Falcons ‘rapidly evolved hunter skill’

Falcons ‘rapidly evolved hunter skill’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/21885659

I love raptors – wrote a poem last year about meeting a falconer (and discussing the falcons’ sometimes-deadly speed) at Warwick Castle, you can read it here.

It turns out that missile skull of theirs, as well as other of their hunting perfection, evolved in a relatively-short period of time, in relative terms. They hurtle through evolution, as well as through the air, it seems…

One day I shall don the gauntlet myself and train a falcon…one day…

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Vermin On The Rise

A couple of stories recently linked very directly to my Vermin Cycle of poems.

The first is the great news that the EU has now banned all new cosmetics with ingredients tested on animals – to me, this seems entirely reasonable. There is a big difference between clinical trails for, say, a cancer treatment and, say, a new waterproof eye-liner. If it came to a decision between a rat and a family member dying, I would choose the family member – but the decision between a rat and some runny make up…? I don’t think it can be argued that is totally necessary.

My Vermin poem ‘An Exact Science’ is in the voice of a rat, one being tested on, and explores the idea of vanity.

The other story was one about the mighty bed bug. Scientists researching these resilient little creatures have discovered various genes which make them resistant to pesticides, and generally seriously tough little bugs.

My favourite Vermin poem, ‘Let Us Bite’, gave voice to the New York bed bug and certainly – I hope – presented it as tough.

You can read these and the other Vermin Cycle poems here.

Vermin On The Ascent!

Advice for the Artist When Depicting a Lady-Scientist or, Unbecoming

Ada King, Countess of Lovelace – AKA Proto-Computer Queen

So Friday was International Women’s Day – and Sunday Mother’s Day. Hurrah for women!

(I realise I’ve rather missed the boat for both, but sometimes having time to sit down and write topical poetry doesn’t quite happen, alas.)

Anyway – this week’s piece is inspired by an exhibition at Newcastle’s Discover Museum, which presents portraits of eminent women scientists. Thinking about the act of portraiture and its power, I wrote a piece which – as the title of the post suggests – is very archaic advice for the artist on how to present a lady-scientist.

And yes, that’s why I’ve used that irritating little -hyphen- in there, for these are not just ‘scientists’, they are ‘lady-scientists’. The hyphen attaches them to their gender and all its holographic-accoutrements throughout the poem and, sadly, still throughout some of the scientific world. So the poem’s about the surface notion/image (much like a portrait) of women and women-in-science which used to abound but which is hopefully – slowly – being eroded.

I used the odd word ‘unbecoming’ as the alternative title to convey the idea that a woman’s work (indeed, anyone depicted in a portrait) can be curiously undermined, undone, by how they are presented. What does it mean: ‘unbecoming’? Un-becoming what? Not-becoming who? It is only ever used in relation to women, isn’t it?

My dear friend Emma – another amazing woman – is writing a blog post every day during women’s history month to celebrate women’s achievements in many different fields (including some ‘Lady-scientists’). You should check them out: there are many amazing women to read and learn about there.

And, as it was Mother’s Day on Sunday, I’m dedicating my very tongue-in-cheek poem (I italicise for extra emphasis) to my Mum. A memory came back to me which was part of the thinking behind this: we once went to buy a family car and visited a second-hand showroom.

The salesman (yes, I know Used Car Salesmen are not usually the most progressive of beings) attempted to sell Mum a car solely on the merit of the fact that it had very shiny rings at the front. As in, “Well madam, if it’s you that’ll be driving it, have you seen these bright, shiny rings at the front? Like the ones all little girls crave to receive when being proposed to by Prince Charming? Hmm? Shiny shiny, madam?”

No, he didn’t really say that: but his insistence that the cosmetic, surface element of the car was what she’d be interested in was quite enough. We didn’t stay long and certainly didn’t buy from there. So the poem’s in his voice, but projected from last century – and dedicated to women who, like my Mum, do not suffer such fools gladly (or, indeed, at all).

