Samantha Jones

Recited by Samantha Jones (@jones_yyc on Twitter).

Take a toothpick,
the type with flat sides,
scoop up some paste—
drilled bits, rock chips
powdered and mixed
with water.
Now move
back and forth
painting mud
across a glass slide
until you feel
resistance, friction forcing
rills on the road
bump bump leaving
gaps between the stripes
of earth and body parts.
Sit in a dark room
look down the eyepiece
see the constellations,
cat eyes, the whole
universe spread beneath
the microscope.

Samantha Jones - 2021

A mixed media watercolour depicting shelled organisms under a microscope. Just barely visible in the background are concentric circles. On closer inspection, it's a star map, and stars and constellations like Ursa Minor and Lyra are labelled in capital letters. This background just barely peeks through the watercolour, which is mainly dark purple on the outer edge and yellow towards the centre, with splotches of magenta and dark blue mixing with both shades. Haphazardly arranged across the piece are different shelled organisms, or foraminifera, as if they were scattered like stars as well.
Guest art by Bejamin Chandler (Twitter: @paleo_pop)

“Nannofossil” previously appeared in Poetry Pause by the League of Canadian Poets, 2021.

The natural history of this poem

“Nannofossils” (short for “calcareous nannofossils”) are a type of fossilized skeleton made by plankton, microscopic organism sthat live floating around in aquatic environments like oceans and lakes allover the world. Nannofossils, and the extra tiny nannoplankton that made them, are named for their tiny size (nanno being one of several Greek words for small),with most nannofossils being only 30 micrometers across. Nannofossils are made of calcium carbonate, the same mineral that limestone is made of.

Nannofossils come in many shapes, spheres, rods, and branches, and can be complex 3D shapes or simply flat. They all have small openings that the organism uses to exchange waste and nutrients. Each different shape of nannofossil comes from a different species of plankton. These organisms are extremely common and evolve quickly over time, so each species lasts for a relatively short amount of time. This means that nannofossils are ideal biostratigraphic marker fossils. Biostratigraphic marker fossils are abundant, easy to identify, and represent a specific amount of geological time, so you will find them in large numbers in certain rocks and can use that to determine the age of the rocks quickly and accurately. The presence of one kind of nannofossil can also tell us things about the environment that they were deposited in, like climate and water chemistry.

A scientist trained in nannofossil identification can use this and tell how old a rock is and what environment it was deposited in based only on the specific type of nannofossil found in it. This type of work is very useful for many things, including studies of ancient environmental and climate change, which can be tracked by looking at the changein abundance of certain nannofossil types over time, as some types of plankton are very sensitive to certain changes. In Samantha’s poem, she writes about one of the methods used by scientists like her to see and identify nannofossils.T his method is called the smear slide method, where a scientist will mix a very small amount of crushed rock and water into a paste and smear it across a glass microscope slide, allowing them to look at the nannofossils preserved within that rock under a microscope and identify them. Even a tiny amount of crushed rock can have hundreds or even thousands of these fossils, hence the comparison to a constellation of stars in the poem.

Samantha Jones

A black and white selfie of Samantha Jones. She is smiling and wearing thick black glasses, she has a nose piercing and wild, ark, curly hair.

Samantha Jones (she/her) lives, studies, and writes on Treaty 7 territory from Moh’kins’tsis (Calgary, Alberta), Canada. She is currently a PhD Candidate in Geography at the University of Calgary researching inorganic carbon cycling in the Canadian Arctic. Samantha is also a geologist and has experience in a variety of specialties including biostratigraphy, planetary geology, and petroleum geology. The field, the lab, and the office have provided inspiration for some of Samantha’s poetry including “Nannofossil,” shared in this post, and “Ocean Acidification,” which was first published in WATCH YOUR HEAD ( and later adapted into a multimedia clip with science and policy partners ( Samantha is a writing instructor and a regular contributor to literary magazines with work published in Room, CV2, Grain, New Forum, and elsewhere.

Follow Samantha: @jones_yyc on Instagram and Twitter.