My connection to science is pretty much by happy accident.
In the early 1990s my husband and son and I spent a year in Hawaii; I was on sabbatical from Purdue University and my husband had a year’s appointment at a rehab hospital there. I joined the Audubon Society; they were doing a project on Kaohika’ipu, an island off Oahu, right across from Sea Life Park. With the Department of Natural Resources, Audubon was putting larger-than-life decoys of albatross in mating posture on the island. A solar-powered CD broadcasted sex calls, which struck me as very odd — like cows mooing: sounds you would never think would come out of a bird in any circumstance. We volunteers would go to Sea Life Park, take the Audubon notebook and scope, and sit under a giant sun umbrella. Every fifteen minutes we recorded whatever the real albatross were doing on that island: nesting or preening or sleeping or mating. They were coming in from the sea exhausted, having been away for days looking for food, and suddenly they would see these giant decoys really living it up. It was like Club Med to them!
The point was to persuade the albatross to nest there, birds that usually choose to nest in flat, treeless places exactly like that island. But in Hawaii that more commonly means a runway, hence an airport — there are so many in Oahu, both commercial and military — and thus their nests are in constant danger from incoming planes. The trick was to get those birds to nest on Kaohika’ipu safely.
We were also told that when school groups came to Sea Life Park, we needed to hold forth on what we were doing. Our presence there was educational. The teachers would say, ‘Children, here is a real life scientist, doing scientists’ work. Oh scientist, please tell us what you are doing here’. And I did, with as much credibility as I could muster, thinking this is so much better than being a poet. People believe me!
Women and Science
With no hope in me
I hung out the wash in winter, it froze
but dried fine. (Victory!)
no way and why not
Another example: Madame Curie’s bar of radium
radiant in a drawer. Always darkness not
quite collapsing on light of an uncertain nature.
(I love that.)
I don’t know. Experiment, experiment.
But across an ocean and years those women,
paid so profoundly nothing
in drafty rooms licked their brushes to a point,
laying down the tiniest numbers.
Poison can be pretty. Radium-glow
on a watch face
not incidentally the dead-end end to that story. And Herself?
Under the sod just the same. Cancer
does that. And radiation does cancer but at least
after her second Nobel.
Women and Science: good news, bad news.
What am I talking about?
(Cause and effect. Thrill and anti-thrill. Sometimes, well,
it doesn’t go so well …)
Few girls I knew were much good at math. Me, the lost cause
star of that dodgy cliché. But in biology, in lab —
if only the feral kitten
could rise from the dead.
Cut through to the lungs, the nun told us. Do not
tear up, I told myself
barely playing out how that should’ve-been cat
surely quickened to a leaf in wind but first
watchful slo-mo involved.
(Breath = pounce = wonder
Or wonder = breath = pounce.
No sentimental once upon a time.)
A lot to be said about Lot’s wife too, she with no name
but forbidden! famous!
turning primal, elemental because she ached for home
and looked back.
Women and Science: the first
chemical reaction, agony
plus a sensible glance makes a whole
pillar-load of salt —
Sorrow, redream yourself.