I think it took a slight lead from a great poem by Sylvia Plath called ‘The Applicant’ – which uses direct address and questioning to the reader, implicating them (you decide in what – I think it’s marriage, or some sinister pact). You can hear her read it – and be chilled and delighted – here.

And so here’s my poem for this week:

 

Advice for the Artist When Depicting a Lady-Scientist

or, Unbecoming

 

Firstly, how is the subject sat? Be careful

the angle does not make her

appear too confrontational.

A slight turn, a light smile and the proper

amount of space before her

should serve to diminish any

unbecoming competitiveness

in her stance.

 

Is the subject a geologist? Unfortunate.

Try not to make any instruments she holds

appear too…hard. A petite

hammer, perhaps, or dainty brush

for indoor artefacts.  Do not depict granite.

After all, there are types of rock more becoming

for a Lady-scientist.  Softer, more sedimentary layers

must surely declare her to be dainty.

 

When painting a biologist, flowers

may seem demure – but really, is

reproduction something a

Lady-scientist should be associated with

in public?

 

That elusive creature, the Lady-physicist,

must be gently regarded with

the relevant relativity.

 

Above all, avoid anything which proves

unbecoming to the Lady-scientist: for

great strides have been made for the

fairer sex to grace laboratory floors.

And even the slightest lapse in

judgement could undo progress

to their cause.

Very Extremely Very

An artist’s impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope, to be built high up in the Andes – placed next to the London Eye, for some perspective…

Well, I’ve oscillated back from animals (Whales, T-Rexes) to SPACE again: so here’s something comic about telescopes. Earlier, I read this story on the UK’s financial commitment to the European Extremely Large Telescope (from the Guardian) – and was reminded how funny I always find the naming of telescopes. I’m pretty sure the last one was called the European Very Large Telescope. So it also begs the question of where they’ll go after ‘Extremely’…?

So that’s the starting point for this – the act of naming telescopes (and, perhaps, the difficult act of naming in something like astronomy) – and it takes the form of a conversation between two (antagonistic) astronomer-colleagues, perhaps in another telescope. The main thing is: it’s hopefully a bit of (if not Very, or Extremely) fun:

 

Very Extremely Very,

A Gazillibazoolian-Squillion

 

“BREATHTAKINGLY!” he gasped, before even a greeting, crashing the door against the wall. “That’s got to be it.”

“It’s hardly very objective,” the reply sighed. “We’re scientists, Dave – not advertisers. And good morning to you, too.”

“But that’s what I mean. ‘Extremely’, compared to what? Compared to the things we’re going to be looking at it’s not ‘extremely’ large at all.”

“We’re not comparing it to the things we’re looking at, Dave – we’re comparing it to the other telescopes. Compared to them, this one is extremely large.

A silence as both men make notes, turn dials, type furiously –   front for figuring out their next line of attack.

“By your rationale,” Simon quickly established a new angle, “each measuring instrument would then be relative to that which it measures. What would have become of the Large Hadron Collider then? The Super-Massive Underground Mega-Hoop Measurer of Ultra-Tiny But Super-Important Things?”

“Actually, that’s not a bad –

“ – oh for Heaven’s Sake.”

An impasse – the almost-daily ritual.

“I just think that ‘Extremely Large’ doesn’t do it justice. Although I guess it makes sense as part of a kind or product range, or something.” He assumes a sales-voice in the vein of QVC or similar: “If you enjoyed the features of the ‘Very Large Telescope’, you’ll just love the new features of the ‘Extremely Large Telescope’: now able to blend the distribution of dark matter and finely slice the evolution of black-holes and galaxies!”

From the other desk, he can almost hear Simon’s smile being suppressed:

“I’m not sure anyone’s going to call in and pay for it: the cost would barely fit on a TV screen.”

There is a pleasant spaciousness, both enjoying a rare intersection of humours.

