Project Description

Bodies of Knowledge: Dissecting the Mysteries of Life

For Orion magazine
Autumn 2021 issue

The Dissection

I REMEMBER THE DAY THE FROGS ARRIVED. Each in a separate jar, floating in clear liquid. I remember the sour, pungent smell of formaldehyde, the cold clank of metal trays that Ms. Gibson distributed. I removed the frog from the jar with forceps. I held the scalpel and followed the teacher’s instruction to make an incision into the wet skin of the “specimen” that lay splayed before me. Flayed the skin, pinned it to the mat. Cut away muscle with a pair of sharp scissors. We identified the organs (stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, heart, and so on), labeled the diagram we’d been given. Turned in our worksheets, discarded the frogs in plastic bags that went into the garbage. Washed our scalpels, trays, and hands. In less than an hour, the activity was completed.

The objective of the frog dissection—I’ve recently looked up lesson plans—is some variation of: “To learn about the digestive, respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems of the organism.”

Many of us performed this dissection as adolescents. I have come to see it as a ceremonial rite of passage in our biological education, one of the most vivid teachings we receive in formal schooling on the subject of life as we prepare to enter adulthood. And this passage both induces and signifies a transformation.

If as children we saw a glistening-skinned frog as a wild, complex, and strange living being, a wholly unfathomable sensorium different than the human, one that beckoned us into curiosity about the mysterious web of relations into which our own life was woven, then the dissection of the frog marks the time we are told to put away childish things.

We did once see the frog that way, though the memory is now hazy due to the success of our education. To dissect means “to cut into pieces.” The dissection is an exercise in reductionism. It diminishes life to simple and visible parts and trains us to treat creatures as machines fully knowable by their “systems.”

It is a role-playing rite, a performance that reenacts the acquisition of scientific tools as an exit from the Dark Ages and an entry into the brightness of a human intelligence capable of solving life’s long-standing mysteries. The flooding with fluorescents of the frog’s hidden interiors and the labeling of worksheets are requisite steps toward becoming rational adults in a technologically advanced civilization in which any remaining uncertainties about life’s workings are simply yet to be solved by us, the privileged species that wields the scalpel.

In a journal called The American Biology Teacher, an advocate for dissection writes that when she had to take apart her first animal in the classroom, a mouse, she at first thought it was “yucky.” But when she made the first incision, she understood “that the world was a rational place.” Her account of taking up the scalpel is a coming-of-age story, just as the scientific revolution is considered the coming of age of Western culture, and just as the Indigenous inhabitants of the continent, who seemed to perceive that life as a whole encompassed our own so vastly and unknowably that they did not have words for “nature,” were considered childish.

When we dissect, we cut through the foggy mists in which the frog lived long ago, leaping, elusive. We symbolically enact the advancement from mystery to knowledge. We need only peel back the skin of the organism to see what’s inside: organs.

E. O. Wilson wrote that, “The cutting edge of science is reductionism, the breaking apart of nature into its natural constituents,” and “an organism is a machine.”

In the schematic of Western thought that has driven the colonization of the North American continent and the expansion of a global capitalist economy, a person who has a sense that life is mysterious at its heart is both superstitious and primitive, a glazed-eyed mystic prone to feeling. After the dissection, we are better prepared to cut up the land, extract the resources we need, and take our place at the top of the hierarchy as the superior species that can cut life apart to understand it.

Nowhere in the lesson plans are students invited to consider the more than 3 million frogs captured in the wild and killed every year in the United States solely as a sacrifice for this ritual. No discussion prompts them to think about the closest frog habitat to the school and how their lives might be connected to it. The glass jar containing a single isolated frog has been shipped from some unknown place, another commodity in the structure that hides from us the vast threads of relation that stitch us into the world while it continues to sell the narrative that there is less and less mystery left about how it all works and how we can go about taking what we need from it.

After reading numerous articles and discussion boards on the topic of dissection, I’ve gleaned the popular argument for the necessity of the lesson, that it is the most important hands-on activity in the biology classroom. To my memory, it is the only thing I held in my hands in biology class aside from a textbook. The phrase “hands-on” is repeated ad nauseum in arguing for the lesson’s merit.

To hold with the hands is to “grasp,” a word that also means “to understand.” And here, I have come to think, is where the unspoken leap is made. Cutting open, flaying, pinning down, identifying the organs of a slick-skinned being that might otherwise slip from our grasp, might hide from us in the murky depths of a pond, may be educational in an extremely limited sense, but these acts are mistaken for understanding the living being.

