By Alison Hawthorne Deming b. 1946
Then it was the future, though what’s arrived   
isn’t what we had in mind, all chrome and   
cybernetics, when we set up exhibits
in the cafeteria for the judges
to review what we’d made of our hypotheses.

The class skeptic (he later refused to sign   
anyone’s yearbook, calling it a sentimental   
degradation of language) chloroformed mice,   
weighing the bodies before and after
to catch the weight of the soul,

wanting to prove the invisible
real as a bagful of nails. A girl
who knew it all made cookies from euglena,
a one-celled compromise between animal and plant,   
she had cultured in a flask.

We’re smart enough, she concluded,
to survive our mistakes, showing photos of farmland,   
poisoned, gouged, eroded. No one believed
he really had built it when a kid no one knew   
showed up with an atom smasher, confirming that

the tiniest particles could be changed   
into something even harder to break.
And one whose mother had cancer (hard to admit now,   
it was me) distilled the tar of cigarettes   
to paint it on the backs of shaven mice.

She wanted to know what it took,
a little vial of sure malignancy,
to prove a daily intake smaller
than a single aspirin could finish
something as large as a life. I thought of this

because, today, the dusky seaside sparrow
became extinct. It may never be as famous
as the pterodactyl or the dodo,
but the last one died today, a resident
of Walt Disney World where now its tissue samples

lie frozen, in case someday we learn to clone
one from a few cells. Like those instant dinosaurs
that come in a gelatin capsule—just add water   
and they inflate. One other thing this
brings to mind. The euglena girl won first prize

both for science and, I think, in retrospect, for hope.

Alison Deming, “Science” from Science and Other Poems. Copyright © 1994 by Alison Deming. Reprinted with the permission of Louisiana State University Press.

Source: Science and Other Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1994)

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Poet Alison Hawthorne Deming b. 1946

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Subjects School & Learning, Activities

Poetic Terms Free Verse


Poet and writer Alison Hawthorne Deming was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1946. She earned an MFA from Vermont College and worked on public and women’s health issues for many years. A descendant of the American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, Deming is native to New England, but has studied and taught in many other regions as an instructor and guest lecturer. Her books of poetry include Science and Other Poems (1994), winner . . .

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Poems by Alison Hawthorne Deming

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT School & Learning, Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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