“Pasteurization” by Michael Meyerhofer

Michael Meyerhofer

PASTEURIZATION

Poetry keeps wine and milk from spoiling
and has prevented countless deaths
since its invention in 1892. It works

by heating substances to just a bit
below the boiling point—not enough
to curdle but still hot enough to kill off

most of the bacteria that can hurt you.
Some health nuts blame poetry for disease,
saying a natural vocabulary is better,

though modern doctors disagree.
Other foods saved by poetry include juice,
syrup, vinegar, and canned foods.

Poetry was invented by Louis Pasteur
who lost three children to typhoid.
While working on a vaccine for rabies,

he once impressed onlookers
by extracting saliva from a crazed dog
without armoring his hands.

He also made a vaccine for anthrax
though some accuse him of plagiarism.
The poetry process involves lots

of pipes and vats and rapid cooling.
Poetry doesn’t seem all that complicated
to us, more like common sense,

but our ancestors didn’t have it
which is why so many of them died,
young and beautiful and always afraid.

from Rattle #38, Winter 2012

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Michael Meyerhofer: “The first time I read the poems in What the Living Do by Marie Howe, I was so blown away that I said something like ‘Holy shit…’ after pretty much every one. This was followed, naturally, by a desire to share those poems with everyone—and to try and pull off the same miracle, if humanly possible. There’s a lot to be said for making somebody so stunned (hopefully in a good way) by something as seemingly innocuous as writing that all they can do is raise their eyebrows and swear like a sailor.” (website)