Online Exclusive

07.31.18
Six Poems
Microbe

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. 


 



Miura Fold

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) —
                                          is unreachable.

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.    
                                          Or maybe
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
long-stemmed wild
                                          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    
                                          the brick-layers
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.
 


 



Outlast
 
The grass … springs from its own archives.
—Catherine Meng
          
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

Jessica Reed is the author of World, Composed (Finishing Line). Her work has appeared in Conjunctions, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, North American Review, Bellingham Review, New American Writing, and elsewhere. She teaches a seminar on physics and the arts at Butler University. @jreedscipoet