Your body isn’t your own,
exposed for all it really is:
permeable, full of holes,
part of the world.
A floating thing tossed and spit
on tumbling water not always clear,
you become home to others,
little animals here
at play in the world.
You could be a tree, or grass, under
tiny feet that make no sound of their own,
their steps heard in quickened heartbeats
and restless groans
that shake the world.
You’re full of holes that leave
you open, a window lost of glass,
panes rattling, short of breath,
waiting, waiting, hoping to pass
this sense of a world
stumbling moments from death,
moments from life.
The name of the poem is Sickness. I wrote it in Belém in February of 1993, as I was coping with the onset of amoebic dysentery. It was rather a rough time, and this, the worst and latest in a cascade of different ailments since my arrival in Brazil the previous November. I was adjusting to my new home, I told myself, but I began to re-conceive my relationship to the world. Except for a bout of the flu at age 9 and a one-day bug at age 13, I’d never been seriously ill in my life. When I met the amoebas, my body-as-fortress gave way to a new understanding of myself as a being in the world, no different really than a bug, participating in the world along with all the other creatures of existence, open to all those creatures, part of the landscape. In the world – the amoebas helped me understand Heidegger and Sartre.
We’re all part of the landscape here, guests of each other, parts of each other. Somewhere in the human genome, shot through my body and yours, there is DNA that we inherited from a common of ancestor with amoebas. According to Richard Dawkins in his lovely The Ancestor’s Tale, our most recent common ancestor (MRCA in biospeak) would have existed between about 1.3 and 2 billion years ago. This being, some kind of single-celled thing, would have eventually given rise to amoeba and other protozoans, in one evolutionary path, and the things that became plants and animals on another path.
All creation is locked in struggle for the limited energy of this world. This struggle produces rainforests when so many beings stretch to outdo others in an effort to trap the sun. The struggle produces abundance as well as scarcity, cooperation as often as annhiliation, and a long-standing collaboration between us humans and the hoards of friendly bacteria (and even some amoeba) that live inside our bodies and help us be “human,” as it were.
Notes and Credits
A really interesting article about amoebas can be found here, by Wim van Egmond, and it includes really great photos of amoebas in action. The photo of an amoeba at the beginning of this posting is taken from the site, Helpful Health Tips, which discusses the causes and treatments for amoebic dysentery. More detail on the different kinds of amoebas can be found in this piece on Innvista. Getting past dysentery meant mountains of Flagyl and a lot of examinations and tests, not only in Brazil but also after I got back to the US in 1993 and in 1994. I never was the same again, but then again, were we ever?
When I was looking around the web for amoeba-related sites, photos, and such, I came across this company, Rogue Amoeba Software, LLC, and it’s blog. It has nothing to do with this post specifically, except that it’s a very cool name for a company, and especially suggestive for a software firm. Our computers and their software are, like our bodies, permeable, full of holes,
part of the world. We’ve made information systems in our image, both on purpose and by accident, just as it was presumed by some we ourselves were made.