“Well today,” Dave takes back up his hyperbolic cudgel, “I’m backing ‘Breathtaking’ – what else could it be described as? It’s as big as all the other ones put together. If you did that with a cake, people would be impressed. And cakes can’t see into the origins of Time itself, not that I know of.”

“That might depend on the cake. And anyway: isn’t that a compound word, ‘Breath-taking’? You’re like a kid, making up numbers to win a competition.” He assumes the manner of an eight-year-old Dave: “A squillion, a gazillibazoolian-squillion!”

A brief silence as Dave decides whether to be offended, or flattered, at the impression. Then:

“How many zeros would that have?”

“A bloobazoolian zeros, OK?”

“I see.”

The tapping of keyboards. This had become the tacit sign now that they had wasted enough time and should get on with some proper work – nebulae were on the menu today, as they had been for the last four years.

“I just think we’re not going to give the public a real sense of the scale of this thing unless the name truly reflects it. It just sounds so mid-range – like a family car: ‘extremely spacious’. We may as well call it the ‘Pretty Gosh Darn Big Telescope’”.

Now the silence of someone studiedly ignoring someone else. Then, the final barrage, the day’s last attempt:

“The Almighty Telescope?”

“Oh the Churches will love that.”

“The Strikingly Large Telescope?”

“We don’t want it striking anything or anyone except light, Dave…”

“The UNCOMMONLY-”

“Dave: get off Thesarus.com – NOW.”

Can You Take a Moment to Rate This Whale? or, The Appening

A Whale App? But not one like the one in my poem-story, I hope.

It appears I’m once again interested in all things animal (as opposed to all things Cosmic) right now – so, from Tyrransauridae last week, to Cetacea this.

Last week, I read a story about the Boston Port Authorities encouraging ships’ captains to use an iPad app which locates the likely positions of whales off the coast and then enables them to chart a slightly different course – thus avoiding the whales. It sounds like a very successful and important initiative -and a great use of the technology. We’ve been making the seas increasingly-noisy for our Baleen cousins which – so research suggests – is making life very hard for them down there. Not only that, but sometimes ships (as per the horrible image on the news story above) even strike whales – causing them injuries and possibly death.

In fact, it’s not my first piece of writing about whales – there’s another piece I wrote, called Whale Fall, which you can read by clicking here on the site for Heads and Tales (a storytelling group with whom I was involved in Bristol). The image of ‘whale fall’ – when a whale dies and sinks to the bottom, creating a ‘feeding frenzy’ as its nutrients and body dissipate amongst the bottom-feeders of the abyss – is at the centre of the story.

But save that for later, until you’ve read today’s poem-story about – well, decide for yourself. Certainly, the idea stemmed from this feeling of intrusion (an Intrusion is the collective noun for cockroaches, by the way – about which there’s a poem-post here). What would it be like if there was something we were drawn to, but which hurt us? (Such things are plentiful, actually). And which kept filling our space until we couldn’t avoid it any more?  I think that was what my subconscious was getting at – how the whales must be with Sonar signals – but I really can’t speak on its behalf, or on whales’ behalf.

And, as someone quoted to me – and I don’t know who said it, or something like it, so this may be a misquote: “Structure the things that come to you”. So that’s what I’ve done. The chance to fuse the ever-more-pervasive app-culture and this news story in s lightly sci-fi way was too tempting . The intersection between nature and technology is of great interest to me: what is ‘natural’, what is ‘technological’, are they always and forever anathema?

The results, I admit, are…odd and perhaps unsettling. But imagine how the whales feel.

 

Can You Spare a Moment to Rate This Whale? or,

The Appening

 

It was not even a noise, to begin with:

hovering somewhere between

sound and sensation. Not quite

synaesthetic – more like a key

which accessed new depths formerly

inhuman, imperceptible.

 

That was at around

10,000+ downloads, but

with each it became

more abyssal.