When we lay a specimen out before us and probe into its every hidden recess, its once dark interior made visible under bright lights, we think we grasp the frog.

If biology is the study of life and dissection the most hands-on experience we are offered in the classroom, it must be said that by the time we get our hands on the subject of life, it is already dead. The matter that concerns us appears to be settled when we pin down the organism. The mystery of the frog has slipped away from us.

The Dissection (Prequel)

ARISTOTLE popularized dissection in the fourth century bce in his book Parts of Animals, for which he performed many dissections. As he began to compose the first formal classification of life, he placed humans at the top, the only creatures with “rational souls,” he said. Not all humans, though. Women lack these souls. Thus, he wrote, “the relation of male to female is naturally that of the superior to the inferior—of the ruling to the ruled.”

Ah, the ruling and the ruled: that’s what all this rational soul business was about for Aristotle, who is now considered “the father of biology.” All the branches of science have fathers but no mothers, a biological mystery. At the root of the science that became the study of life lies a tenet that remains pervasive: those who study it “rationally” are those who rule over it.

In addition to women, all of nature lacked a rational soul, everything the mere subject of man’s study of life. Perhaps the most well-known sentence that Aristotle wrote is the maxim that opens his Metaphysics: “All men by nature desire to know.”

Though it’s impossible to dig up the exact origins of this seemingly innocent desire to know, I have been tracking it in text through the millennia, in which both the female human body and a feminized nature are framed as mysterious.

Several hundred years into Aristotle’s legacy, beginning in the first century in Greece, men of science began to pen tracts that promised access to the “secrets of nature.” One medical student published a pamphlet that claimed to reveal all the secrets of medicinal plants—a subtle, tactile, and oral knowledge appropriated from nonliterate women, put into print, and made a commodity. He urged readers not to share the secrets therein with “profane people,” lest they come to “despise the learned and admirable acquisitions of the science of medicine.” In other words, at the same time the writer claimed to unveil mysteries, he shrouded the source of his knowledge in an aura of secrecy that gave him power. He became rich and famous in Rome, claiming to have solved the mystery of the cause of all disease.

His career path, then, set the precedent for scientific discoveries, now a long list of singular men’s names that obscure the interdependence of men’s knowledge with women and nature, which is why I won’t set his name apart and say it. A monument to him reads iatronices, “conqueror of the physicians.”

As I investigate the many weighty, dusty tomes that fill the library’s history section, attempting to sleuth out the untold crimes of the desire to know, I uncover its twin, the desire to conquer, lurking in every corner.

“PROFESSORS OF SECRETS,” as they were called, published their discoveries of nature’s mysteries, which tended heavily toward elements of nature that could be exploited for gain. In Science and the Secrets of Nature, historian William Eamon writes that “books of secrets advanced a new conception of the scientific enterprise as … an aggressive search for the ‘secrets of nature’ … that lay hidden in the innermost recesses of nature.” The knowing of these secrets “would enable one to gain mastery over nature’s occult forces.”

In the fifteenth century, when human dissection began to be practiced in late medieval western Europe, the dissectors’ scalpels went straight for the female womb, occult source of human life. Two years after Columbus sailed the unknown seas past their known limits and “discovered” a New World, virgin land, the first image of an internal human organ rendered in dissection was printed—“Figure of the uterus from nature”—in an Italian medical book. The pages contained anatomical drawings of males as well, but showed only the outside of the body, whereas the interiors of female figures were depicted. At the same time the womb was laid open and labeled, explorers of the new continents probed toward their interiors to name them, map them, and claim them for their empires.

The new lands were described as the Garden of Eden, and another of the book’s anatomical images, “On Woman,” illustrated the pregnant womb. In a letter, Columbus described the land he had discovered as “exceedingly fertile.”

I detect in such phrases and images a desire to uncover and possess the very source of life’s abundance.

At the root of the science that became the study of life lies a tenet that remains pervasive: those who study it “rationally” are those who rule over it.

In that time of scientific revolution, Europeans were discovering more and more of the globe, bent on a rampant quest for greater power over the rest of exceedingly fertile and already inhabited creation.

In the early explorers’ pages, life is cut apart and pinned down into controllable pieces. In 1588’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, one of the voyagers who crossed the wide Atlantic to establish the first English colony in Virginia breaks down the habitat, of which he knows very little, into a list of extractable commodities, including “a kind of grasse in the countrey vppon the blades whereof there growtheth very good silke in forme of a thin glittering skin to bee stript of … Flaxe and Hempe … Allum … Pith, Tarre, Rozen, and Turpentine … Sassafras … Cedar … Wine … Oyle … Furres … Deare Skinnes … Mayze … Beanes … Peaze.” He goes on and on.

