Book Excerpt from Radial Symmetry

Poet Katherine Larson explores the intersection of art and science through the lyrical works "Metamorphosis" and "Crypsis and Mimicry."

By | December 2, 2011

YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS, APRIL 2011

METAMORPHOSISIt is astounding how little the ordinary person notices butterflies.-NabokovWe dredge the stream with soup strainersand separate dragonfly and damselfly nymphs—their eyes like inky bulbs, jaws snappingat the light as if the world was full oftiny traps, each hairpin mechanismtripped for transformation. Such a ricochetof appetites insisting life, life, life againstthe watery dark, the tuberous reeds. Tell me—how do they survive passage? I rinse our cutleryin the stream. Heat so heavy it hurts the skin.The drone of wild bees. We swim through citiesburied in seawater, we watch the gods decay.We dredge the gods of other civilizations.The sun, for example.  Before the deity became astar. Jasper scarabs excavated from the hearts of kings.  Daylight’s blue-green water pooling at thefoot of falls. Sandstones where the canyon spillsits verdant greens in vines. Each lunarresurrection, each helix churning in the cellsof a sturgeon destined for spawning—Not equilibrium, but buoyancy. A hallwaywith a thousand human brains carved out of crystal.Quiet prisms until the sunlight hits.

CRYPSIS AND MIMICRYCrypsis for the way that things are hidden.How certain small truths disappear againsta larger truth. The way my Cajun friend explainsbouillabaisse as the synthesis of red snapper and crab,oysters, mussels, and crayfish. Garlic and orangepeel. Dry white wine. A fusion of the senses.So autumn slips into the swamplandswith glossy alligator eyes. We talk of love potionswhile drinking café noir. Powdered lizardsand tender missives scrawled with blood.  How hergrandmother crushed peach seeds with stonesto draw dirt to the bottom of a pail of bayou water:a speckled fish could flatten itself against thosesediments and simply fade away. She used to dreamthere was a hole in the bucket and so the taskwas never-ending. That’s crypsis—everything against intrinsic terrain dissolves in it.Mimicry is different. It’s you stroking my throatas if I’m a bird. It’s me pretending in your arms to be a bird.I am not a bird. I remember reading how the Curies’ laboratorywould glow at night; Marie wroteof the enchantment of those luminous silhouettes.I used to believe that science was only concernedwith certainty. Later, I recognized its mystery.There isn’t language for it—The way I can see you when you are shining.Our roots crypsis, our wings mimicry.

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