 

Your lowest vertebra would chime,

softly, sending the feeling through

the tissues joining the spine

to the ribs, oscillating up the neck and

the inner-ear’s instruments –

boiling like a fumarole –

clanged.

 

At around

500,000+ downloads

you could not tell whether the object

you were looking at was itself shaking

or if the optic nerve was being played

as a myelin harp in your head.

 

By that point, on the large screens in cavernous

departure halls, edited-in

between rolling news, the image of a winning

Humpback would flash up, having supplanted

last week’s five-star Narwhal.

 

Then, the merchandise, mimicking

the rounded-off baleen icon: children

wore woolly-hat Rights (attesting

their allegiance to a species) with

a broad hair-toothed grin

on their foreheads, and fleecy-fins,

flopping down, at once

scarf and mittens.

 

But as the number became ever larger,

100,000,000+ downloads,

words began to be missed, then sentences.

Records were broken and now

graphs and arrows struggled

to find space on the screens

between fast-cut images

of flippers, flukes and spouts.

 

On one occasion, a dolphin was slipped in

to the slide-show – a test, perhaps – but

the tabloid headlines and message-boards

turned the air blue

as the Atlantic once was.

 

At some point, the written reviews

stopped – when download figures exceeded

the screen’s capabilities – and there were only

five-star ratings. The app store, mute,

silently swam in icons

of cetaceans.

 

And then the first trip to A&E,

the first fatality. But still the stars,

still the sensation.

Canteenosaurus-Rex or, The Numbering of Teeth

A chomping Tyrranosauridae

A chomping Tyrranosauridae

Running a little behind after being struck down with a lurgy last week, but here is my latest sci-po – no wait! It’s a story.

I won’t say too much about the news story which inspired this, apart from the classic disclaimer: any likeness to persons living or fossilised genuinely is purely coincidental! So if Dr Dave Hone should read this – the curious narrator in this story is not you, it’s just inspired by the work you do (there’s the link to Project Daspletosaurus) and where it could take someone a lot less balanced than your good self (and their diet).

It’s a piece about the feeding habits – which may have been sporadically-cannibalistic in nature – of Tyrranosauridae (those terrible lizards of ‘Jurassic Park’ fame). The research is looking at how the T Rex’s scary cousins – such as the Daspletosaurus – ate, and supposes that they ate with a great variety of bites (not just swallowings-whole, as in ‘Jurassic Park’ – the science of which may, of course, be secondary to the story – and the merchandise).

No matter what fine-diners they were, it’s one family reunion I’m glad that evolution, meteors and the like has put pay to (nothing personal, I just think I’d get stuck in their teeth).

Here’s my story:

Canteenosarus-Rex or,

The Numbering of Teeth

The bones are the hardest part. As in, the most difficult. But – like all good researchers – he knows that 3-D computer models will only take him so far. He just wants to know – to really feel – what it would be like to have one as a guest at the dinner table; to witness their repertoire, the one he is sure they had, of chomps and nibbles.

At the start of the week, it was subtle – a basic attempt to avoid that simian lateral-chewing motion. An action, he muttered, evolved for plants. And that meant missing a whole link in the food-chain: those plentiful yet elusive herbivores, the duck-bill Hadrosaurs and horned Ceratopsians. The pelvis of one such creature – a Triceratops – was situated directly opposite the Daspletorsarus skull. His prime exhibit. He sat between them, fossil-eyed; glancing back and forth from the punctured pelvis to the sharp-toothed skull.

Small arrow-shaped marks were placed at each and every one of the impacts on the pelvis, like it was the scene of some 70-million-year-old crime. This was the analogy he used at public lectures, invoking CSI television-forensics cool: he needed, he said, to establish the Daspletosauruses ‘M.O.’.

Before this week, he had something of a routine: Monday was often a salad, pricked with cherry-tomatoes; Wednesday, leftover Mexican day – long enchilada tubes, dripping in cheese; Friday tended towards something hearty – a pie, perhaps, or a lasagne, layered like rock rich to be dug into. But salad had become too, well – brontosaurus, for the venture. Redundant. Hefty. Out of date. Now, many other foods just seemed so inauthentic to him.

