Fiction   Essays   Poetry  The Ten On Baseball Chapbooks In Memory

Viola Ransel

Mesozoic Menu

The electroencephalograph
detects three
distinct patterns
of electrical activity --
                        d     r    e    a    m    i    n    g

waking the only state
which doesn't make the animal
vulnerable in the extreme.
Natural selection
should have opted not to sleep,
but the state is so very ancient
perhaps even reptiles dare to dream

though it renders animals
so powerfully immobile
and unresponsive to outside stimuli
that ocean-living mammals hardly sleep at all
because they have no place to hide.
In fact, in the open ocean
sleep could equal suicide!

But ... rather than increase mammals' vulnerability,
could sleep have evolved to extend their longevity?

Prey animals have shallow, dreamless sleep.
Predators dream as though they know they're safe.
But animals we know today as predators
might have had ancestors who used to be prey.

Baby mammals may have played noisily
even at times of considerable risk
when their mothers went out to hunt.
Sleep's immobilization would have ended this.

Even Leo, King of Beasts, may have descended
from far more vulnerable predecessors
or before becoming royalty
feared even more formidable predators.

Mammals arose in an epoch
during days which were dominated
by the hair-raising hiSSSSSSSSSing
               of THUNderous
cold-blooded, bone-chilling
altogether HIDeous


which, except in the tropics,
are subject to nocturnal immobility,
so the night, for warm-blooded animals,
was alive with developmental possibilities
since the nocturnal, non-tropical
ecological niches were surely vacant,
mammals were able to move into them
and develop supremely sophisticated
senses of hearing, smell and sight,
evolution's gift given for surviving
uncountable, cold dark Mesozoic nights.

Reptiles were the Lords of the Day.
Mammals scurried about by night,
preying alternately on one another
in a carefully-choreographed primordial fight.

Proto mammals posed a deadly threat
to lethargic reptiles during the night,
and by gobbling up their buried eggs
may have accelerated dinosaurial demise.

If not for the extinction of dinosaurs,
descendants of Saurornithoides
might be Earth's dominant life form today
wondering what would have happened
had mammals destroyed them.

But with dinosaur extinction
the daytime hours became benevolent
and compulsory daytime sleep
for mammals was suddenly irrelevant.

And though mammals' patterns of sleep have changed,
is it really only a coincidence
that human commands for silence and attention
are reminiscent of a reptile's hiSSSSSSSSSing

or that NINE FOOT LONG, 300 pound
flesh-eating Komodo dragons
find it necessary to bury their eggs
up to thirty feet deep in an effort to protect

Mammalian dominance is carried out
via birds, who are dinosaurs' descendants,
since when we start the day with chicken eggs
we're eating dinosaurs for breakfast.


My elaborate emerald
aquamarine and amethyst
feathers have served me well
on my encyclopedic
expedition solitaire
but I burst spontaneously
into flame and flare
in an instant to ash
lying undisturbed
excpet for wisps of
smoke and the tiny
tips tangerine topaz
ruby and citrine where
my wings begin to
beat and I rise

©2004 by Viola Ransel

Viola Ransel's poetry is available at, and She currently conducts "Speakeasy: Poetry in the Back Room", a workshop for Hamilton Library, Hamilton, New York, and "Bards at the Barge", a series of poetry appreciation presentations for the Barge Canal Coffeehouse, also in Hamilton, New York.

  Home Contributors Past Issues Search   Links  Guidelines About Us

Subscribe to the Slow Trains newsletter