Life in the Colonies

Detail of tentacle of Physalia microscoped by Rob Growler.  Each of those finger-like projections is considered to be a separate creature.


Life in the Colonies

What’s the plural of man o’ war ?
‘Men’, or ‘wars’, or stays the same ?
(And why are you so Portuguese ?)
All told, a silly name.

But scientists insist
That you’re already plurals, each.
That what we see are vibrant cities
Washed up on the beach.

See, ev’ry egg, once fertilised,
Divides in two, and two again,
Until a little larva, sized
No larger than a grain.

You then begin your budding,
Popping clones that stay attached,
For these cannot survive alone
Once hatched.

Genetic’ly identical,
But not such dead-on ringers,
Specialising as they do,
As feeders, breeders, or as stingers,

Sharing nutrients and nerves,
And even gender too, we note.
And one (and only one) will swell
Into a gas-filled float.

But are you really colonies ?
So should we view your ev’ry clone
As sep’rate creatures ?  Even though
That can’t survive to swim alone ?

They may be multi-cellular,
But each one sounds a lot like cells
Dividing to diversify –
So why deny the parallels ?

For I began the same as you –
A ball of cells, a swarm of germs
Who meld and build a greater whole,
And so do flies and mice and worms.

So as for what we call you,
Just what kind of things you are ?
‘Men’ or ‘wars’, it matters not –
Let’s call you singular.



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