On April 13, we began our series of science poems in recognition of National Poetry Month. This week to merge the two themes of April — National Poetry Month and Earth Day–in this post we’re featuring two poems: one that deals with how humans are impacting their natural world, and another about how the study of the natural world has affected how humans think about their world.
By: Kimiko Hahn
The coral reefs are changing color,
the black and crimson bleached away:
the ocean’s rising fever,
in every drop the seas over,
damages the membrane of symbiotic algae
and coral reefs change their color.
True, it’s less sensational than acts of terror.
True, we can slather sunblock, then sunbathe,
despite the ocean’s rising fever.
After all, the planet isn’t broiling over;
algae is not an inflamed country.
It’s just coral reefs, changing color.
I wonder if it’s, yet again, the ozone layer
ruined by my aunt’s persistent use of hairspray—
this ocean’s rising fever?
I already own my share of vivid jewelry
from Mother’s childhood village on Maui.
Still, the living are losing color
in my ocean’s escalating fever.
Climate change has altered coral reef systems. Among other things, it has bleached the coral’s otherwise bright colors. Coral’s usual bright colors are caused by zooxanthellae, a type of dinoflagellates that lives symbiotically with the coral. Also contributing to the destruction of coral reefs is the harvesting of coral for commercial purposes, including souvenirs and jewelry.
Kimiko Hahn’s lastest collection, Toxic Flora, contains poems inspired by science.
By: Alison Hawthorne Deming
Then it was the future, though what’s arrived
isn’t what we had in mind, all chrome and
cybernetics, when we set up exhibits
in the cafeteria for the judges
to review what we’d made of our hypotheses.
The class skeptic (he later refused to sign
anyone’s yearbook, calling it a sentimental
degradation of language) chloroformed mice,
weighing the bodies before and after
to catch the weight of the soul,
wanting to prove the invisible
real as a bagful of nails. A girl
who knew it all made cookies from euglena,
a one-celled compromise between animal and plant,
she had cultured in a flask.
We’re smart enough, she concluded,
to survive our mistakes, showing photos of farmland,
poisoned, gouged, eroded. No one believed
he really had built it when a kid no one knew
showed up with an atom smasher, confirming that
the tiniest particles could be changed
into something even harder to break.
And one whose mother had cancer (hard to admit now,
it was me) distilled the tar of cigarettes
to paint it on the backs of shaven mice.
She wanted to know what it took,
a little vial of sure malignancy,
to prove a daily intake smaller
than a single aspirin could finish
something as large as a life. I thought of this
because, today, the dusky seaside sparrow
became extinct. It may never be as famous
as the pterodactyl or the dodo,
but the last one died today, a resident
of Walt Disney World where now its tissue samples
lie frozen, in case someday we learn to clone
one from a few cells. Like those instant dinosaurs
that come in a gelatin capsule –just add water
and they inflate. One other thing this
brings to mind. The euglena girl won first prize
both for science and, I think, in retrospect, for hope.
Duncan MacDougall, a medical doctor, measured six elderly patients, dying of tuberculosis, before and after death, in an experiment to measure if the soul had weight. He concluded that the soul weighed about twenty-one grams. Euglena are one-celled lifeforms that have a long tail called a flagellum and, like plants, use photosynthesis to make their own food. It is possible to make cookies from euglena. Atom smashers, also known as particle accelerators, allowed scientists to determine the complex structure of the atom. Scientists have also experimented with the carcinogenic effects of cigarettes by painting tar onto mice and observing the effects. The last dusky seaside sparrow died in captivity in 1987.
Image 2: Alison Hawthorne Deming