Top to Bottom: or, Reading Good Stuff: Margulis and Pines

I am reading the essays of biologist Lynn Margulis and her son Dorion Sagan. As a biologist and peerer at the microcosmic, Margulis sees the world as divided basically into bacteria and everything else, and basically regards humankind as a big vehicle for the wily adventures of bacteria over time.

At the same time I’m reading the poems of Paul Pines, Jungian, fisherman, seaman, flaneur of NYC jazz clubs, Bourbon Street, the beaches of Belize, and the ideas of ancient philosophers and gods.

The juxtaposition is mind-whirling.

Margulis’s essays contain sentences such as: “Whether we are discussing the disappearing membranes of endosymbiotic bacteria on their way to becoming organelles or the breakdown within the global human socius of the Berlin Wall, we must revise this rectilinear notion of the self, of the bounded I.”

Here is Pines: “Father//cross my fears inside the lotus/move me to grace like a swallow/my soul is an anagram show me its shape/I am not who I am”

I love Margulis’s large view of time and life, and her unromantic and yet appreciative consideration of humankind, our cells plodding along, our genes unraveling and reraveling. “Thinking, like excreting and ingesting, results from lively interactions of a being’s chemistry,” blandly states an essay by Margulis, Sagan, and scientist Ricardo Guerrera. So there it is, all my lines towards poems, my strategies toward publication, hopes and dreams, all just a bunch of elements having fallen off the table of elements and rolling around inside of me.

But I love too that Pines enshrines in his poems our human imagination, the gods we’ve conjured, the dreams considered, the ways in which we affect each other, we tender bacteria-vehicles, we wayward chemistry experiments. He writes:

Einstein
talked about
a unifying idea in Nature
the way Aquinas did
an uncreated Creator
about space
generating itself
out of itself

the way Nicholas Cusanus
did a circle

whose center
is everywhere…

and now we know
what they meant
may still be detectable
at the moment
of creation
as a broken symmetry
that eventually comes to rest
in a symmetry
so sublime
it contains
the death
of every atom
and every star
and unites us
even as we speak

I read for this. I read for this kind of shoving around of my perspective on life, this dizzying shift of the telescope’s scope, skin of a hand, pocked and creviced as a planet, and dust of star, plumed, fingered. The ridiculousness of what we are; the sublime. This is the grounded and the heavenward, this is literature of what we are, and of the best we can be.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorian Sagan, Dazzle Gradually, Chelsea Green, 2007.
Pines, Paul, A Furnace in the Shadows, Dos Madres Press, forthcoming.

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