Posts Tagged ‘evolution’

I think of how the narrow blue bodies
of the dragonfly ancestors
once skimmed clear lakes—
over a hundred million years
before the great diplodocus
came to wade—
how they flew through the Permian,
the Cretaceous, through mornings,
through meteors, through floods,
through to the Holocene, to now.
How much change they have seen
before coming to balance here
on the reeds beside me,
their bodies like thin blue proofs
of resilience, endurance, constancy.
Meanwhile, the sun is disappearing
below the horizon.
Meanwhile this heart, too,
is learning to adapt, to become
something as surprising as beauty
that survives great challenge,
something as durable, as delicate
as gossamer wings.

Happy Birthday, Suzi! This one’s for you!!!

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On a rocky white outcrop,
Ulli and I stand in silence
at the edge of the canyon,
held by layers that range
from the Permian to the Cretaceous,
and Ulli begins to sing
a song we sang twenty years ago
and, from the strata of memory,
I unearth the German lyric,
excavate the harmony,
and we join our voices
to the structuring of time,
just one more arrangement
of temporal events
added to the linear record
since the singularity.
And the sound waves tremble
in the sensitive membrane drum
between the middle ear
and the cochlea—
a song of connection,
a song of fading light,
a song that somehow
has origins in the Ichthyostega
that crawled from the sea,
the development of Broca’s area
in the left frontal lobe of the brain,
the mountaineers who would sing
to each other across the Alps at dusk,
and this wonderful woman who
brought these words and this tune from Europe
and taught them to me in Colorado
so that decades later
we might stand side by side on this cliff
and know ourselves lucky—
after all that has happened—
lucky to find ourselves in the same remote place
singing the same familiar song,
the molecules a spiraling ricochet of praise,
our song itself part of the matter
that makes the world,
part of a pattern that is ever overlapping.
Is it any wonder
I cried?

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We drove seven hours,
and half the time it snowed
so I kept my eyes fixed
to the slushy road, but
there was the moment
when I looked at my girl
in the passenger seat
and fell in love in an instant
and stroked her hair
and she, catching my gaze,
offered me her open hand—
for this the first tetrapods evolved
in shallow and swampy freshwater,
for this the ichthyostega formed
arms and finger bones,
and for this, though it took
thirty-million years
of primate and homo sapien change,
for this we learned how to smile.

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Before you were born,

your hand had more muscles,

for instance the dorsometacarpales,

a reptilian remnant, an atavistic relic

from when all blood was cold blooded.

By the time you were thirteen weeks

in utero, a third of the muscles

in your hands and feet had fused

with other muscles. Your body

simply deleted them, proof

that before we are born,

before we are ready

to inhabit our forms,

we are in some ways

made less complex.

I think of this now as I open my hand

for your hand, think

of how much things change.

How once we had fins, then claws.

And now, look at us,

with hands that might caress,

might soothe, might reach.

God, this impulse to be warm.

And I think of how sometimes,

growth means to become more simple.

This is my prayer. To do

what the nascent body can do:

to remember where I came from,

to streamline, to know what is needed,

to know what to let go.


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They know that birds see many more colors

than humans can—and they know that

their plumage has become, over millions of years,

more colorful, more dazzling, more bright.

But why, they wonder, can the birds see

colors they do not have in their feathers?

Why haven’t they developed the ability

to produce ultraviolet yellow or ultraviolet red?


I know that there is beauty I see in others

that I do not yet see in myself: People

who leave bottles of water in the desert

of west Texas. A 94-year-old man in Iowa

who has given away 6,000 Hershey’s

milk chocolate bars to connect

with the people in his changing hometown.

A 13-year-old girl who has raised $80,000

to save dogs from being euthanized.

A woman who chooses forgiveness.


I want to believe that to see is to invite evolution.
I want to believe that through sight, my own heart will develop

the way plumage might, more dazzling, more bright.

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And maybe

though there

is no floor

you find

the grace

in falling—

after all

those years

of baby

steps, with

one plunge



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Some things do not easily
leave the sea.
In an instant they shift
from buoyant grace
to cumbersome weight.

Remember that night
we stood beside the surf
and the whole wet world
stretched shining before us?

We wrestled the wave runner
onto the trailer, and I
felt some kinship with
those first prehistoric fish
who dragged their lobe fins
onto the beach, those fish
who, driven by what?
struggled up and out
and learned a new way to move,
a new way to breathe,
grew a new kind of skin
and a new kind of spine.

For a moment, tugging
on the wet rope,
I knew it, some hint of the drive
bred into my body
over the past four hundred
million years. How I gasped
at the gift of it all—these
legs, these lungs, this upright head,
these biceps burning
against the burden
of emergence, the glitter
of light as it leaves, the scent
of honest sweat.

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Musca Domestica

The deep similarities we see between how our brains and those of insects regulate behavior suggest a common evolutionary origin. It means that prototype brain circuits, essential for behavioral choice, originated very early and have been maintained across animal species throughout evolutionary time.

—Frank Hirth, Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London, reported in Science

Sometimes there’s a twitching,
a rapid rubbing of the hands,
a longing to hang out
in the corner of the room,
an impulse to taste
whatever is left
on the counter,
this instinct
to be close to you,
no matter how many times
you shoo me

after Fugu, by D.R. Goodman

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Just think of all that had to happen
so I could sit on the porch
this clear winter day and feel the warm sun
on my naked shoulders—bacteria
were engulfed by eukaryotic cells,
and after over a billion years,
multicellular organisms evolved
in the oceans before an explosion
of Cambrian life—sponges, brown
algae and slime molds. And then,
of course, the colonization of land
by the plants and fungi, followed
by arthropods and insects.
Some 500 million years later,
my mother and father met on a date,
set up by friends, and my dad, a biology major,
brought Coke instead of beer, which impressed
my mother, a history major, and they sat
and drank it together, seated on a picnic blanket
which they laid out on grass so green, so new
one could almost wring the saltwater out of it.

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Just this morning
the leaves were green

in this stand of aspen
that now flash gold—

it happens that fast,
though of course

there is nothing
quick about it.

It took a whole season
to grow the leaf

and nurture it into
brilliance. And

it took decades
to grow the tree that grew

the leaf. And what
of evolution? Oh patience.

Perhaps this is why
on the woman who’s finally learning

how to sit still beside the leaves
there’s a bit of salt water

sliding down her skin.

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