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How to Conquer

by Alyse Bensel

The jellyfish have been multiplying
unchecked, their belled bodies

the perfect model for how to conquer.
We once assumed that animals evolve

from simple to complex, that everything
has a stable point they are always striving

to reach, like the planet is awarding trophies
for most improved, most complicated

nervous system, the brain’s gray matter
and its million rooms molded and stacked

into curves and ridges. But jellyfish are older
than the leaves giving us oxygen—

they did not bother to grow limbs
or stable centers. Each little buoy

is an alarm, a gorgeous light spinner,
and who can blame them for their automated

desire to live, to bloom into their kingdom
fit for prehistory, all feeling,

leaving barely a record of their lives.

Jellyfish are one of our planet's most dynamic and foreboding invertebrates. They can suddenly explode in population, then wash ashore on beaches and suffocate ecosystems. Some jellyfish species, like the box jellyfish, are among the most venomous on earth, while others, like the immortal jellyfish, can revert to their earlier life cycles indefinitely, essentially living "forever." But we still know so little about them. "How to Conquer" is built on this fraught understanding of jellyfish and how these creatures upend humanity's views on progress and history. When jellyfish encounter humans, they can be a disrupter that prompts us to pay closer attention. And we must pay attention.

Alyse Bensel is the author of Rare Wondrous Things, a poetic biography of Maria Sibylla Merian (Green Writers Press, 2020), and three chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Poetry International, and West Branch. She serves as poetry editor for Cherry Treeand teaches at Brevard College, where she directs the Looking Glass Rock Writers’ Conference.