By mid-week, his needs had outgrown the habitat of the laboratory canteen – there was just too much chicken. He would never learn anything from chicken – too splintery, too avian. He needed something chunkier, a larger leaf-eater. Beef was OK, or perhaps…giraffe, rhinoceros? Unlikely. He had to be reasonable. Perhaps this was what happened to the Tyrranosauridae, he thinks – to make them turn. Outgrowing their food supplies; that’s when they started to become cannibals.

So the packed-lunches began. Whatever protestations he made about being a feminist, his wife wore the trousers where it came to food. So, gingerly, as he stepped from the Friday front doorstep:

‘Leave the bones in,’ he said, maintaining earnest eye-contact. ‘And cook it quite rare. Really rare.’

She scanned his face for some sign of the joke that was to follow, but it did not come.

‘But what’s the point in a lamb-chop sandwich, when you have to remove the bones anyway?’ she entreated.

‘Rare,’ he repeated. ‘Please? I’m just feeling red-blooded this week.’

‘Lamb-chop sandwiches. Rare.’ She confirms. ‘Really rare.’ A sigh.

So this lunchtime, he sits above the white expanse of table and leers in the way he imagines his subject would: salivating at the feast to come, spreading out across the ceramic plain, the prey’s bills and horns scattering away from his mighty incisors. Nobody has sat with him for the last couple of days, but why would he mind? He is, after all, a top predator – and they hunt alone. He looks at the sandwich and considers which type of bite to deploy – something bone-shattering and bold, or something delicate and tendon-stripping.

Back in the lab, he gazes admiringly at the skull atop its plinth, numbering its teeth; as he tries to remove some lamb gristle with his tongue, he counts the incisors and molars his own skeleton sprouts. Insufficient, he thinks, as he reaches the end of the row and meets gummy nothingness.

Several tonnes, not 13 stone; over 60 razor-teeth, not his piffling set of 32 – nay, 31 after today’s lunch – blunt instruments. He wasn’t even a Daspletosaurus drumstick, barely a rump steak.

In the company of his skull and his other, he sits quietly, contemplatively, numbering his teeth – he doesn’t want to end up anywhere, you know, weird, with all this. So he imagines – just imagines – his own, as twice as numerous and twice as sharp as they really are.

Imagination, he thinks. Empathy. That’s what separates us, from the cannibals.

The science of poetry, the poetry of science

The science of poetry, the poetry of science

I found this article by Ruth Padel a few days ago and just got around to reading it.

If there was to be an ethos behind my writing of weekly science-poems, this could very well be it.

“What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d” – as, I think (and I know it’s done and done), Alexander Pope wrote. That feels like the case here – I certainly couldn’t have written it so eloquently and informed-ly!

So thanks for clarifying my intention in these writing endeavours, Ruth – for that clarity (with all the attendant and joyous uncertainty, or ‘Negative Capability’) is surely what writing can do.

The Angry Birds

Part of an excellent comic strip on cat killers from: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/cats_actually_kill – go on their website and buy their stuff!  (There – hopefully now he won’t mind my borrowing the picture and linking to the site…)

 

Last week, I read this story about just how many birds and other small mammals our domestic cat friends (or fiends) actually kill…And the answer is a LOT of small birds and mammals: in the USA, “between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals annually”. Wow.

Now I make no secret of the fact I’ve always had a patchy relationship with domestic cats, even though I had them in the family home growing up. There’s just something I don’t trust about a lot of cats. Which is not to say I don’t meet a cat sometimes I get on with – but I’m not of the mindset of a lot of cat-owners and cat-lovers who see them as these charmingly-aloof and ever-so-‘sassy’ little characters. To me, they usually seem just plain rude-aloof and scheming, not sassy. Not all cats. But yes, for me – most cats. It’s not personal, cats – it’s general.