“One man may prepare and husband so much grounde,” he wrote. If a man is husband, the earth itself is wife, her womb laid open, submitting to his will.

Columbus’s new lands coursed with “many very broad and health-giving rivers,” “very lofty mountains,” “the greatest variety of trees reaching to the stars,” and, of course, many people who thrived in that alive place. “I took possession of all,” Columbus wrote.

The unmapped womb that spreads out inside women’s bodies, watery little ocean from which life springs forth in darkness, sparked in some, surely, a reverence for the mystery that creates every man. It must have inspired an impulse to bow down and admit the limits of their knowledge and control. But that is difficult to find in these written histories, a worldview that was buried.

THE FLEMISH physician Andreas Vesalius’s famous 1543 book on human anatomy, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, begins with a title page that depicts Vesalius exposing the flayed-open uterus of a female cadaver who lay naked upon a table in front of him, her breasts exposed, nearly a hundred men crowding around, eager and curious for a view of the open womb. The woman is laid upon the dissection table same as the soft, wet frog lies supine before us in high school biology class, same as the rippling seas spread out before discoverers in their galleons.

The image is a widely known icon of modern science. Within a religious context, an icon is an image of a sacred person, the depiction itself also sacred. If science is the religion of our times, it’s worth considering what its icons are. Vesalius’s image is not simply of a female womb but of the man who stands above her, having cut the uterus open, the hundreds of men who crowd upon her with their knowledge-seeking eyes.

Vesalius’s book was published during a century that saw a flood of books of secrets. They had titles like Garden of Various SecretsBook of the Secret of CreationThe Little Garland Blossoming with Various Lovely SecretsGarden and Bouquet of Secrets, and A Fountain Where Water of Secrets Flows.

Giambattista della Porta’s 1558 Magia Naturalis found the natural philosopher “labour[ing] earnestly to disclose the secrets of Nature…. such Things as hitherto lay hid in the Bosome of wondrous Nature.” He formed the Academy of Secrets, a scientific society of “curious Men.” Later in life he was a member of the Academy of the Lynx-Eyed, named after a frontispiece illustration of a lynx in his book that had the accompanying caption: “With lynx-like eyes, examining those things which manifest themselves, so that having observed them, he may zealously use them.” These were only two of many such scientific academies. The academies were about concentrating power and money, not unlike the Church that challenged these men throughout the Roman Inquisition. Both institutions wished to control the business of mystery plumbing.

The sixteenth century’s most famous book of secrets was Alessio Piemontese’s Secreti, printed in 104 editions and nine languages. The book gave instructions for utilizing things like crocodile skins, hyena pelts, ape hearts, and toads in magical recipes that would banish various ailments. In its English translation, The Secrets of Alessio, translator William Warde wrote that the book demonstrated that God had imbued all of nature with “certaine secrete vertues, whiche be manifeste signes of goddes love and favoure towardes man.” Warde thought this would counteract a resurgence of paganism that was taking place at the time, a worldview that nature’s beings had their own virtues and largely unknowable intelligence, that spirit coursed through and moved in everything.

This was a belief system that is now called animism in the colonized world and that western European explorers of the New World called “no religion.” The belief that nature has what Aristotle might have called a rational soul, and that it is beyond the understanding we can attain in the human body, just one narrow slice of consciousness, knowledge, and sensation out of an infinite number of sensing bodies, was considered primitive. In paganism, nature was alive, fluid, conscious, wild in all things, and we were connected with all of it, even with the stones and water that biology does not classify as “life-forms.” Warde was correct that the great wave of books of secrets would counteract this worldview.

The rational search for the secrets of nature that revealed God’s favor for man continued, and in 1637 René Descartes declared that he thought, therefore he wasJe pense, donc je suis neatly sliced humans away from the trappings of an inanimate nature, lifted them out of the realm of the material, far above it. Humans were the ones who held the scalpels, the only ones intelligent enough to probe the mysteries of nature, of existence, and vivisection experiments proliferated afterward.

The Force that Animates Life

IN THE LATE 1700S, electricity was the mystery that vexed the minds of scientists. During a violent thunderstorm, one Luigi Galvani, Italian professor of physics, biology, and philosophy at the University of Bologna, connected a metal rod to the legs of a dissected frog. With each lightning strike, the frog’s legs twitched and convulsed, as if they might hop and leap again, though the frog was dead. Galvani published a paper in 1791 claiming his discovery: electricity was the force that animated life. A giddiness arose in the paper’s wake. If men could harness electrical energy, they might have control of life.

