Namazu at the Physicist’s Funeral

by Kirsten Irving

“Technology may yet show that there is something to the old catfish legends.”
Motoji Ikeya, Earthquakes and Animals: From Folk Legends to Science

The catfish pulls on a trenchcoat, slides a sweet-wrapper fin
through each sleeve, turns up the collar. This is
the first funeral Namazu has been to since being
hatched by lightning and foddered on wrecks
some thousand years before. What does one do?

They were not so much captor and captive
as colleagues. Ikeya caught him on a small, white day,
a blowy day, so the light-play on the water
covered his pounce. From then on, home for Namazu
was a tank in a lab in Osaka U.

Ikeya pulsed Namazu, not to torment,
nor bring him to being, but to find out
what he knew of earthquakes:
their building, their coming,
their electric drumming on the hill.

What Namazu knew of earthquakes?
Plenty. Shivers born in the rips of his gills,
fanned by his slapping tail, made thug
by Namazu himself made swole,
to cut the waves, and bring back skulls.

Ikeya would flick the switch hundreds of times,
sending blue-bold charges through Namazu’s body
as long, lazy whiplines, as dragonfish teeth.
The catfish felt them as seismic echoes,
as wigs of sea fog, rumpled skies.

Namazu dulls his scales to black,
pulls on a hat and shades, and smoothes
his unkempt barbels. At the graveside,
a woman sobs silently, trembling, as life
flows through her, again and again.