Ode to a Zebra Mussel


Fifth Estate # 337, Late Summer, 1991

“Zebra mussels came from fresh-water seas of Eastern Europe and have no major natural predators in the Great Lakes, which accounts for their spread at a rate of 160 miles per year.

“They showed up in Lake St. Clair in 1987 and rapidly infested Lake Erie to the south…The creatures have already appeared as far apart as Green Bay, Wis., and Lake Ontario…

“The city of Monroe, south of Detroit, rationed water for several days [in December 1989] after a decaying mass of mussels, which are no more than two inches each in length, clogged Lake Erie intake pipes for the city’s drinking water system…

“Zebra mussels breed rapidly and interfere with the Great Lakes food chain. Some experts estimate they could cost the United States up to $5 billion over the next 10 years in damages and resources…”

—The Detroit News, 8 March 1990

nature’s revenge against commerce

you are taking no prisoners

your ledge is your ledge

and let the rest go to hell


great ships dissolve in your collective maw

you shut down nuclear plants (will their

cold stellar warmth let you thrive as they

turn us into refugees?)

somewhere some foul and haunted

tanker flushes still more of your cousins

into this delicious frontier


you’re only the next wave of

conquerors after all but then

no one would have expected you

the priests read their fish bones their

burnt offerings the gritty

residues of their vats

none of this was supposed to happen

we have readouts to prove it


the residues of the residues

of the vats they used to fight you

to poison you and yet their magic

failed (their commerce now long

standing on its own spindly legs

surviving even the candle it burns at

both the world’s ends)


I drink to you old adversary

gritty destiny eating away at what can

be no one’s and no



you will have your way for a time

your time

sand and stone

shift and settle always lower

and slabs of rock grind down under

this terrible eating

eating everything being eaten by