I realise I’ll probably get ‘trolled’ for expressing my ambivalence about cats, but so be it. I’m a dog person. There we are. (And yes, I know dogs have been used to hunt for millennia.) So perhaps this story played into my feeling that cats are up to something – which is mostly irrational on my part (see dog comment). But it’s not irrational to be concerned about the amount of wildlife they’re killing.

As is my first-person fashion, I wrote a piece from the birds’ perspective. And, being as it’s something of a cultural phenomenon (have you seen the amount of kids wearing Angry Birds hats?), the title references a popular app-game – adding a definite article to avoid any pesky (c)opyright issues. Hopefully? Surely?

Poetry from apps – how postmodern. Po-app-ry. Said game seems to involve hurling bird-heads (or weirdly-spherical birds) at platforms in order to destroy them. This – call me macabre (I call myself macabre) – reminded me of those little ‘gifts’ cats seem to leave on doorsteps and hence informed some of the poem. Once, a cat of ours left a blue-tit head, facing the door, the right way up and in the centre of the doormat. Aww, a….gift?

 

The Angry Birds

 

Dusk. The swish of the tear

in the door. Silence. The sky a cage

of black-blue branches. Breathing.

 

A darkness thickens our feathers,

sticks to the points of our beaks.

We petrify. By the table of bait,

it waits. A first screech flickers

life into the street-lights. Then –

reflected on narrow green eyes –

a manicured lawn of limbs.

 

The baby ape takes in tiger cubs.

We watch you through the glass,

face alight, twiddling your thumbs.

Playing games in the night,

with our heads.

 

From up here, we look down on

the pastel television-picture within:

Kitty returns, is named, tickled under the chin;

delicately purrs at an opening tin.

 

And you, unwitting napkin,

with blood all over

your hunter’s hands.

 

 

And the news story by which the poem was inspired: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21236690

 

‘As Above, So Below’ or, ‘Capital E. Control A. Control C. Control V.’

Galaxies or neurons? The Universe is, or is like, a Giant Brain. Or the Brain is, or is like, a Little Universe. Same diff.

Last week, I read this story:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/11/27/physicists-universe-giant-brain_n_2196346.html

It’s not a very recent/topical one (from the end of last year) – but being as it’s about the self-similarity of networks ranging from the internet, the brain and the Universe itself, I figure a few weeks isn’t that significant.

Anyway – the headline is ‘Physicists Find Evidence That The Universe Is A ‘Giant Brain”. An intriguing one, is it not?

So I wanted to write something about the idea of networks – and the people who work in this kind of theoretical mathematics, which is so entirely beyond my understanding (technically, if not thematically). I don’t know whether working in these kind of mind-blowing theoretical (yet perhaps realer-than-real) realms of science would make you more connected to the world around you, or indeed make you feel the total insubstantial nature of the world around you. So that’s the feeling from which I started to write, imagining one of the scientists involved, lit by the glowing bank of computers which must have been deployed to crunch this much data…

As I posted the news story on Facebook (one of the networks it mentions), a friend used the phrase ‘As Above, So Below’ to sum it up – and that formed the starting point of the poem. At what point is such an aphorism just as useful as all the data we can find? When do we cease to be able to understand (and just need to allow the Universe to get on with it)?

I don’t know – but I hope you enjoy the poem. The ending fully let out my inner-hippie, and I make no apologies for it 😉

 

As Above, So Below

or, Capital E. Control A. Control C. Control V.

 

‘Universe Is A Giant Brain’: journos, tip-tapping innocently,

will claim they cannot see the difference between,

like, metaphor and simile.

 

Knowing this, the analysis complete,

he sat at the centre of the screens, replete

in the data. The sense of having caught

something. Then, a gagging spider, he

Selected All and hit Delete.

 

So, on every page of the report

he reproduced the phrase in haste –

Copy Paste Copy Paste:

As Above, So Below.

