Soft Parts

by Julia Copus

Paleontologists treasure the rare geological circumstances that permit an occasional preservation of soft parts. – Stephen Jay Gould

Perhaps there is some transcendental place,
some cove or niche
somewhere in which
the pouches, lobes and gills,
suckers, lips and tentacles
of countless ancient animals
endure. For bones are not much more
than relics really.
They are not the whole story:
a carpal or talus –
what can it tell us
of the monk-seal’s passion
for sunbathing on sandbars,
the muntjac deer’s
fondness for tea-leaved willow?
So little of a fellow
can be surmised
when only the brittle parts
survive, when all that was supple
has gone from a creature.
You see this with people
of a certain nature: even in life
the softness of their mouths,
their eyes and hearts
stiffen and harden
till nothing remains
to show us what they were,
that they were human.