TCS: Protein Dancing – Poems for Public Science Day

. Good Morning!


Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.


We especially need imagination in science.
It is not all mathematics, nor all logic,
but it is somewhat beauty and poetry.

– Maria Mitchell, astronomer and teacher,
who paved the way for many women in science,
written in her diary in 1871


Today is National Public Science Day. Public Science offers participatory action research involving both scientists and interested volunteers, and also outreach by the scientific community to inform and engage the public.

In keeping with these efforts, I’ve included poems by poets and scientists.


Astronomy Lesson

by Alan R. Shapiro

The two boys lean out on the railing
of the front porch, looking up.
Behind them they can hear their mother
in one room watching “Name That Tune,”
their father in another watching
a Walter Cronkite Special, the TVs
turned up high and higher till they
each can’t hear the other’s show.
The older boy is saying that no matter
how many stars you counted there were
always more stars beyond them
and beyond the stars black space
going on forever in all directions,
so that even if you flew up
millions and millions of years
you’d be no closer to the end
of it than they were now
here on the porch on Tuesday night
in the middle of summer.
The younger boy can think somehow
only of his mother’s closet,
how he likes to crawl in back
behind the heavy drapery
of shirts, nightgowns and dresses,
into the sheer black where
no matter how close he holds
his hand up to his face
there’s no hand ever, no
face to hold it to.

A woman from another street
is calling to her stray cat or dog,
clapping and whistling it in,
and farther away deep in the city
sirens now and again
veer in and out of hearing.

The boys edge closer, shoulder
to shoulder now, sad Ptolemies,
the older looking up, the younger
as he thinks back straight ahead
into the black leaves of the maple
where the street lights flicker
like another watery skein of stars.
“Name That Tune” and Walter Cronkite
struggle like rough water
to rise above each other.
And the woman now comes walking
in a nightgown down the middle
of the street, clapping and
whistling, while the older boy
goes on about what light years
are, and solar winds, black holes,
and how the sun is cooling
and what will happen to
them all when it is cold.

“Astronomy Lesson” from Happy Hour, © 1987 by Alan Shapiro – University of Chicago Press

Alan Shapiro (1926-2011) was an American poet, professor of English, and a consultant for Educators for Social Responsibility, Metropolitan Area, which published in 2001 his Nuclear Controversy: Sourcebook for an Inquiry Curriculum. He published many poetry collections, including Old War; Tantalus in Love; Song and Dance; Dead Alive and Busy; and Reel to Reel. His collection Happy Hour won the 1987 William Carlos Williams Award.



by Shohini Ghose

Woman physicist
Woman of colour
Woman Physicist of Colour
That’s me.
But it isn’t.
There’s more.
More than the sum of our words.
More than atoms than make up female, physicist and color.
“Bigger on the Inside”
Dr. ‘Who’ ?

Shohini Ghose was born in India, and educated in the U.S. She is a theoretical physicist and polymath, professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. She recently joined Perimeter Institute as an affiliate researcher and an Equity, Inclusion & Diversity Specialist.


Obsessed with Gravity

by Sonali Mohapatra 

Gravity sitting and thinking on a stool,
It’s slipping and sliding on a Reimann Pool,
The Riccis and scalars are here and there
The Gammas form a connection that cares.
Its fate was dreamt in Einstein’s sleep
where Hilbert trusted it to Minkowski’s keep,
The g..s wanted to be in the thick of things
and thus entered the action with a leap.
The 5th dimension knocked at a tense time
on the doors of both Kaluza and Klein,
It said I can roll up really small
If only you can make me gravity’s hall!!

Sonali Mohapatra was born in Bhubaneswar, India. She is a Chancellor’s PhD Student at the University of Sussex and an alumna of the Perimeter Scholars International master’s program. She’s also the author of the poetry compilation Leaking Ink and runs an international magazine on creative resistance called Carved Voices. In her spare time, she delivers motivational talks on physics, feminism, and the juxtaposition of the personal and the professional.


Darwin’s Bestiary

by Philip Appleman


Animals tame and animals feral
prowled the Dark Ages in search of a moral:
the canine was Loyal, the lion was Virile,
rabbits were Potent and gryphons were Sterile.
Sloth, Envy, Gluttony, Pride—every peril
was fleshed into something phantasmic and rural,
while Courage, Devotion, Thrift—every bright laurel
crowned a creature in some mythological mural.

