The Plumet Basilisk

In Costa Rica

In blazing driftwood/
the green keeps showing at the same place;
as, intermittently, the fire-opal shows blue and green.
In Costa Rica the true Chinese lizard face
is found, of the amphibious falling dragon, the living fire-work.

He leaps and meets his
likeness in the stream and, king with king,
helped by his three-part plume along the back, runs on two legs,
tail dragging; faints upon the air; then with a spring
dives to the stream-bed hiding as the chieftain with gold body hid in
Guatavita Lake.

He runs, he flies, he swims, to get to
his basilica — " the ruler of Rivers, Lakes, and Seas,
invisible or visible, " with clouds to do
as bid — and can be " long or short, and also coarse or fine at pleasure. "

The Malay Dragon

We have ours; and they
have theirs. Ours has a skin feather crest;
theirs has wings out from the waist which is snuff-brown or sallow.
Ours falls from trees on water; theirs is the smallest
dragon that knows how to dive head-first from a tree-top to some-thing dry.

Floating on spread ribs,
the boat-like body settles on the
clamshell-tinted spray sprung from the nut meg tree — minute legs
trailing half akimbo — the true divinity
of Malay. Among unfragrant orchids, on the unnutritious nut-

tree, myristica
fragrans , the harmless god spreads ribs that
do not raise a hood. This is the serpent-dove peculiar
to the East; that lives as the butterfly or bat
can, in a brood, conferring wings on what it grasps, as the air-plant does.

The Tuatera

Elsewhere, sea lizards —
congregated so there is not room
to step, with tails laid criss-cross, alligator-style, among
birds toddling in and out — are innocent of whom
they neighbor. Bird-reptile social life is pleasing. The tuatera

will tolerate a
petrel in its den, and lays ten eggs
or nine — the number laid by dragons since " a true dragon
has nine sons. " The frilled lizard, the kind with no legs,
and the three-horned chameleon, are non-serious ones that take to flight

if you do not. In
Copenhagen the principal door
of the bourse is roofed by two pairs of dragons standing on
their heads — twirled by the architect — so that the four
green tails conspiring upright, symbolize four-fold security.

In Costa Rica

Now, where sapotans drop
their nuts out on the stream, there is, as
I have said, one of the quickest lizards in the world — the
basilisk — that feeds on leaves and berries and has
shade from palm-vines, ferns, and peperomias; or lies basking on a

horizontal branch
from which sour-grass and orchids sprout. If
beset, he lets go, smites the water, and runs on it — a thing
difficult for fingered feet. But when captured — stiff
and somewhat heavy, like fresh putty on the hand — he is no longer

the slight lizard that
can stand in a receding flattened
S — small, long and vertically serpentine or, sagging,
span the bushes in a fox's bridge. Vines suspend
the weight of his faint shadow fixed on silk.

As by a Chinese brush, eight green
bands are painted on
the tail — as piano keys are barred
by five black stripes across the white. This octave of faulty
decorum hides the extraordinary lizard
till night-fall, which is for man the basilisk whose look will kill; but is

for lizards men can
kill, the welcome dark — with galloped
ground-bass of the military drum, the squeak of bag-pipes
and of bats. Hollow whistled monkey-notes disrupt
the castanets. Taps from the back of the bow sound odd on last year's gourd,

or when they touch the
kettledrums — at which (for there's no light),
a scared frog, screaming like a bird, leaps out from weeds in which
it could have hid, with curves of the meteorite,
wide water-bug strokes,
in jerks which express
a regal and excellent awkwardness,

the basilisk portrays
mythology's wish
to be interchangeably man and fish —

traveling rapidly upward, as
spider-clawed fingers can twang the
bass strings of the harp, and with steps
as articulate, make their way
back to retirement on strings that
vibrate till the claws are spread flat.

Among tightened wires,
minute noises swell
and change, as in the woods' acoustic shell

they will with trees as avenues of steel to veil

as from black opal emerald opal emerald —
scale which Swinburne called in prose, the
noiseless music that hangs about
the serpent when it stirs or springs.

No anonymous
nightingale sings in a swamp, fed on
sound from porcupine-quilled palm-trees
that rattle like the rain. This is our Tower-of-London
jewel that the Spaniards failed to see, among the feather capes

and hawk's-head moths and black-chinned
humming-birds; the innocent, rare, gold-
defending dragon that as you look begins to be a
nervous naked sword on little feet, with three-fold
separate flame above the hilt, inhabiting

fire eating into air. Thus nested
in the phosphorescent alligator that copies each
digression of the shape, he pants and settles — head
up and eyes black as the molested bird's, with look of whetted fierceness,

in what is merely
breathing and recoiling from the hand.
Thinking himself hid among the yet unfound jade ax-heads,
silver jaguars and bats, and amethysts and
polished iron, gold in a ten-ton chain, and pearls the size of pigeon-eggs,

he is alive there
in his basilisk cocoon beneath
the one of living green; his quicksilver ferocity
quenched in the rustle of his fall into the sheath
which is the shattering sudden splash that marks his temporary loss.
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