It hangs from a twig, cast like a monument
yet inside there is rearrangement – miracles
that shuffle laws and cogs and planets.
The insipid Layman caterpillar, stripped
of its brown coat, is strapped into a golden
life jacket that invites time to fan its wings.
Within its embrace the chrysalis holds all
the secrets of butterflies, to stretch and fly
from clivia to arum lily to wonder. All it needs
is space and the wisdom of rearrangement, and
a little time.
Like voyeuring into a distant bedroom, I wonder
what Neanderthals ate for Sunday lunch
and what they did for fun on their day off.
What about those after us, the chimera of beasts,
the concocted wretch? Perhaps they will know
their godness, rather than consumption. Perhaps
they will know they can fly before they can.
We should follow the inevitable path, propel
ourselves into the abyss of uncertainty
accompanied only by our arrogance and limited
mastery of nature’s laws, to take man as he could be,
harbinger to superwoman, not merely as he is.
Some towers scythed and cities marooned but we go.
We can already leer into bedrooms to come –
we’ve grown a man’s ear on a mouse’s back
and produced electronic blood.
I am not this flesh so insert bionic eyes,
splice my genes to point in new directions,
fill my plastic veins with blood that flows
by remote-controlled commands. Attach
those factory-made fingers that never tire
and that lab-grown heart that never aches.
I am not this body, invincible, I am
this spirit, wandering.
In the Shrewsbury library, I see a wasp
that my history says I should fear.
Frail, it struggles up a five metre pane,
every tentative reach of its eyelash legs
a gasp toward freedom. But no matter
which way its instincts call, man defeats
its evolution. We came too soon, it seems,
with our exponential need for space and
death and windows that confound wasps
behind invisible traps. Perhaps, in sunrises
to come, wasps will understand windows
but unless we heed the lines in such rooms
stacked full, half-understood,
we may never see this marvel.
The Salopians say I resemble Darwin;
it must be the white beard,
because I have no theory
to anger the woolly locals or their god.
These moments, evolution, occur
by the waking of voices within, not
the introduction of new; like the selection
of a song in a jukebox, not the introduction
of a vinyl LP to a record player.
Place may invite our tongues to new dances,
or the fashion of new tools, but these tongues
are not new, they rest in the ridges
of our ingredients waiting for yeast
or flame or a good stirring to dust them off
and into action. This is how we know we can fly –
we feel our wings flapping with every heartbeat.
Ask the monks who crafted Wenlock Abbey,
or any explorer; ask the musician, the painter
of invisible vistas; ask the newborn baby.
we can wait on nature’s Gantt chart
and selection algorithm or we can engineer
ourselves into becoming – lungs
that inhale toxic air, stomaches
that drink polluted water. Soon hippos
will have mechanical fins and bats
fibre optic vision, so why should we not
upload our personalities from cellphones
and GMO our babies?
The hills will hold our memories;
we can always tap the mountains for wisdom.
If I live to 2059
I will celebrate two hundred years
of Darwin’s great book with my own –
‘The Future of Humankind’ perhaps,
in which I lament Sapiens’ sudden rise
and imminent fading. A tragedy it will be,
the text, the epilogue to his story
and the absence of future Sapiens readers.
Although, I am told it will adorn the history
sections of future bookstores, dog-eared,
among texts on Sapiens anatomy
and the foolishness of our time.
Athol Williams is a South African poet currently completing a PhD in Political Philosophy at Oxford University. He has published four books of poetry, received four literary awards and had poems published in over forty literary publications internationally. Athol holds graduate degrees from Harvard, MIT, LSE, London Business School and Oxford.
This article was featured in Matter Thoughts Issue 1 – Horizons