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Posts Tagged ‘biology’




Now I love biology—the how of
life, the what of cell, the physiology of why—
but I was so bored in ninth-grade biology class
when Bill Williams stood at the front of the room
with his rumpled hair and brown corduroy blazer,
chalk dust on his fingers, chalk dust in his drone,
chalk dust chafing on my teenage thoughts.
I wanted to know about boys. And kissing them.
I wanted to know what it would feel like
if that blonde across the room cornered me
against the wall with the anatomy posters
then let his fingers experiment
across my bare skin. But I was bored
by Mr. Williams’ boring biology, bored
by his black-and-white boring film strips,
bored by the clock that slowed on the wall.
Bored in that windowless room that smelled
of his coffee and formaldehyde.
Sometimes I’d write notes to friends.
I’m so bored, I’d write. As if boredom
were news worthy of sharing. As if biology
weren’t everything.

I would love to go back to that girl
in that junior high room fidgeting
in her metal chair at the shiny black lab table.
Even then, her own biology was riotous,
her estrogen surging, her pituitary gland raging,
her body and mind controlled by forces of nature
she couldn’t begin to understand.
I wouldn’t tell her to pay attention
to Bill Williams, no, but to be more curious
about her own feral hows and whats and whys—
the miracle of her own biology
untethering everything she thought
she knew about who she was
and her place in the biome,
all that dark curly hair springing up
in surprising places, her blood pitching
with a wild and red pulsing
that years later is still her best teacher.

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Aphids are born pregnant.

I don’t want to believe it,

but it makes sense, considering

what’s happening in my kale.

And Google confirms it.

They are born pregnant.

And their embryos are also

pregnant. Three generations

of garden cripplers in each tiny

soft-bodied bug.

No matter how much I hate

and curse them, I have to admire

such insistence, such dedication

to survival.

 

It is like gratitude,

I think. Sometimes, it seems

as if there’s not much to be grateful for,

but if I can think of one blessing,

then often, buried in its belly

is another blessing,

and that gives birth to another.

Soon there’s a teeming colony

of gratitudes. And although

the news might try to squish them

or wash them away,

they persist.

 

Yes, all those tiny feasting gratitudes,

how easily they find a way

to thrive. How impressive

their tenacity, their drive.

 

 

 

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The stomach replaces its lining

every four days. Every four days.

Because it’s so highly corrosive,

every four days it remakes itself

and becomes completely new.

Love, this is what I want to do.

Because sometimes we are acid.

Because sometimes we are cruel.

I want to start over every four days.

Every four days, let us be new.

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We start with more.

But then, as we age,

there’s a lessening.

Where there once

were 300 bones,

there are now 206.

Where there once was cartilage,

now it’s fused and stiff.

What used to be flexible,

now refuses to be rebirthed.

What once allowed for rapid growth

now considers itself mature.

And how do we get it back,

that willingness to grow?

And how do we unstiffen?

And how do we unknow?

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It was my biology teacher who taught me

to let things go. It was true, I didn’t like him,

no one did. And that is why, when he left

his coffee cup on our table and we

were dissecting rabbits, Kathy looked

at me with a small pink part

in her hands, then eyed his cup.

My face lit up with the wickedness

of it, but I mouthed to her, No,

then watched as she dropped

the bit in. It didn’t float. There

are moments of our lives

we will forever revisit and wish

we had been more brave—

but I was scared to betray my friend,

scared to make waves. As it is,

we waited for him to pick up the cup,

and when he did, tried not to stare

as we wondered when he would

take a sip. Five minutes before

the bell rang, we rebagged

our strange accomplice and wiped

the table clean, then left the room

not seeing what happened next.

What happened next. I thought all night

about the effects of formaldehyde.

I thought he might die. I thought

of how I could have taken his cup

from his desk and quietly poured it out.

I thought of the twist in his heart

when he found bit at the bottom.

But the next day in biology, there

he was, corduroy coat and big brown glasses,

his awkward smile, his coffee cup.

He didn’t mention the crime.

I could barely look up. I had never felt

so small. And if he knew, he never said.

Sometimes the worst punishments

involve lack of consequence,

leaving us to live with our offenses.

And though I don’t recall his name,

I do recall his grace. I swore never again

to keep silent for such a prank.

I’d like to think that if we met, I’d tell him

about that day. And how sorry I am

I didn’t speak up. And how much I admired

the way he let it go. Could I? To this day,

what I remember most, the horror

blossoming in my stomach

the color of rabbit flesh. And

when I dared to look at him, his smile.

 

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Dad takes out the microscope
from a dusty old suitcase
and sets it up on the kitchen table.

Once again I’m six years old
and we are living near the lake
where he takes me out with a net and a vial

to collect the water together.
He shows me how to make a slide,
how to focus the lens, how to steady

my eye and how to be patient
and wait for the tiny world
to reveal itself.

My son and daughter are with us
today, and he takes them out
to the waterway with the net

and the vial and all their curiosity.
I’d forgotten how miraculous it feels
to look into a droplet and find

a universe with slender strands
and tiny spiraled globs of green
and all the unseen critters seen,

their eyeless, mouthless,
heartless forms nudging
at the algal threads or speeding

across and off the slide.
How big the world seems then,
and how very, very small—

how hard it is to know
where we fit into it all—
this world with its car bombs

and militant groups, adventure
movies and evening news,
Jupiter high in the springtime sky

and under the microscope,
single-celled things zooming
and worming and meandering.

Who could make sense of it?
How simple to be one of these
small creatures I can’t name,

how simple it was to be that girl,
six years old, beside her father
on the microscope bench

dropping beads of water
onto the slides, kneeling on her chair,
mesmerized.

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