The Radiolara Salute You
Good morning, third-graders! Here we go!
Bam! that’s the meteor and
foom out it explodes and
then whoosh, gone, smacked right down everything:
trees, mammoths, dinosaurs giant and tiny and flying,
microraptor feathers poof! and scales shhhh into the mud and dust and iridium
dazzles the eyes that are left,
champosaurs, crocodyliforms: you saw it, you sly water-dogs.
There’s rising lava at the Deccan Traps and shooop!
land breaks apart and volcanoes BOOM! erupt
and the skies are darker than dark and
the ankylosaurians fall, Iguanadon is gone forever;
Dimetrodon, we hardly knew you – farewell to your sail-like back;
Oh lovely theropods, your deltopectoral crests are crushed, your
supratemporal fossa become caved-in caverns.
Goodbye beautiful Heliobatis and beautiful billowing ammonites
the radiolaria salute you on your way out, quick quick and adieu!
Sharks lived. What did they see, did they feel that massive thud?
Fossil pollen, megaflorals, ferns and fungi: ferns win the round, ding,
eating lake beds and ash, schlurp and gobble, make a fern spike.
Farewell, mosasaur, you head is flat and you are done in, and on my living room table.
You should have burrowed, but you didn’t know. Dig, into the rock and soil, dig dig dig
scritch rutch shoop shoop scritch dig, this is how you should have dug.
The ancestor of kiwis
dug; kiwis! We have
kiwis but not
Now in the park we sift and lift and brush and uncover and we
measure and we map and we study and compare and we model and
we sweat and we find and uncover and uncover and the sun
beats down on our necks
and we mark and we mask and we mold and the sun –
and uncover and we sweat and we tire and we map and we sift
here is a map: stratigraphic, geographic, taphonomic, and some photos;
make a drawing, show the layers, here’s a fossil of a plant,
what’s the date, what’s that tooth, it’s a mandible, is there pyrite?
We sift and uncover and we brush and we write:
what’s the climate, size of matrix, what’s this county, here’s the orbit.
And we sweat and we mark and we glue:
here’s the chalk, get adhesive, put the fossil jacket here,
place the burlap, add some plaster, drink some water.
We uncover: here’s the skull, there’s a spike, it’s a juvenile –
we uncover, we uncover, we uncover:
We uncover: Triceratops, see that giant frill; Allosaur, bipedal killer;
Camarasaurus, with their little square snouts.
We uncover: Diplodicus, chevron bones in a whip-tail,
thumb-like claw, high pneumacity, were you grazing here,
in the sun and the heat and the trees when the world
Everyone wants a T. rex, we want the next Sue, another queen
of the Cretaceous but
we dig and we brush and we map and we sweat and
we model and we measure and we wrap
what we find in burlap and plaster and we love
every chip and tooth and toe we find when
we brush and we blast and we dig and we sweat
and the sun on our necks and the neck of this
Apatosaurus and we dig and uncover –
When I was four I broke my tooth and
because I was good I got a book
and the book was full of
Uncover, I –
from dust and rock
where you have been so long
In the cool of the lab,
the bone saw cuts away
the field jacket:
plaster and cloth
I smooth away
with my hands in gloves.
Air scribe and microscope
and grinding wheel
release you from rock,
take away the grit in your eyes,
the sand in your mouth,
I clean you and measure you,
take your picture,
give you a number.
The X-ray scans you, and
the consolidant holds you together.
What a beautiful specimen
If you’ve been scattered,
I might be able to
reunite you with
how beautiful you are,
clean and cared for,
Esteemed colleagues and guests,
thank you for this lovely
I am delighted to
offer a few remarks
on what I have
in my research
based on many years of work –
I can still hardly believe it –
About the Author
Kendra Preston Leonard is a poet and librettist based in Texas, where she writes about history and myth, social justice issues, and the environment. Kendra’s work has appeared in vox poetica, lunch, Tule Review, and other venues, and has been set to music by various composers. Her chapbook Making Mythology was published in 2020 by Louisiana Literature Press, and her novella in verse Protectress was published by Unsolicited Press in 2022.