Tag Archives: bodies

The truth and amoebas

The mighty amoeba

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.

Most recent common ancestor, collapsed tree

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.

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Filed under ageing, body, brasil, Brazil, entropy, existentialism, life, philosophy, truth, vanity, youth

Old

bldg-salvador-alt1

Rust red water seeps from the walls.

It comes out between
dirty white tiles that
cling to the surface by only the
faintest memory of
glue or caulking.

At this point,
cleaning could do great
damage, for the whole thing is
held together by
piles of time itself.
This is no dilemma.

It’s what happens when things get old.

bldgs-belem-alt-2

Notes and Credits

Photos:  I took these photos in Brazil.  The first is from 1998, a delapidated building in the old quarter of Salvador, Bahia, the capital of the Brazilian colony from its founding in 1549 to 1763 (when the capital was moved to Rio de Janeiro).  The second is from 1993, in downtown Belém along the waterfront on the the Bahia de Guarajá at the mouth of the Amazon River.  The façade stood like this for at least five more years, for I know it was that way in 1998.  I can’t recall if this façade was ever torn down or refurbished as the front to a new building.  Memory fails me now (see the poem).

The poem:  I just moved to a new apartment, new to me, in an old building.  We’re dealing with a few old building issues as I try to get settled amid the boxes upon boxes.  My friend Amy calls this a “liminal period,” and she is right.  Everything is up for grabs.  I could throw things away.  I could re-evaluate the value of things and keep them.  I could completely rearrange my material surroundings and invent something different.

I moved myself with four of my friends, all dads to friends of my son.  We moved me on Sunday.  We felt a little older on Monday.  At the same time, I am reading Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters and Erica Wagner’s Ariel’s Gift as I prepare to finish off the next post on Brasília.  In my quiet moments, I can’t help but think in short lines of verse and hear them, over and over, in the silent spaces between my thoughts and actions.

The liminal experience of moving is not fun.  It unearths too much.  Our dust is comfortable, even if we pretend to vacuum it away every week.  Unsettling everything creates a dilemma:  deal with it or shut it away as quickly as possible.  The good thing about creating this posting is that it made me dig through old photographs (I knew exactly the ones I needed, and I knew exactly where the dusty boxes and albums containing them were).  Some old photos aren’t easy to look at.  “Too many lovers,” to quote the title of a song written by my old bandmate and best friend P.H. Fred.  Others are good to find, bringing on moments of reverie that soften the blows of age and loss, reminding one of a life lived well, and pointing forward in hope, for we will continue to live well.

Dedication:  To old people everywhere.  May their wisdom remain with us.

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Filed under ageing, body