In the final weeks of 2013, we featured Pushcart Prize-nominated work from recent issues of Poetry Northwest. This week, at the turn of the year: a poem from Sarah Lindsay, winner of a 2013 Pushcart Prize, introduced by the poet.
Isn’t evolution fascinating? The first draft of “Origin,” called “Original Life,” was written on November 30, 2008. Before that came a half-sheet with “What if the first cell felt no need to divide?” written across it. Smaller notes underneath include a list of things the cell did not experience, a mention of volcanic eruptions, and the embarrassing possibility that I considered rhyming “wobble” with “incomparable” (but perhaps their spatial association was unintentional). Squeezed in at the bottom is what became the last line of the poem. From the first draft, that line never changed.
The first draft felt no call to rhyme, and spread down the page accommodating asteroids, neutrinos, and dividing continents, all of which the poem shed in 2010 and 2011. Besides the last line, just two others—“Its endoplasmic reticulum / was a thing of incomparable curvaceous length”—survived without revision. I had longed for decades to use “endoplasmic reticulum” in a poem. That fine string of syllables, I’m pleased to believe, has settled in a fit place to function. (Sarah Lindsay)
The first cell felt no call to divide.
Fed on abundant salts and sun,
still thin, it simply spread,
rocking on water, clinging to stone,
a film of obliging strength.
Its endoplasmic reticulum
was a thing of incomparable curvaceous length;
its nucleus, Golgi apparatus, RNA
magnificent. With no incidence
of loneliness, inner conflict, or deceit,
no predator nor prey,
it had little to do but thrive,
draw back from any sharp heat
or bitterness, and change its pastel
colors in a kind of song.
We are descendants of the second cell.
Sarah Lindsay‘s most recent book is Debt to the Bone-Eating Snotflower (Copper Canyon Press, 2013). She has received a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and her work has appeared in The New York Times, Parnassus, Poetry, and other publications. She works as a copy editor in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“Origins” appeared first in the Spring & Summer 2012 issue of Poetry Northwest.
Author photo: Jan Hensley