“Thought Experiment,” by Catherine Barnett

Read by the author.


What would it be like to be a mantis shrimp,
poorly understood, territorial, combative,

with part of your brain housed
in each eyestalk?

I don’t think it’s exactly love, but some species
are monogamous, sharing a patch of sea grass

or underwater burrow for twenty years.
My place is probably a hundred and fifty feet

above sea level, and when my son comes back home
he sleeps in a captain’s bed above his old T-shirts.

Sometimes he brings his dog,
a rescue, and calls me Dogma,

then they’re gone again
and I rattle around again, mindlessly,

listening to my neighbor sing.
From the far end of the galley kitchen

I can watch the Hudson tides rise and fall,
can imagine being dredged in a net

dropped by the sloop my son and his classmates
sailed, long ago, when they were still children.

I remember looking out the window then, too,
watching the Clearwater

make its leisurely way up and back.
Was my mind already housed here in my eyes,

which, like all human eyes, like to close—
to rest, dream, recall a face, a child’s voice

who is no longer a child? Who knows
what else they’re thinking about now.

True story about the mantis shrimp
who shattered her aquarium walls.

Because she was alone?
Or because she was not alone enough?

Stories I cannot tell because I don’t know
how they end and might never understand.

Who would buy a mantis shrimp,
lifted from the sea grass,

sent by express mail to be dropped
into a thousand distant aquariums

where she swivels her compound eyes
and takes everything in.


This is drawn from “Solutions for the Problem of Bodies in Space.”

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