creature grounded wholly in the now
with no inner life beyond the moment. What would it be
to be this presence skirting through the dark

with its rows of teeth, a consciousness beyond mind
that watches what mind does, its sorrows,
a being that grows its young for three and a half years

in the dark night of its belly, the longest gestation
of any in the animal kingdom, and how it only comes to us
from time to time, pulled up in some fisherman’s net

for all to behold the undying wonders of the sea?
To have lived on into the anthropocene,
this creature mostly blind, simply structured, unchanging,

feeding on small squids and fishes, others of its kind—
please don’t misunderstand. I believe God does not exist
in time, but because we do, we cannot understand It.

But imagine eighty million years, passing second by second.
When I look at this silvery beast, I see God.


From Auction: Poems by Quan Barry. Copyright © 2023. Reprinted with permission from the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Quan Barry
Quan Barry
Quan Barry is the Lorraine Hansberry Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Born in Saigon and raised on Boston’s north shore, Barry is the author of seven books of fiction and poetry, including the novel When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East. She is one of a select group of writers to receive National Endowment for the Arts fellowships in both poetry and fiction. In 2021 her novel We Ride Upon Sticks was awarded the American Library Association’s Alex Award. Barry’s first play production, The Mytilenean Debate, premiered in spring 2022. She is currently Forward Theater’s first ever writer-in-residence.

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