Jad Abumrad Reads an Ode to the Glory of Tiny Creatures and Celebrates His Mother’s Scientific Persistence
In praise of the invisible heroisms and unglamorous triumphs of nature and the human spirit.
By Maria Popova
The Universe in Verse was a highlight of my year — a beautiful evening celebrating the improbable yet wondrous intersection of science and poetry, raising funds for the defense of science and the arts from political assault. Artists, writers, and scientists read poems about trailblazers of science, many of whom women, and about scientific discoveries that have revolutionized our understanding of the universe and of our place in it.
Jad Abumrad of Radiolab, himself the product of two scientists, prefaced his reading of poet Pattiann Rogers’s tender ode to single-cell creatures with an homage to his mother’s persistence in studying a single protein for thirty-five years — a testament to the unglamorous, invisible heroisms that have propelled the vast majority of humanity’s scientific endeavor, proof of what pioneering microbiologist Erwin Chargaff extolled as the value of unremembered work. Please enjoy:
ADDRESS: THE ARCHAEANS, ONE-CELL CREATURES
by Pattiann Rogers
Although most are totally naked
and too scant for even the slightest
color and although they have no voice
that I’ve ever heard for cry or song, they are,
nevertheless, more than mirage, more
than hallucination, more than falsehood.
They have confronted sulfuric
boiling black sea bottoms and stayed,
held on under ten tons of polar ice,
established themselves in dense salts
and acids, survived eating metal ions.
They are more committed than oblivion,
more prolific than stars.
Far too ancient for scripture, each
one bears in its one cell one text—
the first whit of alpha, the first
jot of bearing, beneath the riling
sun the first nourishing of self.
Too lavish for saints, too trifling
for baptism, they have existed
throughout never gaining girth enough
to hold a firm hope of salvation.
Too meager in heart for compassion,
too lean for tears, less in substance
than sacrifice, not one has ever
carried a cross anywhere.
And not one of their trillions
has ever been given a tombstone.
I’ve never noticed a lessening
of light in the ceasing of any one
of them. They are more mutable
than mere breathing and vanishing,
more mysterious than resurrection,
too minimal for death.
For more highlights from The Universe in Verse, savor astrophysicist Janna Levin’s reading of Adrienne Rich’s tribute to women in astronomy, my reading of Polish Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska’s ode to the number pi, Amanda Palmer’s reading of Neil Gaiman’s feminist poem about science, poet Tracy K. Smith’s ode to the Hubble Space Telescope, Rosanne Cash’s reading of Adrienne Rich’s homage to Marie Curie, Diane Ackerman’s poem about our search for extraterrestrial life, playwright Sarah Jones’s chorus-of-humanity tribute to Jane Goodall, and poet Elizabeth Alexander’s cautionary poem about the misuses of science, then watch the complete show for a two-hour serenade to science and the transformative power of poetry.
Published December 12, 2017