Chemical Life

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For example I go back to the twenty-five caged fish

dropped into Snow Creek to assess the toxicity

of the waters that the infamous chemical company

released its wastes into over decades and how

all of them, all twenty-five, lost their equilibrium

 

more or less immediately, how three minutes later

blood billowed from their gills like wild fuchsia

loosened from a hedgerow four thousand miles away

and how, shortly after that, all of them had finished

early with this life, as did the people of Alabama

 

who fished and swam and drank from the great

Choccolocco Creek which the smaller Snow Creek fed

its bad chemistry into, on and on without advisory

from the many who knew, the long processions

shuddering in time from church to gravesite quietly

 

as cellophane across the lethal waters. So much life

destroyed by the elements thought to have given

rise to it to start with as the energy and phosphorus

sent to earth by meteorites landing in hot pools

of acids frothing up around the bases of volcanoes

 

made available the enzymes needed for what science

now calls chemical life, meaning the intermediary

step between inorganic rock and the earth’s first-ever

spontaneously formed and truly living cell, which I

liken to a wide, voracious, and unblinking eyeball.

 

First living cell, what do you have to say for yourself

now? I see the dumbstruck circle of you spinning

late at night tonight on my monitor billions of years

before language and I head down to the nearby bodega

for a sports drink when I’m practically plowed over

 

by an endless garbage truck, one in whose packed bin

your double might be brewing even as it narrowly

whizzes me by—another take on life, this time hewn

from the drizzles and perfumes of an unstoppable

crapulence. For in such days it had been customary

 

following exertion, whether heavy, half-assed, or fake

critical thought through commercials, to give back

to oneself by way of mass-market beverages, the body

insensitive to the specifics of its losses, wanting only

to be replenished. But here’s the thing. There was just

 

one chance for life to start on earth and after that any

spontaneously formed organism novel to the planet

would fall prey to all the ardent preexisting organisms

the instant it came into being. So you’re pretty much

a celebrity, first living cell. And yet my heart is heavy.

 

Don’t look at me, I can feel you say, it isn’t mere life

that’s the problem so much as something neither

I nor my offspring ever predicted. We had big plans

for shit on this planet till some random event sent it in

a direction we never wanted and still can’t fathom.

 

We’re into birdsong as much as anyone, not so much

all this willful endangerment. And look at you there,

up all night and sweating. Wade into the world a little

less deeply. Lie down in the shallows and let it stick

its infinite leech mouths to whatever ails you, because

 

much as you want to fix what is, what is wants to fix

you more. Unload on it your carbon, your phosphorus.

Your bones’ calcium will be good for plant life, ditto

your potassium. Not to mention your hydrogen, when it

escapes our atmosphere, might one day power a star.

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