I used to own axolotls as pets. I first discovered these animals working in the Hobert lab at Columbia University. A postdoc, Heidi, owned two of them at her bench (I believe she became a herpetologist). For close to a year, I lurked on the caudata.org forum For Sale, Give-Away, or Trade, until one day I saw a posting from a breeder in Staten Island. I contacted him and went after school. It was the first time I had ever taken the State Island ferry or went to Staten Island. Here I was, awkward high school sophomore, going to a stranger’s house alone, somewhere I’d never been. The breeder was incredibly nice, showing me all the amphibians and reptiles he owned. His house was full of them. They were under his bed, above his bed, in his kitchen, bathroom, in every corner and surface. He gave me two axolotls (for free!), a male wild-type GFP (black with green dots) and a female leucistic (white), which I carried home in two separate gallon milk jugs.
Axolotls are stuck in a state of neoteny, meaning they never shed their gills and metamorphose into mature land-dwelling salamanders. They were originally found in Lake Xochimilco in Mexico. They are also a model research organism for the study of regeneration, which is why one of my axolotls had been genetically modified to express GFP (green fluorescent protein).
My childish awe darkens the glass, my breath leaves a cloud,
and bodying forth, you are: an axolotl,
perpetually delighted, luscious locks billow behind you,
your approaching glissade like you’re graciously transcending,
you press longingly a lone appendage on the pane,
bemused stateliness takes on a sad aspect,
you are a forlorn captive forever alien
to a world that might have been meant for you.
Tell me if are you afraid of air and change,
of the trappings of age on a foreign barren land,
your mane waning to a glabrous nub,
frivolous frills flung off at last.
So am I.
Somewhere along evolution you found that this works,
youth inheres in you, the water you swam in was the fountain of youth,
your very home, and you never wanted to go
even when all your cousins gulped their first gasp of air
and told you how delicious it was, the breath of life,
and scurried away in pursuit of more,
you knew that where they went they couldn’t somersault
like you do, so swimmingly.
If you left, out of your element, still awkward,
you would be slithery, be slimy, be a swamp creature!
And as far as I know, your folks survive in Xochimilco,
somersaulting away, pirouetting away, doing little wiggly whirligigs,
and if their limbs should be shorn off from sheer delight, they grow right back,
And you thought your life in neoteny,
would be a never-ending jubilee,
but in my tank, you muse in monotony,
but still you smile and paw your way to me in curiosity.
Oh axolotl, you, you, you, my axolotl, still smiling,
still pressed against the pane, still waiting expectantly for me,
pink and plump, extravagant streamers behind your head
undulating gently with the whorls of your world,
never change, never change.
And neither will I.