Man O’ War

I stand with my feet underwater and my hands in the sand. It’s hot. Too hot for the man o’ war next to me. He’s melting in the sun and he smells like old fish. But I don’t try to touch him because I know he won’t hold shape for much longer. He lies next to me in the water. In the sun. In the hot sand. The man o’ war isn’t really a jellyfish even though you would think it is. The man o’ war isn’t even itself. It’s a mess of tiny clones, zooids that act like a jellyfish. Most people think it’s a jellyfish. But it’s really a siphonophore. The word siphon comes from a Greek root meaning “pipe” or “tube.” The Portuguese man o’ war is a delicate colony of thousands that travels with thousands more like it. But most people think it’s a jellyfish. I know he’s not a jellyfish. He just acts like one. I think that if god was sitting next to me today on the beach he would be a man o’ war. I think that he would speak with thousands of voices and tell me to throw him back where he came from. But the man o’ war can sting for weeks after being washed ashore. You should know this.

—Blair Law

Illustration by Happy Burbeck

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