A Bestiary in Three Acts
by Lynda Sexson
Act One: Kindly Pry Clams on Finely Grained Sand
Clams, even clams, love the moon, swelling and shrinking by
He told her he loved her by all available, ephemeral means: sand, sex, song.
She made notes on the impossibility of love in an old, water-stained bank ledger.
“What shall we do? What shall we do?” she asked.
She put on her red dress.
They ran as the outgoing tide seized their ankles and ran as the incoming tide swept their
knees. The bivalves stayed put, their blowholes punctuating footprint sentences and
A clam’s life is spelled out in its shell, just like tree rings tell of
lean years and fat. But clams do not read the books that bind them.
They filter, she wrote in her ledger.
“Happy as a clam,” he said; “a clam is happy at high tide.”
“Pathetic fallacy,” she said, and the clams clicked their approval like castanets.
A clam is headless. No nose, no eyes, for love is blind. He called her cell. A clam has no
ears. Love is deaf.
And when the stars came out he asked, “Would you climb under this blanket?”
She took off her red dress and opened her slippery thoughts, sighing like a wave, longing
The clams, attuned to the tides, considered voyages. Packed up in their own steamer
trunks, they made their way to the best part of traveling, which is not the getting up and
going, but being pulled and rebuffed by a force that the sea calls love.
“We fit together like love,” he said.
The waves whispered over the clams:
Some are ruffled.
Some are razored.
Some are hermaphrodites.
Some are steamers.
Some are chowder.
And some are blue.
As restless tides churned beneath the moon in its last aspect, she put on her red dress.
“Travelling will not find love lying in wait,” he said. “Don’t leave.”
Clams have a saying, heartless as a human.
Clams live alone, snug in their own two halves. A man clam seeds the ocean; a woman
clam spawns in the sea. No love lost between them, not in all the orgasmic deep. And
though foamy sperm might meet briny egg and couple into a clam, that clam will come to
rest, to say that travelling is for infants. And love is for the sea.
She was the sort that was, as Aristotle reasoned, cool and damp. She was clammy.
He was the sort that was, as Hamlet dreamed, bounded in a shell. He was clammed up.
“We are the same species, yet we are only superficially plausible: specious,” she said, “as
clammy is to clammed up is to blue. Linnaeus has work to do.”
She stepped into her heels so high he said she looked hatchet-footed, pelecypod.
She wrote in her ledger.
Absorbing methane, the oceans will dissolve the shells of the clams.
They have nowhere to go as we all go down.
A clam is like a forsaken lover sandcastling the shore.
Act Two: Lashes to Ashes, Lust to Dust
Her old ledger’s embossed letters led her to a bank on the historical register. She took a
job that offered benefits and bonuses: a Christmas savings bond and a presidential coin
for the New Year.
She sorted cash in her till, rolled coins from piggy banks, and gave away calendars with
auspicious days she’d already circled.
From behind her scrolled grille she classified her depositors as predators, scavengers,
parasites. She was keen to identify another category.
Her boss watched from his mahogany desk surrounded by a cast bronze railing. He
cornered her in the vault when she was switching her New Year dollar for a Seated
He hunted her after bankers’ hours, getting down on one knee, pledging to love her
wholly and solely.
“You’ll adapt from predator to parasite? Better to go for my throat than to sip upon me
drop by drop.”
“You will love me too,” he said.
“Even a banker desires a symbiont,” she said.
Linnaeus considered legs, eggs, and cryptogamae;
relocated the whale, fish to mammal; abolished vermes.
But his taxonomy only had room for reproduction,
nothing for love.
The banker stole a kiss as she transferred mining stock into her own name.
“We might be commensals,” she said, “oblivious, inflicting no harm.”
He heard complaints: as she conducted transactions she might say trombones instead of
76, or a big fat hen instead of ten, or for god so loved the world in place of 316. She
counted out Washingtons folded into mushroom clouds. She learned how to fold a spider.
She took home banded stacks of twenties to practice.
She freely dispensed information alongside withdrawals. “Eyelash bears. Order:
arachnida. Same as spiders,” she said, handing over an eight-legged, origamied twenty.
“Right before our eyes. In our lashes. Semi-transparent and microscopic. Burrowing and
hungry. I am a teller, I tell. They look like greedy popes in the Eighth Circle, their heads
in holes, their tails sticking up. They are mites, going by the name of Fat Worm of the
Follicles: Demodex folliculorum.”
She added zeros in the computer and slipped money into her blouse.
As the planet heats up, creatures will perish
outside their thermal niche.
She bookmarked her ledger with a Ben.
She waited cheerfully for robbers.
But before masked men showed up, she was fired.
After firing her, the banker took her to a great seafood restaurant. She turned her face
away from the clams.
He had read up. He tendered his new knowledge: “Like the best of pets, never defecating.
Their penises are strategically tucked between their first and second leg. In a week the
babies are babes and the old ones are corpses, decomposing in the blink of an eyelash.”
She said, “Lashes to ashes, lust to dust.”
He began to cry.
“When you weep, do the bears drown?” she asked.
A piggy bank was as likely to be slotted into Systema naturae as love was to be
embezzled from a bank.
Act Three: This Thornbush, My Thornbush
The echidna will dream, but only if it’s not too cold.
When it’s warm enough for milk to curdle?
When it’s hot enough to fry a sidewalk egg?
She wrote along the saltwater stains in her ledger.
Her flight was delayed. Again.
In cool weather the nocturnal echidna goes forth in the daytime,
though its dreams hatch in heat.
Humans once claimed that the echidna, unlike other mammals,
did not dream, but rearranged its furniture all night.
She scribbled and fidgeted in the tiny, duct-taped airport.
Climate change changes the planet;
dreams will ignite like wadded paper.
A man staked her out, bailed her, and opened his briefcase to show off a portable bar. He
offered to make her a drink with Orange Crush from the vending machine.
She ignored him.
Storms will find our dreams like keys on a kite.
He tried again: “You here for the opals and boomerangs, ay?”
She said she had come for the echidna.
“Roasted one once,” he said; “she was of a delicate flavor.”
He read that somewhere. Although eager to eat a solitary little animal, he could read.
She’d have the drink. Just the Orange Crush, none of the stuff in the briefcase.
At last she wedged in among passengers.
Even our neurons are spiny.
The man boarded, his flying bar sacrificed to security. He removed the person in the next
seat, saying she was his fiancée.
She pretended to sleep.
Between dreaming and loving is probably only a degree or two.
So many dreams are bad, why expect more from love?
She’d return to the man she left on the other side of the globe. She’d return to arrange her
bookshelf of things with spines, except for books:
The plane landed; she scurried for a taxi to her hotel.
Like the man in the moon, the echidna is cursed to carry
a bundle of sticks on his back forever.
A hedgehog might desire a hairbrush.
Morphology is love’s at-first-sight fallacy.
Because Linnaeus could not account for variation,
there’s no slot for love.
The echidna disorders the Mammalia column, disrupting the definition. Men echidnas
form love trains. Ms Echidna chooses one from the lineup and lays a reptilian egg.
Tucking her puggle into her pocket until it grows too bristly, she abandons it to venture
alone, to feed at a termite cathedral, to burrow quickly at the sound of dogs or scent of
She called down to the lobby to report the broken window, shards on the carpet.
“It’s not going to rain now, is it?” said the desk clerk. “You won’t get cold; your bloke’s
on his way up.”
“You can’t give a stranger my room number.”
“Says you’re his fiancée.”
She slipped out the side entrance and went to the airport to book a flight across the
She would go back to her old love to live like a bramble by the sea.