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I recollect the old dry watercourse  
where I was seated, splitting shale, each hammer blow
revealed to my expectant gaze another silent sea floor fragment  
								from 400 million years ago—
when in the rock appeared, against all odds, 
the clean cast of an unknown fossil with some crinoids, brachiopods,
the common fauna from its marine source.

The paleo-biologists were swift       
to ascertain this fossil was a new carpoid
and as Victoriacystis wilkinsi they linked this creature to my name, 
								whereby I can’t avoid
but marvel the coincidence that two 
so disparate lives in space and time were thrown together through
the vagaries of continental drift.

It’s hard to comprehend a form of life
its line extinct, with nothing like it living now.
A flattened sack of calcite plates that differ front and back, two
								openings—an anus, mouth, we can allow—
but we have no idea which is which, 
a stalk perhaps to fix the creature to its chosen sea floor niche, 
or with a prod propel it out of strife.

How strange that this obscure and let’s agree 
unknowable thing, so long extinct, no claim to fame,  
should through binomial appellation be posthumously appointed
								to be forever guardian of my name.
If locked in rock it emulates Lot’s wife 
it might be said that by my gaze I gave it resurrected life—
that in its turn will do the same for me.

Originally published in StylusLit (Issue 14, Sept 2023).

By Peter Jell, featured in 'What's in a name'. Ruta. M., & Jell, P.A. 1999 06 30: A note on Victoriacystis wilkinsi (Anomalocystitida: Mitrala) from the Upper Silurian of Victoria, Memoirs of the Queensland Museun 43(1):423-430. Brisbane. ISSN 0079-8835.

The science inspiring the piece:

In the sedimentary rocks beneath our feet are billions of traces of extinct species. By naming these former miracles of creation, we give them dignity. Sometimes by return, they bestow the same honour upon us. I discovered the impression of this curious animal in rocks at Heathcote, Victoria while I was a student building up a fossil collection. It was subsequently described and named as a new genus and species of a long extinct group of echinoderms called carpoids, by Edmund Gill of what was then the National Museum, Victoria, and Kenneth Caster of the University of Cincinnati. Subsequent to the writing of this poem the anterior/posterior problem has been resolved, or at least it has become clearer which end is which!