Perhaps we should begin in extreme heat
or intemperate ice, in salt solutions,
in drastic acid or radical alkaline, in heavy metals
or in toxic waste— wherever life seems improbable
to us: deep in earth’s crust,
in hydrothermal vents, in frozen sea water,
in immense oceanic pressures ten kilometers deep …
Let us imagine these as necessary environments
—not merely tolerated—
their life forms gasping for different airs,
manifesting an austere thirst for otherworldly waters:
here, there never was bird song, only hell heat or space cold;
this is what they need, though
we might imagine screams, projecting ourselves in it,
a people screaming— call it hostile—
and perhaps that’s why
we should begin here. But can we escape
our sexual waters? Egg and ocean inside,
an ocean coursing— call it interior—
(define: inside, define: outside)
We might feel a pulsing through all bodies:
what I know is my growling stomach
and it’s a form of heat:
my metabolic phase, thirty pounds down, a manic heat
in my core, boost in my resting metabolism—
it is a muscular heat, red fibers and lactic acid,
I run faster I fuck these days I am an animal,
a kind of animal in this world,
and this world is vast it is a motion there is a heat
an ongoingness of things other than
me, a persistence a desperate taking
of whatever materials are at hand
and making a life building cities of cells—of selves—
carving (defining) inside and outside shuttling
from here to there in an improbable celebration
of what, we know not.
Birds of prey gather outside my window
and the field is somewhat less dormant today than yesterday:
these world-things mount convincingly.
But the world itself, caught
in diagrams in equations with dimensions beyond
what we sense— physical theory, tied into knots
(we made them ourselves) —
God is this soil, teeming with nematodes and arthropods,
god is this beech bud, whose packed leaves fill it wholly—
and here, pantheism becomes less quaint:
the origami in this hornbeam leaf,
Miura-ori, relocates the deity
into the folds themselves. Perhaps Mandelbrot was wrong:
clouds are spheres and bark is smooth, that is,
before they are folded and folded,
nature’s complexity reducing to simple geometric forms.
While we’re at it, perhaps even dark matter is folded
into god’s thought experiment—so, fine, the void
has texture: there is a physical structure
to spacetime. What now?
How many creases make
this woman? If god constructs me in folds,
in self-assembling structures, then
it is god’s anxiety that I carry, unfurling
each day in my mind, blossoming
on the substrate.
nature is not self-conscious: after all, the deer
have worn away the magnolia’s
solid stem, scratching compulsively
as their antlers come in. They
are restless. They object.
The Realm of the Fungi
Moore thought it a privilege to see so much
confusion. Surely here, too: a shuttling of sugar,
tree-photosynthesized, exchanged for the soil’s
phosphorus, nitrogen, and more—an underground hyphal
network:: myco, those fungal tubes, and rhiza, the roots
themselves, exchanging signals for over 450 million years
of mutualism. There she is, in love with fox-glove
and jerboa, constructing her precious catalogue
of the going and gone. Here: fungi, digesting
outside their bodies—mining pebbles,
blasting them with enzymes, releasing trapped
minerals. Mycorrhiza, blurring where
one species begins, confounding boundaries,
tree-to-fungus, tree-to-fungus-to-tree—and not just
birch to birch—and one tree, dying,
transferring its resources to another, nearby, whose turn
is coming, who will thrive in this change of climate.
Some will flourish; Nature is indefatigable
(though we sure fucked the Holocene). Does it console,
that the forest fastens itself in cerebral numbers?
Moore would have reveled in the coiled and knotted
subterranean intelligence. Our compass of time
and of space, our prejudice for above-ground life,
our prizing the individual—no wonder we failed
to recognize this mind underfoot.
Strewn in the Air
Leonardo, commissioned to paint a devastating
battle scene—war in twisted torsos
and grimaces—planned in his notes the way the dust
would be rendered,
the red particles
kicked up from horses’ hooves
and falling human forms,
the way these would mingle
with the smoke of artillery.
He wanted to get this right:
the blend of dust and smoke would catch
the light, some particulates
airier than others.
This seems right—the air as an index of suffering.
Marie Curie spoke of dust, the air of the room …
called it a conductor and isn’t that right?
A radioactive air in our wake—where tardigrades,
microscopic water bears, can take the rays,
the high pressures and severe temperatures,
even airless conditions:
the air was ours and we learned to read it, to assess,
and to evacuate.
Wisdom of the Hymenoptera
|“There are some who say that bees partake of the minds of gods, living in air, creatures of the pervasive ether.” |
—David Slavitt, Virgil’s Georgics
The trick is to see orchestration in the swarm—
city lights from space, dotting especially
along the coasts outlining
continents and rivers,
the Nile River Delta a giant golden
carrot, its umbel
reifying on the coast.
Lights, strung together as if
((there had been a plan all along))
structures (no coordination).
Nodes of concentrated light
connective fibers and threads,
the bright Arab peninsula seen from a satellite,
that effulgent green between
blue water, brown land natural boundaries,
outlined with our electric consent …
But “swarm” is not right:
never chaotic yet de-centralized,
can you see it?
We configure an architecture in which ants
are the bricks and
populations that organize themselves—
an innate grammar? or is it social, emerging
as interactions accumulate?
living in air I am a node, I, a we—
when we first lit the night did we imagine
the view from above did we.
|“The grass … springs from its own archives.” |
Beneath where quail and mice nest, a convincing universe:
nutrients translocated into roots
carbohydrates amino acids
preparing for dormancy.
Native warm-season grasses whose roots hold
the soil, their biomass multiple times
that of corn and soybean roots
reaching sixteen or more feet down …
It is real and it is quiet:
all that passes under my awareness
orchestrated and unseen (I say convincing).
That plain thrived for tens of thousands of years,
buffalo and wildfires preventing
woodland. Poaceae glint in today’s sun,
a plausible cosmos coalescing
underground: the evolution of plant life,
of atmosphere and photosynthesis::
this marvel does not give a shit about you.
And suddenly it matters:
blue sky and sea like a curtain
all one wants to know on the other side.
Grass spreads its stalks:
little bluestem, big bluestem,
side oats grama, switchgrass, coastal panic-
grass—the earth has seen something like us
before, billions of years ago: colonies of one-celled blue-green
algae toxified the planet with their oxygen waste
making atmosphere making possible
our fleeting existence