Barbara Ungar

Immortal Medusa

Turritopsis dornii,

the size of a pinky
nail, a berry or

blossom in a clear
bell jar trailing

Of all the animals,
only this tiny jellyfish
can do what we only
dream: grow younger.

Tentacles resorb,
umbrella reverts,
medusa reattaches
to the ocean floor
and grows a new

colony of polyps
that bud into
identical medusae,
bypassing death.

From the Caribbean,
they’ve taken ship,
a worldwide silent invasion.

Half a billion years old,
sans brains, bones or breath,

they can do this forever.

Why I’d Rather Be a Seahorse

We’d court for days first, changing color,
swimming side by side, holding tails,
or holding on to the same strand of seagrass.
We wheel around each other
in our predawn dance,
then do the true courtship dance
where he pumps water through
his pouch to open and display
its alluring emptiness.

When I’m ready, we let go
our anchor, drift upward
snout to snout, spiraling
as we rise till I stick my
ovipositor into his
I slim
by a third as he swells.
After we sink back into the waving
seagrass, I’m the one who swims away.

Alone he jacks off into the sea.
Fertilized, the eggs settle in,
incubate for weeks. I drop by
for morning greetings, swim off
while he goes back to work,
sucking up food through his snout—
he’s eating for two
and a half thousand fry,
hatched in his brood pouch.
Out in the big sea, only a dozen
will survive. I never see them.
I need all my energy to create.

He labors alone, at night—
when I return in the morning,
the fry have drifted off
and he’s ready for my next load.

The Book of Sand

he said he was nothing but a grain of sand

before time swept him too downstream
I wanted to give my father the book
the book filled with photographs of sand
the sand magnified hundreds of times

there was no time he could not see

sand revealed to be perfect opalescent
tips of spiral shells mandalas of coral
or sea urchin spines lava and crystal
gems the ocean cut

how we all walk

he wants nothing now



About the Author

Barbara Ungar’s new book of poetry, Immortal Medusa, is just out from The Word Works. Prior books include Charlotte Brontë, You Ruined My Life; Thrift; and The Origin of the Milky Way, which won the Gival Press Poetry Award, a silver Independent Publishers award, a Hoffer award, and the Adirondack Center for Writing poetry award. She has published in Salmagundi, Rattle, The Nervous Breakdown, and many other journals. A professor of English at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, she coordinates their new MFA program. For more information, please visit

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