Mary Krane Derr

Prairie Native

The sunflower sloughs off
her withering gold-fire past,
slumps blankly without
that millionfold green throng
of iridescent eyes,

tightens and spirals drily
into generous gray seeds
at which furtive squirrels
and upside down goldfinches
pick-pock their livelihoods.

that fibrous giant stem
a human hand canít span or snap
subsists a green, gelid calm of water.

For Adrian Felix

A one-two measure from my eyes,
in the dark room pregnant with your heart-roar,
the waiting for you collapsed
and unmassed: your mother went push!
and your face in its small intact wisdom
slid out turned earthward
as your shoulders draped themselves
in slick blue-gray coils of umbilicus:

slid out turned earthwards,
where every body turns to, sooner
or later: my breath shlooshed
out for you, jaggedly, later
not sooner, my arrhythmic litany
as you unfolded into all
the world's time
signatures to unclasp
and wave back a hand
with my very lines and fronds for palmistry.
Vital Statistics

i. Of Making

Each human body begins with the prime number: the breath of God moving on the face of the deep.

The universe the breath of God, as Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike name it...rūh...ruach....ruah....The W-MAP satellite just discovered it was first exhaled 13.7 billion years ago.

Earth coalesced from a swirl of vapors about two-thirds of the way out.
3.5 billion years ago, the first fossils of life as we know it. Precambrian bacteria. Invisible to the naked eye.

Our first kin, humbler and more ancient than Homo sapiens knew at first stand upright, first raising of 8-pound head 40,000 years ago.

Since then, maybe 2000 human generations, each one adding 150,000 nerve cells to the brain.

Each of our bodies ourselves IS evolution. The kind that bides its time. The kind that hurtles itself into quantum leaps of faith.

One egg cell from the hundred thousands clustered in a woman before sheís even born.

One sperm cell from the millions in one ejaculation.

Their sudden mutual jump into a spiraling fusion of histories, that only stays a single cell for 30 minutes of the 80 or so years it can spiral its way if its improbable luck holds.

On the 19th day of creation: the first red concavities of blood cells, the tentative filaments of the nerves.

The 21st day: the heart beats the first of a possible 3 billion beats; it will never miss a one of its own accord given even half or a tenth of a chance.

The 25th day: the ear begins whirling into shape, it won't stop growing till the hour of death. The guts and the lungs begin their gathering in to their necessary give and take work.

The 35th day: the brain curves out and crackles its first own waves. Touching off what invisible ripples?

The 270th day: another cataclysmic leap, called in Spanish "being given to the light."

What is given: the brain in its cradle of 29 bones.

Nothing more complex in the known universe than its 100 billion nerve cells; the number of possible connections among them greater than the number of known stars in the universe.

The brain that can store a million items totaling 4 terabytes; no two brains have quite the same ones.

What is given: nerve impulses traveling to and fro at 170 miles per hour.

Triggering the reflex self-protective contraction of the eardrum 40 milliseconds after a too-loud sound.

Triggering the in and out of the lungs, the over 23,000 breaths per day; the 72 muscles needed to shape out speech from these tides of the air.

What is given: 656 square feet of intestinal surface, absorbing the solar alchemy of plants, which the body can't divine without the oxygen ferried by 200 billion new red blood cells.

What is given: the heart, so often gravely mistaken for a soft little simpleton. Whose four sturdy unflagging chambers create enough power to travel those billions of blood cells through 60,000 miles of vessels a day.

What is given: a praiseprayer with only one gentle natural ceasing.

If that's allowed.

ii. Of Unmaking

But then there are the figures that God doesn't have a damned thing to do with.

In the instant the bomb is thrown, the numberless effects of primary blast injury.

The rupture of eardrums their brave loyal talent of reflex can't save.

The collapse and shredding of the lungs, their 23,000 a day breaths, the guts, their 656 square feet of humble quite dark soaking up transmuted sunlight for the good of the whole.

In secondary blast injury, flying objects strike the body.

In tertiary blast injury, the body flies through the air and hits, to quote from a noted military physician, "other objects."

Meaning: the sturdy heart is torn from its bone shelter to spurt blood a wildly aimless 30 feet, to go chaotically arrhythmic against its determined push and pump; that nonviolent trooper goes silent out of its intended sequence.

The 29 skullbones crack open, gray mush spills out a one and only set of one million brain items in 4 terabytes.

No one can see or hear what's in it any more. The 72 muscles of speech all unsprung.

The neural impulses dashed from 170 miles an hour to zero. In no time. Flat.

And what of the promised descendants, the connections more numerous than the stars of the heavens?

Whatever the body count: genocided.

iii. Of Entreaty

Whatever the body count, God the Prime Mover has never gone unmoved.

She gulps back her breath, She rocks hunched into her folded knees, She streams and streams incalculable tears, Her womb cramps and bleeds a shattering blankness of pain.

What mother ever planned this for her children?

What mother ever planned anything but the trajectory of intelligent hope implicit in the quantum leaps of the womb, the standing up on African savannahs, the coalescence out of vibrating vapors, the breath moving on the face of the deep?

The trajectory of each of our bodies ourselves, Her evolution. The kind that bides its time. The kind that hurtles into quantum leaps of faith.

So what do we do now?

Do the numbers.

What happens next: is really in our hands.

Which have been here for the human part of all along. 38 muscles each, 5 digits, one an opposable thumb.

But the real next question is: do we know how to use them, and what for?

Are they emptied enough: to wipe away Her tears: before they happen again?

From the chapbook Ahimsa Soundwave Diptych.

The Raveling Back Into the Text of Her Genesis

How I do forget
how we each mistake
our primordial

for the later rendings of it;

how each of us calls
the dumb

of our ripped-up
Alpha over here,
Omega over there.

Yet whenever
I am traveled
back and back
down my umbilicus
before even
the naming
of any such names
into the text
of my Genesis

before anything
has torn at or ripped off
any vector of my burgeoning--

I am found to be
what I always am,
a daughter-surge
of new limb unfurling
out from the loose deep swaddle of glow
that is Godís own
Infinity of Womb:

the glow that still

through my translucent
unbending hands

when I float them up strongly
to each glad day,

the freshly

that what
we can all

is every bit

we are everyone
in every split atom
of our incandescent flesh
furled and knit
and rolled together out

from an old,
the oldest
of any

From a poem cycle of the same name read at the 1999 Parliament of the World's Religions, Cape Town, South Africa. Published in Many Mountains Moving special issue on the literature of spirituality (2002). Nominated for Best American Poetry and Best Spiritual Writing [US].


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