Marianne Moore

The Plumet Basilisk

In Costa Rica
In blazing driftwood
	the green keeps showing at the same place;
as, intermittently, the fire-opal shows blue and green.
	In Costa Rica the true Chinese lizard face
is found, of the amphibious falling dragon, the living fire-work.

He leaps and meets his 
	likeness in the stream and, king with king,
helped by his three-part plume along the back, runs on two legs,
	tail dragging:  faints upon the air; then with a spring
dives to the stream-bed, hiding as the chieftain with gold body hid in

Guatavita Lake.
	He runs, he flies, he swims, to get to
his basilica— “the ruler of Rivers, Lakes, and Seas,
	invisible or visible,” with clouds to do
as bid—and can be “long or short, and also coarse or fine at pleasure.”

The Malay Dragon
We have ours; and they 
	have theirs. Ours has a skin feather crest;
theirs has wings out from the waist which is snuff-brown or sallow.
	Ours falls from trees on water; theirs is the smallest
dragon that knows how to dive head-first from a tree-top to something dry.

Floating on spread ribs,
	the boat-like body settles on the
clamshell-tinted spray sprung from the nutmeg tree—minute legs
	trailing half akimbo—the true divinity
of Malay. Among unfragrant orchids, on the unnutritious nut-

tree. Myristica
	fragans, harless god spreads ribs that
do not raise a hood. This is the serpent-dove peculiar
	to the East; that lives as the butterfly or bat
can, in a brood, conferring wings on what it grasps, as the air-plant does.

The Tuatera
Elsewhere, sea lizards—
	congregated so there is not room
to step, with tails laid criss-cross, alligator-style, among
	birds toddling in and out—are innocent of whom
thy neighbor. Bird-reptile social life is pleasing. The tuatera

will tolerate a 
	petrel in its den, and lay ten eggs
or nine—the number laid by dragons since” a true dragon
	has nine songs.” The frilled lizard, the kind with no legs,
and the three-horned chameleon are non-serious ones that take to flight

if you do not. In
	Copenhagen the principal door
of the bourse is roofed by two pairs of dragons standing on
	their heads—twirled by the architect—so that the four
green tails conspiring upright symbolize four-fold security.

In Costa Rica
Now, where apotans drop
	their nuts out on the stream, there is, as 
I have said, one of the quickest lizards in the world—the 
	basilisk—that feeds on leaves and berries and has
shade from palm-vines, ferns, and peperomias; or lies basking on a  
horizontal branch
	from which sour-grass a nd orchids sprout. If
beset, he lets go, smites the water, and runs on it—a thing
	difficult for fingered feet. But when captured—stiff 
and somewhat heavy, like fresh putty on the hand—he is no longer

the slight lizard that can stand in a receding flattened
S—small, long and vertically serpentine or sagging,
	span the bushes in a fox’s bridge. Vines suspended 
the weight of his faint shadow fixed on silk.

As by a Chinese brush, eight green
bands are painted on
	the tail—as piano keys are barred
by five black stripes across the white. This octave of faulty
	decorum hides the extraordinary lizard
till night-fall, which is for man the basilisk whose look will kill; but is

for lizard men can
	kill, the welcome dark—with galloped
ground-base of the military drum, the squeak of bag-pipes
	and of bats. Hollow whistled monkey-notes disrupt
the castanets. Taps from the back of the bow sound odd on last year’s gourd,
or when they touch the
	kettledrums—at which (for there’s no light),
a scared frog, screaming like a bird, leaps out from weeds in which
	it could have hid, with curves of the meteorite,

		wide water-bug strokes,
	in jerks which express
	a regal and excellent awkwardness,

		the basilisk portrays
	mythology’s wish
	to be interchangeably man and fish--  
	traveling rapidly upward, as 
	spider-clawed fingers can twang the 
	bass strings of the harp, and with steps
	as articulate, make their way
	back to retirement on strings that
	vibrate till the claws are spread flat.

		Among tightened wires,
	minute noises swell
	and change, as in the woods’ acoustic shell

	they will with trees as avenues of steel to veil

	as from black opal emerald opal emerald—
	scale which Swinburne called in prose, the 
	noiseless music that hangs about
	the serpent when it stirs or springs.

No anonymous
	nightingale sings in a swamp, fed on
sound from porcupine-quilled palm-trees
	that rattle like the rain. This is our Tower-of-London
jewel that the Spaniards failed to see, among the feather capes

and hawk’s-head moths and black-chinned
	humming-birds; the innocent, rare, gold-
defending dragon that as you look begins to be a
	nervous naked sword on little feet, with three-fold 
separate flame above the hilt, inhabiting

	fire eating into the air. Thus nested
in the phosphorescent alligator that copies each
	digression of the shape, he pants and settles—head 
up and eyes black as the molested bird’s, with look of whetted fierceness,

in what is merely
	breathing and recoiling from the hand.
Thinking himself hid among the yet unfounded jade ax-heads,
	silver jaguars and bats, and amethysts and 
polished iron, gold in a ten-ton chain, and pearls the size of pigeon-eggs,

he is alive there
	in his basilisk cocoon beneath
the one living green;  his quicksilver ferocity
	quenched in the rustle of his fall into the sheath
which is the shattering sudden splash that marks his temporary loss.