“When in danger the sea-cucumber divides itself in two: / one self it surrenders for devouring by the world, / with the second it makes good its escape,” writes Wisława Szymborska in “Autotomy,” which appears in her collection Map: Collected and Last Poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak. In the poem, Szymborska reflects on the creature’s process of autotomy, casting off a part of the body while under threat, through the lens of survival and mortality. She writes: “It splits violently into perdition and salvation, / into fine and reward, into what was and what will be.” Write a poem inspired by an animal’s unique behavior, perhaps the molting of a snake or the colorful courtship habits of a bowerbird. What does this behavior symbolize for you?
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