Archive for October, 2012

Queen of Diamonds: A Tale of Two Dinosaurs


Queen of Diamonds showing a stegosaurusThis dinosaur’s preserved for all to see,
so you and I can tell how life got wings.
That dinosaur’s preserved in you and me;
its atoms passed the years in living things.

“This dinosaur the fossil represents,
has lasted so much longer than I will,”
that dinosaur (in human shape) laments
while cleaning off a bone upon a hill.

This dinosaur’s remains lay still through eras
to show us that its kin were once alive.
That dinosaur’s remains run through chimeras
though consciousness of neither can survive.

This dinosaur thinks nothing in its head.
That dinosaur as well will soon be dead.

 

Yesterday I went on a fairly spontaneous trip to the Jura with some friends. We parked the car in a Jurassic park, and saw some dinosaur tracks; not too surprising, I suppose, since the Jurassic period was named after this region. I’ve hastily put up a few unedited, barely-viewed photographs; you can read more about what’s in them at the dinoplagne site.

Anyway, a friend said something about her remains not lasting that long, and it occurred to me that if everything were fossilised there’d be nothing left to make new things with, and we were actually made of atoms that had been in dinosaurs. I didn’t think that was necessarily good enough to write about, but I still hadn’t come up with a better idea by this evening. In search of a better idea, I looked at last cycle’s Queen of diamonds (which I think is better than this one, although it’s a little weird) and was reminded that there’s such a thing as a sonnet, and they only take 14 lines and have plenty of structure to help the uninspired writer fill them in. So I wrote this first draft of a sonnet about dinosaurs. Oddly enough, odd-numbered lines in odd-numbered stanzas, and both lines of the final couplet, start with spondees instead of iambs, or at least that’s they way they should be read.

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Jack of Diamonds: They might not be giants


Note: this poem is now available on a poster!

“If I have seen farther,” the scientist said,
“it’s not because I am a giant.
“Great minds of the past have helped me get ahead;
it’s their shoulders on which I’m reliant.”

“Now listen to me!” said the great on whose shoulder
the first one was glad to have stood.
“I’m quite short of stature, it’s just that I’m older
and those before me were so good.”

And sure enough, this one was perched on the neck
of a giantist of great renown
who balanced in turn on another; by heck!
It’s little guys all the way down.

And some were thought giants, and some were thought midgets
and some were thought nothing at all,
but each would insist, “Those below were no idjits.
It’s them that have made me so tall.”

And scrambling around them their fans would aspire,
to see something not seen before
by climbing the tower of dwarves, ever higher
for glimpses, or footholds, or more.

Most could not scale to the summit in time,
before their peak fitness would end.
Some found it tough and abandoned the climb
while some would, with vigor, descend:

Aware that such heights were so taxing to reach,
they helped to lift people and hopes,
inventing new ladders and platforms to teach,
securing and showing the ropes.

“They might not be giants, but they must go far
and that journey isn’t for me.
I’ll boost them through science, raise them and the bar
and profit from what they will see.”

So said the teacher while lifting a child
on shoulders so humble and stressed.
The youth saw a vista that had them beguiled
and bounded straight up to the crest.

Quotes similar to “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” have been attributed to many scientists and scholars. It’s been bugging me for a while, because even if the people whose shoulders they’re standing on are metaphorically taller than average, they’re nowhere near as big as how giants are imagined today, and they’re surely standing on someone else’s shoulders. There are no giants; it’s a tower of dwarves, and if it ever looks like it’s made of ivory, it’s just because the dwarves don’t spend enough time in the sun. You don’t need to be a giant to get up onto the topmost shoulders, but you need to do an awful lot of climbing; there’s a lot to learn before you can discover something new these days. Enjoy the view on the way up.

Luckily, we have people who invent new climbing techniques and equipment, and telescopes to see more when we get up there. This poem focusses more on teachers, but they could be science writers, YouTubers, educational charities, scientific songwriters (yes, even the ones that might be giants), inventors of more efficient lab equipment (the real or metaphorical telescope), maybe even code monkeys like me. Now that I’ve listed those things, it reminds me of the song ‘Somebody Will‘ by Sassafrass.

I would love to see illustrations of the tower of dwarves.

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