Artists, Scientists & Madmen: Giese & Tagg
Amy Theiss Giese / Nathanael Tagg
Artists, Scientists & Madmen
Scientist, you love the world enough to activate
Johnny, the only begotten nurseryman robot.
Whosoever believeth in you may wonder
not only if Earth will have everlasting life,
not only if a deus ex machina is in order,
but also if the kingdom has already arrived
and how we ought to live accordingly,
even if Johnny will plant stratospheric sunlight-
deflecting particles, his head the hardest of pots,
and transplant machine trees that perfectly
swallow up the glut of atmospheric CO2.
Different gods and priests, similar questions.
Also, a little more artistry and persuasion,
and I could call a story like this the good news.
Haldane’s Last Words
I’m called “the man who knows it all,”
but do I know myself? I ought
to have as little reverence
for myself as I’ve had for,
say, the God of theologians,
those who asked me what could be
deduced about the creator
from creation. “An inordinate fondness
for beetles” was my answer,
given nearly half a million species
of them exist. Forget my cleverness;
I won’t recite my verse on rectal cancer,
which is killing me. Da Vinci-esque,
I’ll make a list. 1. To learn, I drank
hydrochloric acid, was locked in rooms
with toxic air and stuck in chambers,
decompressed, then suffered
migraines and perforated eardrums
and shattered vertebrae. 2.
But I gave little thought to animal cruelty
in experiments and agriculture—
not a moment of non-speciesist
consideration to a pig that has a higher
IQ than some unfortunate kids. 3.
I wrote Darwinian books and papers.
Hundreds. 4. And yet I penned
a measly paragraph or two
on the kinship of animals and humans—
less on kinship’s connection to altruism.
5. I was deemed “the cleverest man”
who’d make a mathematical system,
then write a Shakespearean sonnet—
left and right faithfully married in my brain.
6. However, I coaxed a girl to leave
her spouse and marry me.
I almost lost my post at Cambridge
thanks to the scandal. 7. I initiated
modern scientific talk on altruism. 8.
And still, at times, I enjoyed the war—
enjoyed its tanks and bullets,
gas and trenches—so much so
my commander called me “the bravest,
dirtiest” soldier. 9. Pursuing justice,
empathizing with the destitute,
I was a socialist, who had the wit
to say that Britain and the US
adopting communism is as likely as hippos
doing somersaults and jumping hedges.
10. But then I deemed a mass-
murderer, Stalin, a “very great man
who did a very good job.” 11.
In the end, I met myself on my deathbed.
12. My abdomen relaxed, and after weeks
of weight loss and fatigue came
a jolt of strength. 13. Though waste
refused to leave my body, a list
had purged my soul of something worse.
Wildfire is not supposed to reach their area,
yet she sees what look like many a solar flare.
To prevent her kids from noticing the fire,
she blindfolds her six-year-old son and four-
year-old daughter. “A game,” says the mother.
She unplugs her hardly charged electric car.
As they approach the interstate, her daughter
says, “What’s that smell? Are we going to Daddy?”
Her mother circumvents the flames by driving
off the road. Her son enjoys the bouncing—
giggles since he doesn’t see the lifeless deer.
Around its neck balloons are tied, beside
a family of trees, ablaze. The kids’ mom and dad
separated recently. A decade ago, he wanted
to live with his wife—but also with friends;
the bunch would share a house. She wanted to live
with just her spouse and (eventually) her kids,
within a couple hours from her whole
tight-knit family. But the couple followed school
and work across the country. Then their separate
wants arose again at a wedding reception,
at an aquarium with a tank of sturgeons, which
anyone with clean hands could touch.
One was black and bright-eyed like a dragon
capable of starting instant wildfires. It swam
alone, evading fingers dipped into the water.
Other sturgeons swam together and tolerated
being touched, and one, the slimiest ham actor,
let itself be touched on every lap around the tank.
She’s since heard of the future possibility
of head transplants. This morning, she dreamed
that every time the slimy sturgeon surfaced, it was
her son’s or husband’s head atop the fish’s body.
Every time the dragon sturgeon surfaced, it was
her daughter’s or her own head on the fish’s body.
Wedding guests had human parts below the neck;
above were various aquatic creature heads.
A game of words on blocks had come alive;
the blocks arranged themselves: “community,
friends as family, village to raise kids, wildfire!”
She woke and saw the flames in which her home
is now engulfed. Her kids remove their blindfolds.
Amy Theiss Giese is a Boston based artist and educator. Giese received her MFA from Parsons School of Design and her BA from Amherst College. Giese’s work is rooted in materialism, exploring what the fundamental forces are for a given medium focusing on photographic and sound recordings of spaces and places.
Nathanael Tagg is the author of Animal Virtue (WordTech Editions, 2018) and an associate professor of English at Cecil College. He has an MFA from Rutgers. His poems and reviews are published or forthcoming in Colorado Review, Barrow Street, Pleiades, Confrontation, Cimarron Review, and other magazines.