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Archive for April 30th, 2021

[poems by Galway Kinnell, Yusef Komunyakaa, Robert Frost]

April 22, 2031 – Rover Shēn zhī (Deep Knowing) prepares to analyze its 50 meter drill core sample from the Martian south polar ice cap. Strata of grit, water ice, mineral dust – wise Rover’s AI chooses to begin by studying a faintly pigmented layer at 17.5 meters. Very promising.

Yes, there is life on Mars.

And this is what the Rover does not discover – a single species of microorganism spending its long cold days and nights in solitary, independent, utterly lonely metabolic isolation.

Instead Shēn zhī’s electron microscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance, and biochemical probes reveal several varieties of cell structures not unlike Archaea from deep ocean sites on Earth, a dozen species that mirror bacteria isolated from Antarctic cores, crystalline nucleotides indistinguishable from viruses, even twisted proteins – prions. All of these merrily feed and feed upon each other in homeostatic bliss, coevolved for a billion years: an ecological community.

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an offering from Sharon Sharp . . .

Daybreak

On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity they sank down
into the mud; they faded down
into it and lay still; and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.

“Daybreak” by Galway Kinnell (1927-2014), from The Forgotten Language: Contemporary Poets and Nature, ed. Christopher Merrill, Peregrine Smith Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1991

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Life is community. Even you, homeostatically blissful Human, are a community of bacteria, protists, tiny ectoparasites in every pore, even Archaea in your gut. I feed my Archaea a cup of Greek yoghurt every morning and they are so serenely blissful. If you could count all the cells that comprise the unitary psychosocially distinct and identifiable YOU, less than half of them would be human cells. You and I couldn’t begin to live and remain healthy without those wonderful gut bacteria. How much more so mycorrhizal fungi and diatoms. Life is beautiful.

Earth Day is about the web of all life on planet Earth; no single organism remains completely solitary, independent, or isolated. If, through our actions or inactions, we create an Earth that makes it impossible for a certain species to survive, then our own species is that much impoverished and our own survival that much diminished. If, by our attention, understanding, and reverence, we permit the web to grow, extend, deepen, thrive, then our own species thrives. And thriving is defined only partially by strength, health, and numbers; for a human being to truly thrive also involves participating in the epiphany of connection to all living things. Community is life.

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Crossing a City Highway

The city at 3 a.m. is an ungodly mask
the approaching day hides behind
& from, the coyote nosing forth,
the muscles of something ahead,

& a fiery blaze of eighteen-wheelers
zoom out of the curved night trees,
along the rim of absolute chance.
A question hangs in the oily air.

She knows he will follow her scent
left in the poisoned grass & buzz
of chainsaws, if he can unweave
a circle of traps around the subdivision.

For a breathy moment, she stops
on the world’s edge, & then quick as that
masters the stars & again slips the noose
& darts straight between sedans & SUVs.

Don’t try to hide from her kind of blues
or the dead nomads who walked trails
now paved by wanderlust, an epoch
somewhere between tamed & wild.

If it were Monday instead of Sunday
the outcome may be different,
but she’s now in Central Park
searching for a Seneca village

among painted stones & shrubs,
where she’s never been, & lucky
she hasn’t forgotten how to jig
& kill her way home.

“Crossing a City Highway” by Yusef Komunyakaa, Poetry, January, 2016

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The Oven Bird

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

“The Oven Bird” by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

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[Bad news for Shēn zhī: an unanticipated feature of Martian metabolism is that the cells require elements from Groups 8, 9, 10 of the Periodic Table for electron transport during energy transfer – they “eat” iron, cobalt, nickel, and rhodium. Within a few weeks many of the Rover’s critical microconnectors begin to fail. EarthLink in Ningbo goes dark. Bits of Shēn zhī drop to the Martian substrate. The Rover ultimately pinpoints the cause and transmits a warning: “Do Not Come Here.”

Unfortunately its message is garbled and received by other Martian Rovers as, “Come Here!” Within fifteen years they have all arrived at the southern plateau and become fodder for the Martian ecological community.

Which thrives.]

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[original artwork by Linda French Griffin (c) 2021]

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