When the carcass of a whale lands on the seafloor, scavengers set to work; this is the first phase.
Over months, sharks, fish, crabs pick clean the skeleton of its flesh, leaving the vertebra
in a long column flanked by two fans of flipper bones, the jaws articulated to a massive skull.
Then the second phase begins: snails, clams, and worms feed a few years on cartilage and the surface of bone;
they burrow into the rich apron of sediment where blubber and oil leached out.
The final, sulphafilic stage is bacterial, plus all the marine life that eats bacteria —mussels, tube worms, sponges.
A single whale carcass creates an ecosystem of concentrated nutrients that can last as long as a century.
That’s influence for you. Below where light can penetrate, in the bathypelagic zone,
a gift sinks down the water column to rest in brown clay on the dark plains of the deep.
Kim Roberts is the editor of the anthology By Broad Potomac’s Shore: Great Poems from the Early Days of our Nation’s Capital (University of Virginia Press, 2020), and the author of A Literary Guide to Washington, DC: Walking in the Footsteps of American Writers from Francis Scott Key to Zora Neale Hurston (University of Virginia Press, 2018), and five books of poems, most recently The Scientific Method (WordTech Editions, 2017). http://www.kimroberts.org