“Letter to a Tardigrade” by E.E. Lampman

E.E. Lampman


If you have a secret
keep it. Let Mars crawl
with shadows of krill,

the moon keep her diamonds
in silver sand; let Pluto
disappear as she’d like

into the anonymous black
curtain at the edge of our imagination.
We’ve only begun to hear

space collapsing; fish rise
vigor in their gills, water world
croon at dusk and dawn; whale songs

bent in question, rhythm, notions
of finding; and elephants
mourning groans into the dust

of calves’ bones—these wonders
are enough for us now. Be careful,
Waterbear, with your wisdom.

Where you have leaned on neighbors’
cells, borrowed strengths
and forged a genome more home

in the universe than our concept
of the soul, we have fallen
against each other with hook

and stone. Leave us with these limits
please. It is enough that we are
orange and cut down

by the ill power of lead. Enough that we’ve
corroded half the sky with our breath.
Is it enough that we save ourselves

by tampering? Tooling genes into self-
detonating bombs? Mosquito, mosquito,
your offspring are the hatching dead. And ours

safe in the unsafe bodies of women,
protected for a moment by sentiment
and the memory of the one space

we’ve all known. Rumbling in utero with
song and air—as tiny cells we entered
your world swimming, warm with bacteria,

unsterile, thriving pulse by
shimmering pulse in blood.
Spare us truth, even survival.

Just give us enough time
to hear lyrics howled through
the black hole of your mouth.

Poets Respond
April 3, 2016

[download audio]


E.E. Lampman: “In order to defend against the spreading Zika virus, researchers have engineered male mosquitos with a gene which self-destructs their offspring before they can spread the virus. Of course, the Zika virus is a dangerous epidemic and my deepest condolences go out to all those affected, but my skepticism cannot be stifled. Would we be so concerned about the effects of the Zika virus if it was just affecting, say, women, and not their newborns? Is it ethically questionable that we can program a species to self-destruct? This poem is also fueled by other stories of research including: Discovery of the source of a deep ocean hum occurring when fish either signal migration to each other or fart as the gasses in their bodies adjust to the pressures of sea depths. The decoding of whale and elephant songs by acoustic biologist, Katy Payne. Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT) of the tardigrade resulting in an astonishing percentage of borrowed genetic material in the abominable species. Massive rates of incarceration in the United States. And, of course, the sad story of Pluto losing her status as a planet.

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