 

 

As that very morning, LinkedIn

had asked him if he would like to connect with

Everything. Capital E.

Control A. Control C. Control V.

 

He uttered: Fundamental Laws,

as Facebook asked him what he thought about

Everything? Capital E. Pushing question marks

down cables in the floor; whispering answers up

into the lattice-dark. As

Everything updated its status:

As Above, So Below.

With a winking smiley 😉

 

Control A? Control C? Control V?

Capital E. Controls Cosmos. Controls Velocity.

Consciousness Copy. Vastness Paste.

Control Facebook. Paste Brain.

Copy Everything. Paste Same.

Cut Above. Paste Below.  And so

the report was pasted onto his profile:

As Above, So Below.

 

So, he sent Everything a message

as the single word ‘Love’. Capital L. Thinking:

As Below, So Above.

Crinkly Fingers or, A Lonely Fisherman Sings to the Catch

The Loneliness of a (Prune-Fingered) Trawler Fisherman

This morning, I read a lovely news story by Jonathan Amos about research on crinkly fingers:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-20951232

Scientists led by Dr Tom Smulders have discovered that prune-like bath-fingers may have more to them than simple ‘Ooh, look how old and wrinkled my fingers look!’ value. They have surmised that this may be an evolutionary development to aid in handling wet objects: in their experiment, this was marbles – but out in ‘nature’, this could be fruit or fish, I suppose. Or anything that is – as the saying goes – slippery when wet (is it a saying, or just something that many things are?).

The researchers asked people to carry out a marble-moving task and discovered that those who had wet hands – and consequently got prune-fingers – were more effective at the task. I suppose if those marbles were actually tiny berries, or some curious spherical animal-foodstuff (wood-lice? frog-spawn? Small wet round things all seem a bit witch-y…), then having crinkly fingers could make all the difference to a hunter-gather-omnivore species like Homo Sapiens Sapiens. The difference between eating (and being ‘selected’ by evolution) and starving (and being ‘out of the evolutionary race’). So perhaps that’s why – so the researchers say – it might be triggered involuntarily by our nervous system, instead of being simply a ‘side-effect’ of being soggy.

As I enjoyed the story so much, I thought I’d base one of this week’s sci-poems around it. Here’s a sort of ballad, or song, I suppose – written by a character I thought would have wet, crinkly, prune fingers much of the time – a fisherman. Perhaps I’ve seen too many Neutrogena adverts, or something. (And maybe as a boat-dweller, I’m drawn to such characters!)

As it went on, it evolved (as poems and humans do) into something a little sad (and silly, all at once) – but I hope you enjoy its rhyme-y mariner-y quality.

(Incidentally, while looking for some appropriate music, I found Britten’s ‘Four Sea Interludes’: I hadn’t ever listened all the way through and I recommend them – incredibly oceanic, panoramic and gorgeous).

 

A Lonely Fisherman Sings to the Catch

 

My coral fingers, these shrivelled hands

Grasping now Oceans, are slipp’d from land,

But my ship and the mesh, they can be no match:

For you are slippery when wet, dear Catch,

And your flicking tail is hard to get.

 

The crests of waves are your steely eyes,

Your limbs froth the clouds from the salty skies –

Yet my bark only ever glimpses a snatch:

For you are flicking hard to get, dear Catch,

Though my gaze and fingers are become a net.

 

These delta’d thumbs, these puckered claws –

Could they not lift you up from the swell’s great maws?

I will climb down the line, I will scratch at the deck

If you ne’er flicker in my net, dear Catch.

My candle sinks low now, my eyes stinging wet.

For your light slips away, dear, and the night’s bitter yet.

 

Oh and if you enjoyed that one, then here’s a link to another piece – Powder-Monkey – which I wrote a couple of years ago and is of a similarly seafaring and slightly-tragic (and very rhyme-centric, as a villanelle) vibe:

http://skylabstories.wordpress.com/2010/08/07/powder-monkey/