Scientists think there is something immoral
in singular brutes having meat that is plural:
beasts are mere beasts, just as flowers are floral.
Yet between the lines there’s an implicit demurral;
the habit stays with us, albeit it’s puerile:
when Darwin saw squirrels, he saw more than Squirrel.


The ant, Darwin reminded us,
defies all simple-mindedness:
Take nothing (says the ant) on faith,
and never trust a simple truth.
The PR men of bestiaries
eulogized for centuries
this busy little paragon,
nature’s proletarian—
but look here, Darwin said: some ants
make slaves of smaller ants, and end
exploiting in their peonages
the sweating brows of their tiny drudges.

Thus the ant speaks out of both
sides of its mealy little mouth:
its example is extolled
to the workers of the world,
but its habits also preach
the virtues of the idle rich.


Eyeless in Gaza, earless in Britain,
lower than a rattlesnake’s belly-button,
deaf as a judge and dumb as an audit:
nobody gave the worm much credit
till Darwin looked a little closer
at this spaghetti-torsoed loser.
Look, he said, a worm can feel
and taste and touch and learn and smell;
and ounce for ounce, they’re tough as wrestlers,
and love can turn them into hustlers,
and as to work, their labors are mythic,
small devotees of the Protestant Ethic:
they’ll go anywhere, to mountains or grassland,
south to the rain forests, north to Iceland,
fifty thousand to every acre
guzzling earth like a drunk on liquor,
churning the soil and making it fertile,
earning the thanks of every mortal:
proud Homo sapiens, with legs and arms—
his whole existence depends on worms.
So, History, no longer let
the worm’s be an ignoble lot
unwept, unhonored, and unsung.

Moral: even a worm can turn.


a. Except in distress, the rabbit is silent,
but social as teacups: no hare is an island.

silence is golden—or anyway harmless;
rabbits may run, but never for Congress.)

b. When a rabbit gets miffed, he bounds in an orbit,
kicking and scratching like—well, like a rabbit.

to thine own self be true—or as true as you can;
a wolf in sheep’s clothing fleeces his skin.)

c. He populates prairies and mountains and moors,
but in Sweden the rabbit can’t live out of doors.

to know your own strength, take a tug at your shackles;
to understand purity, ponder your freckles.)

d. Survival developed these small furry tutors;
the morals of rabbits outnumber their litters.

you needn’t be brainy, benign, or bizarre
to be thought a great prophet. Endure. Just endure.)


Sixty miles from land the gentle trades
that silk the Yankee clippers to Cathay
sift a million gossamers, like tides
of fluff above the menace of the sea.

These tiny spiders spin their bits of webbing
and ride the air as schooners ride the ocean;
the Beagle trapped a thousand in its rigging,
small aeronauts on some elusive mission.

The Megatherium, done to extinction
by its own bigness, makes a counterpoint
to gossamers, who breathe us this small lesson:
for survival, it’s the little things that count.

“Darwin’s Bestiary” from New and Selected Poems, 1956-1996, © 1996 by Phillip Appleman University of Arkansas Press

Philip Appleman (1926 – ) American science scholar, a highly regarded Darwin expert, but also a biting social commentator and satiric novelist. Appleman is an outstanding poet who is by turns hilarious, insightful and moving. His many poetry collections include Darwin’s Bestiary (1986), Let There be Light (1991), Karma, Dharma, Pudding & Pie (2009) and Perfidious Proverbs and Other Poems (2013). He has been honored with many awards, including a Pushcart Prize, the Castagnola Award, and the Morley Award from the Poetry Society of America



by Richard Feynman

There are the rushing waves
mountains of molecules
each stupidly minding its own business
trillions apart
yet forming white surf in unison

Ages on ages
before any eyes could see
year after year
thunderously pounding the shore as now.
For whom, for what?
On a dead planet
with no life to entertain.

Never at rest
tortured by energy
wasted prodigiously by the Sun
poured into space.
A mite makes the sea roar.

Deep in the sea
all molecules repeat
the patterns of one another
till complex new ones are formed.
They make others like themselves
and a new dance starts.

Growing in size and complexity
living things
masses of atoms
DNA, protein
dancing a pattern ever more intricate.

Out of the cradle
onto dry land
here it is
atoms with consciousness;
matter with curiosity.

Stands at the sea,
wonders at wondering: I
a universe of atoms
an atom in the Universe.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) American theoretical physicist, known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as in particle physics for which he proposed the parton model. For contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 jointly with Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichirō Tomonaga


About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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