Sunday, January 30, 2011

Science Poems for January 2011: 30

Last April I posted a science sonnet a day in celebration of National Poetry Month (index with links here). This month I am posting a science poem a day, written in various traditional forms, in honor of Science Online 2011.

The "fifth annual international meeting on Science and the Web" ran from Jan. 13-16. Click on the logo below to access the conference page, which has links to posts, tweets, photos, and videos from the event.

As with the sonnets, my January poems take their cues from science-based articles. I also have two works in a special science poem section (vol. 33 #5/6) of Star*Line, journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. You can read my "Ciliate Sestina" here.

Also, two sonnets from last April's collection, "In Development" and "Manipulations," have made it into Open Laboratory 2010. Click on the badge below for links to the 50 essays, 6 poems, and 1 cartoon in the collection.

(Click here to see Andrea Kuszewski's gorgeous cover!)

Today's poem takes its cue from "China spurs quest for human variome" (David Cyranoski, Nature News, Jan. 25, 2011) and the Human Variome Project. Click on the article link to learn more about the research. To learn more about the traditional poetic structure used, click on the form name.

The Human Variome Project
(Form: in the spirit of Hsiao-Fu)*

The secluded child
Does not know she is evolving,
Does not know he is not alone.

Bedridden in small villages,
They are half a world apart.

Genetic mutations bring suffering,
Make other lives distant.

Yet each child has a human face,
Alike and different in their DNA.

Genomic codes paint with tiny brush strokes,
Paintings of rivers in different galleries.

Yet one stream flows like another.
Water burbles over stones. See the wet leaves.

Sixty percent of all humans
Are affected by a mutation in their lifetime.

The paint brush slips. A stroke drags.
Color deepens or thins and flakes off.

The copyist misses a detail.
Bits of scenery fall away.

Or the river petrifies in ice.
Roots become brittle and break in the thaw.

Beside the hospital bed
Parents clasp each other's hands and wait.

Within the small clinic
An uncle and grandmother listen.

Their lines remain unbroken for generations.
Tributaries meet in children's blood.

Genetic variations numerous as pebbles
Lie hidden beneath clouds of silt.

Yet all of the coursing waters
Are fed by the same rains.

Gathering pools lie in mountain valleys.
Curtains of vegetation and jagged peaks.

They reflect the white wings of migrating birds.
Striped fish tumble toward the ocean.

A single raindrop falls,
Liquid in a membrane.

Its round face copies the clouds
And the mountains, and all the world.

All the raindrops in the sea
Retain the memory of their reflections.

Upside-down miniatures more than a thousand-thousandfold.
Mirrors within mirrors within mirrors.

Within the body
The mirrors course.

An ocean in a single cell
Floats nucleus and mitochondria.

Yet mountains
Separate the children.

Databases and data streams
Lie locked in valleys.

One genetic variant, one remote habitat.
Throughout the world, a diversity of protocols.

Information drizzles, feeds the soil, collects in drains.
Citations burrow beneath the mud.

Indexes sensitive to light swallow echoes,
Building stalactites in deep caverns.

A continent-nation
Floats in water.

Richard Cotton casts a wide net
from the University of Melbourne.

Glistening in the depths of our variome
Flits every mutation-caused case of each human disease.

He sets out his baskets. His quarry dart
Around medical centers and testing laboratories.

All around Australia the baskets fill.
And in Kuwait and Malaysia, Egypt and Belgium.

And to the north,
Through the East Sea, past the shining islands of Zhejiang Province,
Ming Qi's university clasps hands with Beijing.

There, a genetics institute shall rise from the four winds
Blowing on the waters of human code.

Torrents from a quarter of the world's population
Will flow like Yellow and Yangtze, Songhua and Pearl.

Secluded children touch each other on the breezes.
Secluded clinics form an island necklace.

Three hundred million U.S. dollars pledged from China
To thread shimmering droplets on a delicate web.

All countries, all peoples, all disciplines.
The sound of a species joining a puddle.

A diagnosis reflects in rising dew
Carried in a cloud over the mountains.

Heavy with rivers, it splits in thunder.
An answer splashes on a screen in a village.

Tears of joy swell from relatives' eyes
As harmony builds waves of treatments.

Thus is the project's Golden Goal:
Data shared on a million genetic disease cases by 2015.


* In my attempt to approximate the Hsiao-Fu form, I have referred to Douglass Alan White (trans.), Ch'eng-kung Sui's Poetic Essay on Whistling (The Hsiao-Fu), Harvard University, 1964 (.pdf)

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