this language of stones, of flowers, of sticks
etched in souls like star light sentences
an incandescent crystal omphalos caverned
with neanderthal love goddesses
the language of birds crying to clouds
of marvellous assignations
of tectonic rifts and invisible fireworks
slippery as mediations of earthquakes
the language of leaf, of stream, of bud
deep among the roots
scryer of rainbows
of aquifer signifying constellations
of geological fault lines
and cumulonimbus clouds
the language of coral reef
in emergent canopies of kelp
in swaying in a cthonic phlogiston
in a language
spoken in graveyards of ivory coral
but subterranean as heights
absconding flying fish awash in flame retardant –
what were they thinking?
on platform 2
of enclosed aerodynamic ventilation
spewing hallucinogenic administrative errors
on flight cancellations
in worldly endorphins
irradiating pearl shell
Venus birthed naked
girdled by patriarchal schlock
I’m drawn to the title of a book, Small is beautiful by the economist E.F. Schumacher (1973). I remember it being widely publicised when I was younger. I’m not sure whether I read it or not. Memory is not a reliable guide, though I do like the title because suggests a rallying point from which to survey the damage done by big banks, big corporations, big government, big profits. That tired old imperative: size matters.
Our planet is under threat from toxic bigness. Size needs to be challenged.
Small is inviting, multiple, changeable, responsive. The bacteria survives while the mastodon dies out. We’re told small changes hardly matter though isn’t it as true that both small and big change is desirable?
Small is beautiful. Small mutates, puts out feelers, finds a way when the enormous collapses under its own weight.
Peculiar Mormyrid’s invitation to ‘seek out the marvellous and the miniscule and insignificant’ is is timely one and rings a bell, if not a whole carillon of them.
Reveries on smallness remind me of an ongoing series of daydreams I had as a young child where I imagined being able to reduce myself to microscopic size. Smallness allows access to places – to worlds – where the long arm of authority can’t reach. The change in perspective reveals the monolithic, dull and overbearing can also be home to multitudes of tiny mysteries and revelations.
I’m reminded of the appeal of the Tom Thumb stories (Hop ‘o’my Thumb in some collections), the wonderful 2015 Marvel movie Antman, and Fantastic Voyage, the 1966 science fiction film by Richard Fleischer, later novelised by Isaac Asimov.
We want to see, to experience the world from new perspectives, to escape the stranglehold of appearances, the bludgeoning of a complex and intricately complex pluriverse into something mundane and deadening.
The microscosmos spills into the spaces between dream states. Perhaps ‘oozes’ is a better word, contaminating the the comparmentalised, shut down, proscribed regions of memory and desire. Some of these spaces so thoroughly written over, shut down and obscured not even fossil memories remain…
Spilling ink onto the page in my art work allows me to recover those small worlds. An awakening to the possibility of smallness. Not ground shaking? But an illuminating one of ink and water colours, simple brush strokes, splashes of colour depicting microscopic eruptions, intersections and expansions.
Almost as exciting as my first glimpse through a microscope…
When I was around ten years old I managed to save up and buy a small microscope. It cost $2.99 back in the days when money went a lot further. But it worked, magnifying from 10, 50, 150 to 200 times. The images were not always clear but when I found a good one the excitement made me want to share my modest discovery.
Scientific investigation has revealed our bodies are awash in microrganisms, inside and out, they permeate us. We’re saturated by them. These invisible allies enable efficient digestion, growth, longevity and even effect our mental health.
Aristotle believed that when the stomach was ‘not well…the others [organs] are evil[ly] disposed’. Recent science seems to confirm this view explaining how specific bacterial strains in the human gut are crucial to the brain’s chemical balance effecting the production of endorphins, seratonin, dopamine and oxytocin. In effect, the bugs in our stomach regulate our energy levels, sleep patterns, sex drive, enthusiasms and moods.
So much for the fantasy of human domination of the bio-verse. More accurate to think of ourselves as a changing populations of microbes. We’re hive, incubator, hatchery, and transportation for the hordes inside.
I’m reminded of the defining influence of microorganisms on human history: the plagues, infections, poxes and other microbial ailments wriggling and oozing through our histories.
From the first recorded outbreak of flea-borne Bubonic Plague in 542 during the rule of Justinian 1 in the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire), deaths from the outbreak are estimated at between 25 million to 50 million (wikipedia, Bubonic Plague), to the second outbreak in Europe between 1340 – 1400 (some experts argue for a two hundred year outbreak period) responsible for the loss of a third of the entire human population.
The Great Plague of London from 1665 -1666 resulted in 100,000 deaths, a third of that nation’s population at that time.
These plagues, all the work of the bacterium Yersinia pestis continued to recur into the nineteenth century with sporadic appearances in the present time. The struggle for mastery of the planet is far from over and far from certain.
I’m thrilled by the story of how eukaryotic cells appeared. High school biology reminds us how all complex living things, both plant and animal, are made up of eukaryotic cells. As Wikipedia tells us Eukaryotes are any organism whose cells have a nucleus enclosed within membranes, they also have complex internal scrutures called organelles. Prokaryotes are far simpler, unicellular without a cell membrane with a much simplified nucleus.
Eukaryotes are able to produce complex cells structures and have evolved into every form of multicellular life we know today. Prokaryotes have stayed much as they were when they first appeared over 3.8 billion years ago.
Scientists propose that eukaryotes appeared 2.7 billion years ago, a result of the blending together of two prokaryotics cell. Somehow, in the process of being ingesting another prokaryote, the intended meal was able to remain alive inside its attacker. Impregnating its attacker with itself! The blending of the two into a new commensal organism gave rise to evolutionary advantages including sexual reproduction and from there the development of complex multi-cellular animals and plants.
This event seems to me to be worthy of the term ‘life changing’. If we consider that all living forms we know are the result of this first infinitely tiny beginning then it is, without doubt, an event calling for poetry, song, dance, stories and other joyful expressions of celebration. This primal co-joining of the prokaryotes is also a powerful archetype of mutual aid and a profound image of the transformation of life and of our own unseen potential.
At the very least it aught to inspire us with a deep sense of awe for the achievement of the most infinitisimal living things, the ‘little things’ from which ‘big things grow’, to quote the Paul Kelly song.
Welcome to the Microscopic Life.