Alison Calder Poetry Reading
Join us for a poetry break – courtesy of a reading by Alison Calder, from her 2022 collection Synaptic.
The idea is
to render the brain
transparent enough to read through,
trickles of water washing away thought.
Deletions, insertions, translocations, inversions,
proofreaders’ symbols carve a straight line
to the minotaur.
In the light of the laboratory,
thought’s skein unravels,
bumpy road smoothed.
Lucent, pellucid, the brain wavers
like the glass in a display case,
minimum interference between eye and page.
Like reading through a jellyfish.
The text, however, remains opaque.
1 Roughly speaking, the goal of connectomics is to improve ways to map the neural connections in the brain.
Firefly mouse flickers, forgets
want. Inside his skull
the past incinerates, embers
blizzarding into ash.
The screened brain’s a maze,
of a film that’s not replayed.
What and how and why ash briefly,
die. Mouse mind flares.
It turns to glass.
2 CLARITY is the name of the process by which the brain is made transparent. Splicing firefly genes into mice makes neural mapping easier because parts of the brain will fluoresce.
These mice are particularly used for Alzheimer’s research.
You call us simple.
On tv, innocents scream at cartoon germs,
brandish cleansers, scrub us away.
Grade six science classes learn what’s living
in their lashes, are traumatized for life.
Still, I have what you need.
Complicated, tractable, I am the ideal
compromise between like and not.
I’m useful because I die quickly:
your funding agencies approve.
Plumbing for secrets in my glassy body,
you peer through my window
seeking 40 percent of your soul.
How age? How sleep? How want?
—the fundamental mysteries of biology
hidden in plain sight.
The manual says keep your samples separate om your culture.
But let me reverse your gaze, turn
the microscope upon the viewer.
My elegant curves, the symmetries
of my crystalline motility, mesmerize.
Rotund, rotating, I root into regions
you’ve not been to. My eyeless face
3 Caenorhabditis elegans, a small soil-dwelling nematode, was the first animal to have its genome completely sequenced. Forty percent of its genome is identical to that of humans. All 959 somatic cells of its transparent body are visible under a microscope.
This intricate, yearning work from award-winning poet Alison Calder asks us to think about the way we perceive and the ways in which we seek to know ourselves and others.
In Synaptic, each section explores key themes in science, neurology, and perception. The first, Connectomics, riffs on scientific language to work with and against that language’s intentions. Attempting to map the brain’s neural connections, it raises fundamental questions about interiority and the self. The lyric considerations in these poems are juxtaposed against the scientific-like footnotes which, in turn, invoke questions undermining authority and power. The second section, Other Disasters, explores ways of seeing or and being seen, from considerations of folklore to modern art to daily life.
The speakers in these poems are searching for knowledge. Everyone is looking for a miracle.
Alison Calder grew up in Saskatoon. She lives in Winnipeg and teaches Canadian literature and creative writing at the University of Manitoba. Synaptic is her third poetry collection.