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Issue 13 • July 2014
Science Poetry
edited by Geoffrey A. Landis

Table of Contents

Editor’s Introduction • Geoffrey A. Landis

Some astronomy • Anastasia Andersen
The Linnet’s Nest • Erasmus Darwin
Discoveries • Emily K. Bright
Descent of Radium • Jim Fisher
Laboratory Philosophy • J. A. Grier
A Formulaic Love Story • Claire Ibarra
Oneshine • Dianne Borsenik
Coleopterblitz • David C. Kopaska-Merkel
The Epiphenomenalist • Rob Stuart
Gravity Drives the Blood • Bruce Boston
Grant Proposal • Adele Gardner


Some astronomy

with geocentric jazz. Venus wiggles
into an evening dress—
brushes those little crumbs
of stars off her lap. Flip.
Loves the torch. Forgets her loopy sun.

She’s waiting for a slang gin
& glinty octaves—
the way Earth’s every breath
smooths the bugle. Freak lip.
Sugar band. Little moon on tubs

until the planets jump out of true. Jupiter
way down. Mars is booted—
cool. Fly. Everything cooks
again, as in the beginning,
until there’s nothing left
to dangle us into the modern—

wouldn’t it fracture you?
The rest of the universe supermurgitroid
sweet as fireflies
zipping around our heads.
Wouldn’t it just fracture you—
all those stars & planets &
          us
center stage:
the smokin’ brass
playing as if Galileo
had missed his eye exam.

—Anastasia Andersen


The Linnet’s Nest

The busy birds, with nice selection, cull
Soft thistle-down, gray moss, and scatter’d wool;
Far from each prying eye the nest prepare,
Form’d of warm moss, and lined with softest hair.
Week after week, regardless of her food,
Th’ incumbent linnet warms her future brood;
Each spotted egg with ivory bill she turns,
Day after day with fond impatience burns;
Hears the young prisoner chirping in his cell,
And breaks in hemispheres the fragile shell.

—Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802)


Discoveries

Newborns, for example.
Diseases and the plants
just perfect to respond.

A thing need not be named
to be.

Think of light bulbs. Think
tulip bulbs that come alive
inside the darkness of the earth.

There is a particle named Beauty.

Name these clustered stars after
your understanding. Layer
name on name. Now try to
navigate your way.

Every new discovery
reorders the world.

Science has a costly history.

Tesla juggling balls of blue fire.

Edison spreading rumors
of light-bulb electrocutions.

Galileo recanting.

The teacher holds a model
of the universe.
She points, we repeat.
I could cry for every time we asked
will this be on the test?

There is a particle named God.

Radio waves. Electric current.
I call it, I call it—

Every map we’ve ever
redrawn. Every map that still
has edges left blank.

—Emily K. Bright

“Discoveries” first appeared in Broken City Review.


Descent of Radium

A fraction of common uranium
Each thousand million years will lose
Three helium nuclei and become
The glowing metal radium, which accrues
In residues and turns hands numb,
Stuns mutated cells, and disintegrates
By half its mass each millennium
Descending through the atomic weights
Of radon, bismuth and polonium,
The last of these a source of rays
Greater than those it descended from,
Decaying by half each hundred days
When half-lives spent, its radiation dead,
It transmutes to the element of lead.

—Jim Fisher

“Descent of Radium” last appeared in ScienceWriters, the official publication of the National Association of Science Writers, Spring 2011.


Laboratory Philosophy

We have to clean
under the mass spectrometer
with liquid nitrogen.
The instrument
has been bolted to the floor
for years,
and besides, the magnet is
much too heavy to move
and would need to be retuned
if you did.
So whenever we get bored,
which is often,
we fill up tall dewars
with LN2
and sheet the boiling liquid
out beneath the equipment.
Then we run to the other side
to watch each bubbling,
dancing bead roll out
dust bunnies in front of it.
I say
“It’ll never work in zero G.”
You reply
“No gravity, no dust bunnies.”

—J.A. Grier


A Formulaic Love Story

[H2O]

She is a lovely mermaid; he is Poseidon. They are still young.
Salt water heals wounds, so they bathe together during low tide for hours on end.

[AgBr]

They are sensitive to all things of consequence. Images become
clearer in their dreams, only to fade into phantoms, like the shroud of Turin.
They can’t remember the details, of all they meant to say.

[Al2CoO4]

She dreams of living inside a Maxfield Parrish, with gold-rimmed clouds and
luminous skies of iridescent blue, the color of Chinese porcelain, of tinted glass.
It’s the color that makes her happiest.

[AIO]

Exploding grenades. He was trained to deny love. You can’t kill another human being while believing in it. Now he lives with PTSD. She gives him renewed hope, nurses his spirit with the droplets of a slow and gradual baptism, a baptism of an ancient love.

[N2]

If it is not solid, if it doesn’t fit into the palm of her hand, it will float out of the
atmosphere and disappear into empty space. That has always been her fear.

[CH3COCH3]

She keeps her nails long, and they click against cups and scratch his flesh,
giving him shivers. She wears blue polish. She uses yellow rubber
gloves to wash the dishes.

[FeO]

He can’t write without a delete button. Permanence never suited him.
The Earth’s crust is tattooed with etchings, the stories of loss and extinction.
Her stories will become etched in sunspots and wrinkles–his in a receding hairline.

