Thine is the Transkingdom

SONY DSCJasmine Temple, laboratory technician at New York University Lagone Medical Center, Institute for Systems Genetics, won this year’s agar art contest for her creation “Sunset at the End.” The contest, held every year by the American Society for Microbiology, features images of landscapes, portraits, and conceptual art made by the arrangement of microorganisms grown on agar plates.

Temple’s image was unique not only because it was beautiful, but also because it showed the potential of transkingdom interactions—the exchange of genetic material between taxonomic kingdoms. Temple and her team made the image by engineering the yeast with plasmids that code for pigments normally made by bacteria, fungi, and some sea life forms. As the yeast colonies grew, colors and patterns emerged until a sailboat, Montauk oceanfront, and a red sky at night emerged.

We are never truly ourselves, and this fact has the potential for great healing.

Transkingdom interactions occur frequently in the gut and in the soil. Our identity as many different organisms sharing code and forming what appears to be a composite whole may lead us to new medicines and modes to honor all the ways we belong to and are formed by each other.

How do you make all thirty-seven trillion of your cells seen? my dance instructor Matthew asks.

I open my eyes in the ninety-degree rehearsal room. I look at the other dancers, and they look at me. We are making a dance about where we come from and the land that lives in our bodies and memories.

The innocence of dance is that it is lost the moment after it occurs. Dance is a haunting that you give yourself; performance an accumulation of ghosts. What does the audience see? Why do we need people to see us in order to express what our homes and our bodies mean and want? [Read more…]

Flying into Fear, Part 2

Read Part 1 here

What a strange airline it was!

My fear of flying made every flight I took an exhausting process of dread, panic, relief, and guilt. Mental health issues usually require a variety of strategies to overcome. Healing is more art than science, a process of trial and error with fingerprint individuality. For me, therapy on its own wasn’t cutting it.

I’d heard more than once that information doesn’t help the phobic person, that irrationality can’t be countered with facts. That was not the case with me. I sought out information to set my brain grooves aright. I read Patrick Smith’s book Ask the Pilot: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel, which communicates the science and safety of flight with frankness and humor.

I also started to spend time on the SOAR Fear of Flying forum online, where Captain Tom Bunn puts all manner of fearful flyers at ease with data about planes and the human brain. (In short, planes are a lot more predictable and reliable.) [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Divine Wrath” by Adélia Prado

Bird on branchMultiple members of my family live with chronic pain, which is why I’m always arrested by writers who don’t let God off the hook for painful experiences, who question suffering more closely. Can we know who is ultimately responsible for suffering? Does suffering have a purpose (and if it does, why does it so often feel senseless)? Most importantly, how do we move through pain and cause less of it ourselves? The narrator of this poem shows pain reducing us to our most animal selves—like “a dog who’s been beaten”—and yet we, unlike animals, are able to ask our owners: “Why do you beat me?” On one level, that question sits on the page like an unanswered cry to the heavens, recalling Job. On another level, we’re encouraged to aim this question at ourselves in the mirror—because it seems possible that if we are divinely inspired, we are capable of our own forms of “divine wrath.” What I love about this poem is that, in the end, the act of questioning helps us transcend the need for answers. The perpetrator and victim dissolve into each other in one shocking prayer: “May whoever hurt me, forgive me.”

—Tyler McCabe

“Divine Wrath” By Adélia Prado

When I was wounded
whether by God, the devil, or myself
—I don’t know yet which—
it was seeing the sparrows again
and clumps of clover, after three days,
that told me I hadn’t died.
When I was young,
all it took were those sparrows,
those lush little leaves,
for me to sing praises,
dedicate operas to the Lord.
But a dog who’s been beaten
is slow to go back to barking
and making a fuss over his owner
—an animal, not a person
like me who can ask:
Why do you beat me?
Which is why, despite the sparrows and the clover,
a subtle shadow still hovers over my spirit.
May whoever hurt me, forgive me.

Translated from the Brazilian Portuguese by Ellen Doré Watson


Adélia Prado is one of the foremost poets of Brazil, praised both in literary circles and the mainstream media. The author of six books of poetry and six of prose, Prado was praised byVeja (Brazil’s Newsweek) as “a writer of rare brilliance and invincible simplicity.” The Alphabet in the Park: Selected Poems of Adélia Prado, translated by Ellen Doré Watson, was published by Wesleyan in 1990.

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Dancing on the Way to Prison

By John Bryant

Worshipping HandsI’m standing in a circle with thirty singing and swaying old men and we hold each other’s hands because of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and signal the presence of His Spirit by fluttering our fingers during certain parts of the song, the fluttering strange at first and then completely appropriate and satisfying.

There is an old man in front of me with wide forehead and dark eyes and he is bald and tall and strong and he is dancing. He shakes his hips and leaps on one leg and then the other in those impossible khaki shorts he wears in winter, and he looks like he would’ve been a murderer or bouncer or head of a biker gang if he’d not been made a perfect child and clown by the Holy Spirit.

We release hands and begin another song, and these strong old men fold their hands behind their backs like little children holding flowers for girls and they put their voices into the middle of the circle where the song gathers like a creature rising out from fire and for all their gruff, worn appearance the singing is impossibly loud, sincere, and generous. [Read more…]

Driving the Dark Roads

Dark_RoadsThe other day I got an email from a high-school boyfriend, which drove me headlong into remembrance of a time in my life I’ve tried to forget.

My husband is the only person I know who enjoyed high school, so I don’t harbor any delusions that my unhappiness made me unique among teenagers. In fact, my misery found plenty of company. My mother died at the beginning of my freshman year, and while my dad reeled, I got mixed up with the other kids whose parents or grandparents weren’t really watching.

After reading his message, I sat for a long while and tried to remember the year this boy, now a man with his own family, came into my life, the year I turned fifteen. What surfaced most clearly was a dark road. I’d just gotten my license, and we were always driving. Gas was less than a dollar a gallon, and though I usually couldn’t afford dinner, I could scrape together enough coins to get a few more miles.

So I canvassed the town, looking for some diversion. I didn’t have anywhere to be—no club meetings, no soccer practice, no piano lessons, and I couldn’t bear being at home. I’d scoop the change from my dad’s dresser, and if there was any left over after putting a couple of gallons in the tank, I’d splurge on single cigarettes from the quitter’s cup at the Shell station. [Read more…]