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Way back in the Jurassic, when the reptiles ruled the earth,
All living creatures gave Tyrannosaurus Rex wide berth;
His jaws and his incisors were decisive in a fight—
No other being could survive his devastating bite.

This T. Rex was a nightmare from the deepest pit of hell;
His rule was total, absolute, and mercilessly fell.
He tore, he ripped, he slashed, he rent; his steps made terra quake,
And when he roared his savage voice caused everyone to shake.

And yet around his monstrous feet, imbrued with blood and gore,
There scurried little creatures that I doubt he even saw.
Or if he noticed, these small things occasionally served
To give Tyrannosaurus Rex a sampling of hors d’oeuvres.

These creatures were the mammals, an obscure and minor breed:
Warm-blooded little vertebrates whose infant young would feed
On milk from teats—a novelty in that egg-bearing time,
When almost everything was hatched in clutches or in slime.

And so it went for eons, and it never would have changed—
Tyrannosaurus ruled the roost; the mammals never ranged
Much wider than the forest floor, where they could always hide
In underbrush and foliage, and hope they’d not be spied.

Until one day an asteroid from some far distant source
Came crashing down into the earth with such stupendous force
It pulverized whole mountains, it evaporated seas;
It detonated with a heat unmeasured in degrees.

It generated tidal waves, and triggered seismic shocks—
It scorched the world with fire and it melted solid rocks.
It sent up in the atmosphere a cloud of cosmic dust
So choking and so toxic that the dinosaurs went bust.

The sun was blocked for years and years; the temperature soon dropped,
And reptiles with their stone-cold blood stood motionless and stopped.
Tyrannosaurus couldn’t cope, and transformed into coal,
And all the other mega-beasts soon sank in the same hole.

When all was calm, who had survived? The mammals, to be sure—
They managed to get through the blast, to hang on and endure;
There wasn’t any T. Rex now to cause dismay and fuss,
And so they leisurely evolved into the thing called us.

—from Steel Masks (2012)

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Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide.  He is the editor of the literary magazine Trinacria and writes for Expansive Poetry On-line. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.


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14 Responses

  1. Peter Hartley

    Joe S – like Joe above I couldn’t guess the end either. I suppose, following taxonomic convention,“Rex” should be all lower case (as the specific name) but we are so familiar with seeing his full name with two capital initials that Rex has almost become a surname for this creature. Very eloquent description of what asteroids can do (almost seems as though you were there) and I like the poetic justice in the greatest and most feared of all these giants being turned into a lump of “coal.”

    Reply
  2. Sally Cook

    I assume that any dinosaur worth his spikes or scales would have fled the asteroid — but to what refuge? Personally I have always liked the theory that they became miniaturized and became birds. Poetically speaking, that is.
    In any case, your fine poem is a welcome addition to these pages.

    Reply
  3. Brian Yapko

    This utterly unique poem is beautifully written, great fun to read and (despite our foreknowledge of what must inevitably happen) has a plot twist at the end which feels like brilliant science fiction — but which actually happens to be our reality. “Dismay and fuss” indeed. I will enjoy reading this again.

    Reply
  4. Paul Freeman

    Maybe this is why everyone likes dinosaurs so much – because they were replaced by us.

    Thanks for a thrilling ride with T-rex and friends, Joe.

    Reply
  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Joe S., for me, the words of this poem rise from the page to paint a vivid picture that engages the imagination and makes the heart beat faster. I particularly like the line: “He tore, he ripped, he slashed, he rent; his steps made terra quake” – magnificent!

    Reply
  6. Margaret Coats

    Joseph, this is really cute. I know “cute” isn’t a word for T. rex, but the whole poem is a cute bit of myth making, with all the quirky imagination that pays no attention to scientific difficulties, and in fact leaves them explicit in the story for readers to puzzle out as best they can. And it’s not just the little questions like whether the dinosaurs went bust all at once from toxic fumes. Both big topics, uniformitarianism and catastrophism, have their places in your relatively brief poem that (for the most part) corresponds to the broad outlines of currently popular myth. But you’ve made it your own, as talented tellers of tales do.

    And isn’t it amazing that neither you nor I nor most of the commenters learned this story or the associated date (dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago) in school? The asteroid crashed into our consciousness in the 1980s. We did know your main character, T. rex, from schooldays, although I have to say I much preferred the brontosaurus. He was written out of pre-history for a while, but since you wrote this poem, he has been resurrected as a genus with three species.

    For the consolation of Sally Cook, I will let her know that the bird-dinosaur mythmakers have been very persistent. It is now politically correct to assert that only the non-avian dinosaurs perished 65 million years ago. And even better, a creature very much like a pterodactyl was flushed out of a cave in France in the 19th century. They may still be here!

    All of which says, Joseph, that your fictive artifact is abundantly enjoyable to a reader who “follows the science.”

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Do we really have to go through all this again? This is a free country — you say or believe whatever the hell you like.

      The poem isn’t “myth-making.” If you don’t accept the preponderance of evidence for the K-T extinction event of 65 millions years ago, or the Chicxulub asteroid strike, or the iridium-rich Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, I can only assume you’ve joined the Bible-Belt yahoos (or at least their Ultramontane branch office).

      So long, Maggie.

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Joe, I usually oblige you by cutting out with a “So long” when I’ve had my say, and know you may come out punching in your own inimitable style. That style doesn’t often juxtapose freedom of belief with an apparent demand to accept assorted evidence for one of several scientific theories. This is not to give my preference among dinosaur extinction mechanisms, but simply to say that your conditional assumption is wrong. And even the deplorable yahoos cannot point to Bible chapter and verse on what happened to the dinosaurs; there’s nothing there. Your poem does in fact accommodate more opinions than the ones based on evidence you mention, which is why I still think it’s enjoyable to all. Now take that, and I’ll run.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        I really don’t know what you are talking about.

        I have never “demanded” that anyone accept what I say or present in my writings, whether poetry or prose.

        You know the expression “Maggie’s Drawers”? That’s what gunnery sergeants shout when a recruit on the firing range has missed the target completely. Whatever point you were aiming at, or trying to make in your last post, all I can say is “Maggie’s Drawers.”

      • Joe Tessitore

        Stand your ground, Margaret. You’re far more than a match for him.
        If all he can say is “Maggie’s drawers” what could possibly be next – “Betty’s bloomers”?

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Poor Tessitore — he started out by praising my poem, and then thought better of doing so and deleted his comment. I wonder what motivated that.

      Reply
  7. David Watt

    Thank you Joe S. for a fast-paced, engaging narrative.
    I particularly like the fact that the description of a dramatic extinction level event leads to a steadying conclusion.

    Reply
  8. Cheryl Corey

    A fun read for all ages. “To give Tyrannosaurus Rex a sampling of hors d’oeuvres.” gave me a good laugh. Were it not for a rain of deadly asteroids, dinosaurs still might rule the earth. If something like that happens again, we’re done for.

    Reply
  9. Jeff Eardley

    I love how the Dinosaur word has become attached to gentlemen of a certain vintage. It makes a nice change from “Old Fossil” which I have heard behind my back many times. Poetry and knowledge combined is always special and this is a shining example. Thank you for a very good read.

    Reply

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