[B(OH)3]

The cruelty of sprinkling acid on fire ants nags at her–and yet she knows they can be deadly. She marvels that something that can cure athlete’s foot
also slows the rate of fission. She believes their love is a lot like that.

[CH3CH2OH]

Alcohol is the oldest recreation known to man, even Neolithic people drank spirits. Residue was found on 9,000 year-old pottery in China. How can she argue with that?
Scientific evidence supports his cause.

[CH2O]

They cling to each other after death visits. Though his drinking gets in the way.
But how can she deny him those sips of comfort, those sips of redemption,
those sips of forgetting pain.

[O3]

They are protected from ultraviolet rays. The atmosphere is inviting,
as he watches her belly grow. They bask in the Florida sun and
their extended family becomes tolerable. They discuss moving to Kansas.

[I2]

The sea is rich, and so they continue their bathing ritual at low tide, and
she buys iodized salt. Most anything can be purchased fortified.

[As2O3]

In the highest altitudes of the Alps, live the “arsenic eaters of Styria”
who believe the poison gives them strength. Arsenic is homeopathic.
There’s a risk to cures, there’s a risk in loving someone too much.

[Fe3O4]

When they first met, he had a moustache, a beard, and
abundant dark chest hair. She loved to twirl it around her fingers.
He was a man, she felt like a little girl.

[H2]

He tells her that he wants to jump out of a plane on his 50th birthday.
Parachuting, parasailing, hot air balloons. Air travel will get him nowhere.
She knows what he wants is elusive.

[Au(OH)3]

Their wedding bands are inscribed with the date of their anniversary,
lest they forget that day. Forget the years joining like molecules,
into formulas of strange and magnificent creations.

—Claire Ibarra

“A Formulaic Love Story “ first appeared in Words Dance, Fall 2013.


Oneshine

What is the color of spirit?
What is the color of opportunity?
Adobe, butterscotch, dust

devils that cavort across
the landscape, existing only
to stretch shadows into another

wavelength, arouse layered
bedrock, clean the solar panels
of the fumarolic heart.

—Dianne Borsenik


Coleopterblitz

What makes a beetle such a lucky piece,
That speciation plays it time and time again?
One might expect a bug, a fly, some other beast,
Yet only coleoptera need apply.
Is it their sturdy, shiny shell,
That make them fit so many niches well?
Something we can apprehend, at least!
I’d hate to end my days not knowing why.
6,000 species of the boring things,
But wait, that’s one of several boring clades,
10’s of thousands more; each acre new ones brings,
Success so bright a cladist would need shades.
They fly, swim, crawl, bore, burrow, do it all,
Will they write verse as well, after our fall?

—David C. Kopaska-Merkel

“Coleopterblitz” first appeared in The Shantytown Anomaly 6, 2007.


The Epiphenomenalist

The epiphenomenalist
Asserts free will does not exist.
He’ll tell you, in a measured voice,
That there is no such thing as choice:

‘We tread a predetermined path
When we buy milk or run a bath.
In spite of everything we’re taught,
The deed’s the father of the thought.

‘It only seems that one elects
To make decisions. This effect’s
Created retrospectively.’
(He would say that, though, wouldn’t he?)

—Rob Stuart


Gravity Drives the Blood

Past sunlit fountains where scattered
rainbow droplets fall to its calling,
over the graceful arch of the bridge
that reflects and defies its calling,
in the roaring whoosh and swoop
of wild carnival rides of wonder
that leave us breathless in the air,
gravity bends the light and drives
the blood that courses in our veins:
when we reach up it calls us down,
keeps us spinning round the sun,
defines the span of night and day.

In words that fall from our lips,
in the river run of images that
rush and flow through our brains,
always tumbling into the past
in the moment of their calling,
gravity drives the blood and bends
the light that courses in our veins:
it shapes the stars, breaks our bones,
spills the clouds onto the ground,
sets the boundaries of our play.

From the wail of birth’s hard fall
to the coffin’s silent roped descent,
from the pull of an age that was
wide and weightless to the weight
of miles passed and years defined,
gravity bends the light and drives
the blood that courses in our veins:
it breaks our bones, calls us down,
keeps us spinning round the sun,
fuses cells and time and flesh
and takes our breath away.

—Bruce Boston

“Gravity Drives the Blood” first appeared in Conditions of Sentient Life (Gothic Press, 1996)


Grant Proposal

My husband’s booming energy,
my scientific synergy—
we’ve found, through synchronicity,
a startling velocity
beyond all known technology
by which to map cosmology
(and fund our daughter’s -ology—
not NASA, cosmetology).
With patented, voluminous
clean energy, quite luminous,
we plan to send subliminal
commands to launch a seminal
space program that will colonize
with all the genes we eulogize—
a scientific paradise!
Not one will miss these cloudy skies.
Such numinous discoveries—
the endless possibilities!
A triumph this sensational
must be made operational.
Admittedly, our imminent
departure through the firmament
will render Earth a little bleak.
So we’ve devised a new technique
to build up slow, leave time to pack—
Five decades’ worth of funds should back
our complex plans, give time to mourn—
our daughter see her grandkids born.
The funds will be well spent in trust.
We’ll save this world—leave things to us!
When oceans rise and sun goes bust
we’ll be off-world. Don’t mind the dust.

—Adele Gardner

“Grant Proposal” first appeared in Mythic Delirium 26, Winter/Spring 2012.