Blue Bloods from Issue 90
In the 1950s, scientists discovered that LAL (Limulus amoebocyte lysate), a clotting agent found in [horseshoe crab]’s powder-blue blood, binds to fungi and endotoxins, coagulating into a thick gel around such invaders. The result: a simple, surefire way to detect impurities in pharmaceutical drugs and medical supplies. —Wired magazine, July 2011
It’s a scene from a sci-fi movie that stars
only living fossils. In Charleston, the horseshoe crabs
are captured, folded in half, strapped
to stainless steel tables and bled. Hours ago,
they were plucked from the beaches too north
of Hilton Head to be popular. Now needles
drain their blue blood. Blue: copper,
not iron, chills their circulatory system.
Clipped to the table, crabs look like nothing
so much as army helmets. The chemical
leaked from their hard bodies will be used
to check the armed forces’ supply of medicine.
The blood is drained, spun; LAL, Limulus
amebocyte lysate. Street value is fifteen grand
a quart. Something borrowed,
something blue. If you have ever lain
in a hospital bed, IV dangling like a thought,
the crab blood vetted that bag.
If your father died two years ago this month,
all the drugs the doctors tried were tested
with this cold blood. On ancient vacations,
you flipped all the horseshoes you could find.
Once you planted your sandy foot in one’s back.
You waited for your father to yank you
but he shrugged: Only crab ain’t worth eating.
Later, in the hospital, you brought him
blue crabs you’d boiled in beer and Old Bay.
You asked the nurses to look the other way
while you held the meat to his lips, wiped
your freckled hands on the bedsheets.
He died anyway. Overhead, though
you didn’t know it then, the astronauts
on the International Space Station
reached for drugs made safe by horseshoes.
The living fossils will be bumped back
to the bay, released and dizzy.
They will recover fully, scuttle through silt
for another twenty million years.
We can’t say the same for the astronauts,
the soldiers, the cancer kids in the ward,
your father. You. Your blood runs too red.