Mapping the Genome

By Michael Symmons Roberts b. 1963
Geneticist as driver, down the gene
codes in, let's say, a topless coupe
and you keep expecting bends,

real tyre-testers on tight
mountain passes, but instead it's dead
straight, highway as runway,

helix unravelled as vista,
as vanishing point. Keep your foot
down. This is a finite desert.

You move too fast to read it,
the order of the rocks, the cacti,
roadside weeds, a blur to you.

Every hour or so, you pass a shack
which passes for a motel here:
tidy faded rooms with TVs on

for company, the owner pacing out
his empty parking lot. And after
each motel you hit a sandstorm

thick as fog, but agony.
Somewhere out there are remnants
of our evolution, genes for how

to fly south, sense a storm,
hunt at night, how to harden
your flesh into hide or scales.

These are the miles of dead code.
Every desert has them.
You are on a mission to discover

why the human heart still slows
when divers break the surface,
why mermaids still swim in our dreams.

Source: Poetry (June 2003).

 Michael Symmons Roberts

Biography

Poet, novelist, and librettist Michael Symmons Roberts was born in 1963 in Preston, Lancashire, and earned a degree in philosophy and theology from Oxford. He worked as a journalist before joining the BBC, eventually becoming executive producer and head of development for its department on religion and ethics. His collections of poetry include Soft Keys (1993); Raising Sparks (1999); Burning Babylon (2001); Corpus (2004), winner . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Landscapes & Pastorals, Sciences, Arts & Sciences, Nature, Activities, Travels & Journeys

POET’S REGION England

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Metaphor

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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