Henry moves his vertebrates,
And Louis tunes his tunicates,
While Malcolm swims his sharks and skates
To battle Olaf’s ranks of starfish pawns.
Boris risks bacillus rods
To fight with Oskar’s fungal squads,
As Richard launches octopods
To counter Philip’s shrimp-less group of prawns.
So James arrays his gymnosperms,
Like Ferdinand his cyan germs,
And Otto’s nematody worms,
At Charles’ yet-to-be-discovered spawns.
I should point out that the title is a mnemonic for the Linnaean ranks of life: Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus & Species. Actually, Domain is a relatively new addition, and plants have Divisions instead of Phylums (or Phyla if you’re a pedant), and the whole thing now looks hopelessly simplistic in the wake of cladistics, but it’s still a handy starting-point.
I’ve mites on my lashes,
And yeasts in my guts,
And hundreds of species
Of germs on my skin;
But not cos of rashes,
Or buboes or cuts,
Or dry parts or greasies,
Or illness within.
For ev’ry itch I curse,
There lurk my lurkers:
I know you’re there, my pretties
And I know I am your food.
My constant hitch-hikers:
My loafers and workers.
You are my troops, my cities,
You’re my nations and my brood.
Way down my intestines
Are hundreds of others,
Who outpace each cell
In my body by ten;
And while some infestings
Are life-giving brothers.
They yet could rebel
If they turn pathogen.
For ev’ry inch of me,
I am outnumbered;
And long before my birthing
Saw you terraform my loam.
I thrive unflinchingly,
Yet so encumbered.
Be gentle with this earthling
As you make yourselves at home.
Since I wrote this, the theory that bacterial cells outnumber our own by 10:1 has been called into question, and a figure of 4:1 is now proposed. Alas, I have already rhymed with ‘ten’, so it has to stay.
You undergo life just a little too much,
You taste ev’ry nuance and stray molecule
In vision and sound and in palate and touch,
You never can blend them to seamless and whole.
But the good and the bad must equally live
Inextricably encurled –
You are, I fear, too sensitive,
To suffer this imperfect world.
This verse was inspired by a friend who insists she can’t use teabags because she can taste the paper.
Don’t be so angry, they said,
No screaming tirade;
Don’t be so angry, so terribly angry,
Your cause is ill-made.
Speak your words quiet and potent, they said,
Sugar your bile and soften your tread,
Keep your breath focused and reckoning dead,
And sharpen your blade.
This building, is it still so great ?
No masterpiece or pioneer;
And now it’s looking quite a state,
And none too safe in brick and slate –
It really ought to face its fate,
Admit the end is near.
It did it us proud, it served us well,
But now it’s really past its best;
And as its city-centre dwell
Has far more worth as bank, hotel,
Or office block – we had to sell,
In public int‘er‘est.
So down it comes, and in its place
Development beguiling new:
A fresh design this site will grace,
A source of jobs and conf’rence space;
We may yet choose to save the face,
And gut the insides through.
These architects with magic touch
That turns the golden into shite –
Their helping hand’s a concrete clutch
Which crushes, smothers eversuch
And chokes the life they hate so much,
Because it shone so bright.
And when they try to match the theme,
They cannot think along that line –
Just vague pastiche and stripped-down scheme.
Yet form must come from vein and seam
As penetrating all like steam,
And scream these forms are mine.
Their new designs cannot be stood
Besides the old, for both then wilt;
So segregate each neighbourhood,
And save the past whene’er we could
For once it’s gone, it’s gone for good –
Will never be rebuilt.