(This page has been accessed 8439 times. It was last modified Sunday, 05-Dec-2004 14:51:35 EST. Copyright © 2001 by Mark Zimmermann.)
But underneath the surface of the sea
A colder current flows. The denizens
Of basement chambers, servants of the house,
Can hear the creak of floorboards as new guests
Arrive and doff their cloaks. They know their job,
These underfolk: to stand, obey, and wait
Upon their betters. So they lift their eyes
To naked bulbs, stark shadows, rafters, planks,
Preparing to put on a cheerful mask
Of gracious acquiescence in their rôle.
They fix their smiles in place and go upstairs.
Then for an instant a sliver of sunbeam
Slips through a rift and reflects from a pool,
Scatters off facets of gold.
Light breathes on a mirror of ice and then focuses
Down to a point, at a droplet that hangs
Poised on the never-yet-seen.
Two ponderous, pendulous, crystal stalactites
Touch, clasp, and fuse --- and the pattern is changed.
New threads appear in the stone.
As neurotransmitters bridge gaps in a cortex,
Water's course shifts; pathways open and close.
So thinks the mind of the cave.
Just as a swimmer strokes out one last time,
Not feeling tired yet, nor knowing fear;
Just as a hiker in the forest climbs
Up one more hill to reach the summit view;
Just as a pilot skirts the edge of storm
To make the destination's scheduled stop;
Just as an erstwhile lover presses on
Past hesitant objections, asking more
Than what the other is yet poised to give ....
So step by tiny step I venture out
From harbor's safety toward the foaming reef.
And all along the way there is no sign,
No tipping point, no knee, no line to cross.
The gradient is imperceptible,
Continuous and smooth as down I slide ---
Until the spider's silk clings, cloys, winds, wraps.
My desperate struggles only tangle more,
And self-selected doom embraces me.
Flame tongues lick red
Red coals die black
Black ashes blow
Green leaves dry brown
Brown hairs go gray
Gray hills erode
Sands sift away
Bird spreads broad its wings while swift it flies along
Gathers solar beams to pay for its soft song
In coin of captured light.
What it will not use it scatters off its sides
Gifting fairy glints to all who scan the skies
In envy of its flight.
When its course is run the crystal bird dives down
Into ocean air where with a flash it drowns ---
And dark returns to night.
But what of that unnoticed, obscure star?
It shines in peace, unchanging, stable, calm.
Around it orbit scraps of the dark cloud
From which it formed. Those negligible bits
Have since condensed into some balls of gas,
Too small to merit notice from afar.
And lesser still, a few scant leftovers ---
Poor remnants, near-invisible --- remain
Like dust motes in an ocean, eddying
About a bubble as it rides the waves.
Upon one speck, a thousand million years
Of nothing happens: random jostlings
By atoms that link up and then dissolve
Into the brew that percolates the crust.
So meaningless millennia pass by.
At last, alignment clicks: a pattern gels,
Persists, and makes a template that now builds
Self-replicating molecule machines.
Wee engines harness energy to clone
Themselves, and thereby propagate their form.
This flurry of activity is yet
Unseen at any distance from the globe:
Mere rearrangements of the building blocks
Without a ghost of purpose or intent;
A thoughtless copy-cattish crystal growth.
But over time, the simple pattern spreads.
And as it does, it fails. Mistakes are made
Resulting in flawed copies, most of which
Are hopeless failures at the repro-game.
They wither and then die, that never lived.
But of the garbled versions, a few thrive:
Machines that out-compete their ancestors.
Efficient, accurate, precise, controlled,
They manage resources with thrift and grace.
Increasingly they spread, until they fall
Themselves as victims to still lustier foes,
Fortuitously optimized designs
Which somehow find the trick of partnership,
Alliances among the replicants,
Whereby more complex structures then emerge.
And after countless microscopic wars
Across the surface of a puny world
(Inconsequential flotsam circling
A sun entirely forgettable,
The suburbs of an average galaxy)
A change occurs: configurations bloom
That think, first crudely, then with greater power.
These patterns can manipulate themselves,
Communicate, discover, teach, and love.
--- So mind appears to shake the universe.
One first is spider-silk on breeze,
Threads set adrift by parents who
Have minimal control or clue
Of what genetic forces they
Release during a roll-in-hay
Unconsciously conceptive act
Of passion, love or simple fact.
(A crass process to contemplate,
But one which ne'ertheless our fate
Condemns or blesses us to try
If our own line is not to die.)
So starts a life: a random mote,
Potential energy afloat
In seas of possibility.
But soon what seemed completely free
Has settled, put down roots, and grown
Into a pattern, flesh and bone:
A bonsai sculpture, shaped by force;
Limb, twig, and leaf pursue a course
Defined by the environment
Plus countless influences sent
From families and societies.
Now in the forest of these trees
Which constitute the living world
So many plants are crippled, curled
Into burnt matchstick shadows of
What could have flourished given love,
More tender care, and fortune kind.
Some lucky few, however, find
Themselves well-placed in soil and light
To thrive and grow in beauty bright.
Then at their death they sublimate
Into a subtle, diffuse state
Of deeds and words, or flame and air.
We breathe their thoughts and sense their care
As gifts which they have left behind ---
Crystalline structures of the mind.
Blonde cap explodes at a toss of the head
Into a pale nimbus that floats and then falls
Over a glimpse of an ear ...
Ringlets cascade like a waterfall down
Twin ridges of shoulder blades, pouring a flood
Into the valley below ...
Ponytail pendulum tick-tocks a beat
That follows the jogger intent on her pace:
Metronome cadence for feet ...
'Lectrified 'Fro forms a spherical cloud,
Dark halo defying conventional style ---
Natural, nappy, and proud ...
Bald rocky pate gleams through whispy gray threads;
Yosemite dome-like, it looms over brows,
Monument-weathered by age ...
Strands of brown dangle and sway in the breeze,
A curtain of beads or a jungle of vines,
Blowing a kiss to a cheek.