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Lionfish – Coral Reef – West Atlantic Ocean
Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries

My Poetry Corner July 2015, features the poem “Lionfish” by Bermudian poet, Nancy Anne Miller. Although lying outside the Caribbean Region, Bermuda – a British island territory in the North Atlantic Ocean – became an associate member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), in 2003 to strengthen its shared cultural ties.

After hearing about the lionfish some years ago, I never gave it much thought until I recently read Nancy Anne Miller’s poem published in the latest issue of The Arts Journal. With her precise and vivid imagery, the poet grabbed my attention.

Without dillydallying, the poet takes us face-to-face with the lionfish: an aggressive, exotic creature.

Like it has been shocked from
the venom it carries on tips
of scales, the gold lines
vibrate in the water…

It’s not a picky eater. Unsuspecting prey is sucked whole into its large mouth.

A mouth large enough for
any shoplifter to have a day…

The poet zooms out to show us the extent of its domain. With a reproductive rate of over a million eggs a year, the lionfish conquers the deep and shallow waters.

… Floats above
reefs: an English sunset
over an expanding king-
dom from the Florida Keys
// throughout the Caribbean.

Without any other fish, large or small, to challenge its supremacy, it has become a “superfish,” an apex predator.

MGM lion symbol for
the watery film of the deep
it rewrites the reef’s scripts.

[As a writer living in Los Angeles, I especially like this metaphor.]

How did the lionfish end up so far away from its natural habitats among the coral reefs of the South Pacific and Indian Oceans? Who was behind this ecological blunder?

Released from a private
aquarium into the vast
ocean, bright pieces of gold
fell from a silk purse…

Back in the 1980s, did the owners of the discarded lionfish ever imagine the devastation they would cause in the years ahead? Our ecosystems are delicately and intricately balanced. Our actions, our lifestyles have consequences. The lionfish should serve as a reminder – a testimony – of our invisible hand at work in upsetting the balance of the natural world upon which our survival depends. As the poet observes, the bright pieces of gold

Won’t // convert into local currency,
shakes up the underworld’s
balance and turns up every-
where just like a bad penny.

The poet comes full circle with her use of the word “gold” in her opening stanza, where the gold lines of the lionfish lure and capture its prey. In her sixth and final stanza, the lionfish are bright pieces of gold. But this is unwanted and worthless gold…like a bad penny.

You can read Nancy Anne Miller’s poem, “Lionfish,” at my Poetry Corner July 2015 and learn more about the poet and her work. Check out the video about the challenges Bermuda faces in controlling its lionfish population. Learn about the “Eat Lionfish” campaign launched by NOAA and its partners across the affected regions.