In the following decades, Galvani’s nephew Giovanni Aldini traveled Europe staging dramatic spectacles in which he reanimated dead animals with electrical current. The early nineteenth-century popular European imagination fetishized the ability to wield electricity to, it seemed, infuse death with life, the mysterious energy that flickered in the eyes of living beings. It was popular in high society to electrify dead frogs for the entertainment of guests. The corpses of criminals were used in public experiments that functioned as theatrical performance. Excitement surged when, in front of a crowd of “scientific gentlemen,” one scholar of chemistry and physics in the Royal Society of London attached conducting rods to a dead man’s face, causing “every muscle in his countenance” to display emotions of anger, fear, hopelessness, sadness, and delight. In this experiment, “not only had mechanical motion been achieved,” writes Elizabeth Stephens, a professor of cultural studies at Australia’s Southern Cross University, “but an actual resuscitation of body and mind, or even soul.” The source of soul, of emotion and feeling, might be reduced to electrical current, an enticing discovery.

Mary Shelley, aware of such experiments, took up the philosophical questions of reanimation in her 1818 novel Frankenstein, whose protagonist Dr. Victor Frankenstein has “a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature.” The creature that Victor makes is pieced together from the parts of corpses, a constructive correlate of dissection. “I pursued nature to her hiding-places,” Victor says of his fevered quest. “What had been the study and desire of the wisest men since the creation of the world was now within my grasp.”

The question that Shelley entertains is a version of the same old one: if living beings are no more than mechanical systems—not just women and animals but even men, as was being taught in medical discourse and the science of anatomy—and if science comes to fully understand their mechanics, might not men of science have full control over life? Might they not learn to create it? “The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine,” says Shelley’s physician-scientist, sounding much like those in the first century and in the twenty-first.

As we know, though Victor supplies all the elements of animation to his construction, “with all its intricacies of fibres, muscles, and veins,” something is not quite right with the being he creates. It turns monstrous, destroys those who Victor loves the most, and vows to annihilate him too. When he is found in ruins and given the chance to tell his story to the polar-expeditioning ship captain who rescues him, Victor sees that the captain is eager to learn how to make life. He begs the captain, though, to “listen patiently until the end of my story, and you will easily perceive why I am reserved upon that subject.” Victor is somber and tortured, regretting the “malice of the fiend whom I had let loose among them.”

If it seems an extremely Gothic moral tale, we might consider the fiends that have been let loose among us in the wake of our discoveries. We have discovered how to unlock vast deposits of oil and gas, formed out of buried dead organisms from millions of years ago, from deep within the rocks of the earth, and how to burn them to create the mysterious energy of electricity that so enamored those in the nineteenth century. Carbon molecules now cluster like demons in the atmosphere, raising Earth’s temperature degree by degree and whipping up vortexes of tropical air, twisting them into forceful gyres that tear down towns, cities, and villages, rip the roofs from houses, and toss human bodies around like sticks. Fossil-fuel giants leave behind the spooky glurg of petroleum-splooge pits in the rainforest. Sickening sheens of oil creep across our oceans’ surfaces, oozing silently over the bodies of seabirds and fish.

The “discovery” of America led to a pandemic in the micro-cosmos of the bodies of its original people, and to the invaders’ murderous tendencies toward those same Indigenous bodies, all while the invaders spread into and inhabited the fertile, virgin soils that they would turn to wastelands. Maps of newly discovered lands were maps of future Superfund sites.

Almost every biological discovery I read points to our ignorance of how the whole thing is unfolding around us, holding us in its web.

Gold was discovered throughout the West, which led to a yet more accelerated genocide of Native people along with leftover loads of acidic mining waste that is still spilling and leaking. In 2015, 3 million neon gallons of tailings and heavy metals from the Gold King mine in Silverton, Colorado, spilled into the Animas River, just one in an endless belch of disasters in which the land is like a festering body with gangrene infection.

Coal was discovered in Appalachia, which led to a hundred-years-and-counting curse of ill streams and rivers, the life waters a curdling poison.

We have discovered nuclear fission, but no one knows how to get rid of the horrid volumes of radioactive waste that will be glowing hazardously for the next 10,000 to a million years.

