Butter on the Knife of Life

Everyone whom I know well is part fictitious.
They are souls, the way I see them, living in
high rises that have, for now, beat back the vicious
tenant microbes to their cellars. In truth Lynne
Margulis got it right: the forms of life
that rule are not the macro but the small.
Bacteria are butter on the knife
we wield. We call the knife’s swishing sounds free will.

Seeing this poem today reminded me of Lynne Margulis, one of the great scientists.

Vive le HSF-1! Vive le DAF-16!

Do not forget that janitors grow old.
They sweep up and they keep on sweeping up
on automatic, no need to be told.
They sweep until they age and pass the cup

to no one. Without replacements you forget.
Commemorative plaques give way to Plaque
Forgetful, and it is not over yet.
First memory, then muscles — the attack

moves on until the person who was you
subsides into a shadow form that leaves
but little more than molecules and glue
of the who it was your faithful lover grieves.

No one can stop the hell there is to pay
when janitors grow old, retire, can’t play.

Hooray, they’ve found the key to keep our minds
preserved from dying at Alzheimer’s hands:
They’ve identified the janitorial kinds
of cells we share with worm C. elegans.

The scientists are cautious, but the press
exults as if they’ve found the holy grail.
A little worm shall lead us, they profess,
and if it does not, others in the pail

will serve to break Death’s hold on human brains.
With memories intact we shall not die!
The ONLY standing hurdle that remains
will fall, now we’ve the key with which to pry

our freedom from Alzheimer’s mortal clock.
Now ALL that’s left to do is find the lock.

The inspiration for this pair of sonnets was an AP article “Cleanup Crew Clears Way for Research. Scientists have discovered molecular janitors [one of these proteins is named HSF-1, and another is called DAF-16] that clear away a sticky protein that plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease until they get old and quit sweeping up. The finding helps explain why Alzheimer’s is a disease of aging. More importantly, it suggests a potential new weapon: drugs that give nature’s cleanup crews a boost….”

The Secret Garden’s Secret

The secret garden’s secret is it’s dying.
More actively: we mortals take its life.
Not all of us. Some gardeners work hard trying
to block, with shovel, hoe, and pruning knife,
the money floods we other folk let loose
to flow like black gold over garden walls.
We show great interest in attempts to sluice
the topsoil’s gold we cart in carryalls
to fertilise our fantasy we’re gods
and need no roots, or none that we can’t make.
We modern humans, jumped-up amphipods,
pretend we don’t need wildlife, and we stake
all species’ fate in underfunded schools
that clap for gardeners but can’t buy them tools.

Clarity Begins at Home

Eurasia is an island of such grand impressive size
we say it’s not an island. But it is.
If you’re not there, and want to be,
somewhere you have to cross some sea
so QED the OED decrees Eurasia too must be
as insular as Maui, Crete, and Capri
unless we trash consistency
and rule exceptions set us free
of meaning anything when we
presume to name what we discern
and what we don’t. We never learn.

Hold the Black Hole

In my letter to the editor I said
if you want to publish this you better hurry
because when month-end starts we’ll all be dead
and gone, the earth collapsed into a slurry
and nanoseconds later just a blurry
nothingness. I’ll only write ten lines
and duck and hope the next time God designs
a planet people will show more concern
then we did this time, failing to read signs
and letting loonies loose down under CERN.

No worries, eh. Everything is still ticking over. I wrote this in May 2008 and just found and revised it a little. I had been reflecting on the new CERN particle accelerator and an article that began, ‘Could Welsh scientist end our universe?… As bizarre as it sounds, that is what a federal court in the US will have to decide in June. Two American citizens say the £2bn giant particle accelerator which will begin smashing protons together at Cern (The European Centre for Nuclear Research) near Geneva this summer could end the world and everything outside it…’