Plastics were discovered in the last century or so, but no one can quite figure how to remove them from the oceans, where they have amassed into a tumorous glob larger than Texas, or how to get them out of rivers, where they have shape-shifted sneakily into an abundance of microparticles that are causing fish to mutate—tiny clear pieces of plastic that make the cells of living things contort in confusion.

We discovered how to craft a device called a pacemaker to keep the beats of a faltering heart regular, but as Katherine E. Standefer’s book Lightning Flowers shows, we haven’t fully considered how the heart that beats artificially impacts the hearts of those whose lands hold the rare earth minerals that are mined to make the devices tick.

Technology gave us aerosol spray cans, but no one foresaw that these aerosols would transcend ghostly to the stratosphere and scare a hole through the ozone layer.

Pesticides were discovered as a way to annihilate pesky insects on food crops, but no one could see that they would make bug-eating songbirds lay thin and fragile eggs that couldn’t grow baby birds or that they would rupture the livers and kidneys of humans.

As a bonus of discovering how to kill masses of people with the explosion of nitrate during the technological marvel of World War II, we also discovered how to produce tons of nitrogen fertilizer to boost production of the fruiting plants we eat. But no one foresaw that it would cause a drastic spike in nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas three hundred times more potent than carbon dioxide, the nitrate in the soil generating a heat in the atmosphere greater than that from all the bombs dropped in the deadliest, bloodiest human conflict in history.

We discovered how to genetically modify seeds, but no one had a clue how eating their fruits might be connected to a plague of food allergies and gastric illness.

We discovered how to pump water from underground aquifers but not how to avoid pumping it too fast, and so our houses are crumbling as the crust of earth they stand on is caving in and water drains out over the deforested land to the rising ocean.

In case after case—and I could keep stitching together such pieces of the whole horrendous monster of this story and never finish—the discovery of nature’s mysteries at first seems to lead to a greater control over “nature’s occult forces,” but soon reveals ever more unknown workings, unforeseen outcomes on a planet that is unpredictable, always half-obscured and in the dark, so much slipping from our sight and into shadow, a planet that, even as we kill most everything, is wildly alive, mysterious to its core, a force to be reckoned with.

On the ship, Dr. Frankenstein shares his disastrous story with the captain but withholds the secrets of how he engineered the monster, saying, “I will not lead you on … to your destruction and infallible misery.”

A Natural Curiosity

BEHIND MY HOUSE in the Georgia Piedmont, there spreads a boggy wetland and a slow, beaver-dammed creek. Winters are quiet here; the frogs hibernate. In a months-long sort of slumber, they lie motionless at the bottom of the murk, atop the mud, breathing not with gills but through their skin. In their inner cavities, below layers of muscle, their hearts beat like the softest bass drums, infrequent but regular thumps.

Other frogs use their hands to dig down into the soil and burrow, or crawl into holes and crevices in rocks and logs. Once settled, they slow their breathing and take in only the tiniest sips of air in inaudible sighs through the longest nights and shortest days, while Earth revolves around its star. When the freeze comes, crystals of ice form inside the abdominal cavities of the frogs. They lace across the organs, spread out in geometrical patterns between skin and muscle, bladder, intestines, kidneys. The eyes turn white, the lenses frozen. Then the frog’s heart stops beating. It quits breathing. Biologists call it a state of “suspended animation.” To all appearances, the frog is quite dead.

One day in early spring when Earth is tilted slightly more toward the sun, the frog’s heart leaps to life. It gasps for breath, its lungs filling with air again. Its legs propel it from a crevice. Thousands of frogs crawl up from the earth and swim from beneath the water every year, all over the world, and sing in choruses, their singing a love song, after which billions or trillions of gelatinous eggs—who could ever count them?—are laid in clumps and blobs. A tadpole squiggles out from each one, the first form of a new frog, before its metamorphosis into a wholly different shape.

Biologists have found the way frogs survive the freezes: their little livers make glucose that floods their bodies and protects their cells from the crystals of ice that would rupture them. Glucose’s sugary syrup keeps each cell’s wall from fracturing, each nucleus from scrambling. Biologists explain this as a “mechanism,” how the machinery operates. One explanation of the process calls it “what would seem to be a biological miracle.” What would seem to be.

What keeps us from acknowledging life’s miracles, naming them for what they are? We can identify and label heart, skin, lungs, tongue, small intestine, large intestine, kidneys, and so on, call them organs that carry out processes, call it all mechanisms, operations, systems, say we’ve figured out how it all works, but a frog’s life is nothing less than a mystery, as is ours, as is every life.

I visit the low-lying pools of water behind my house, where the spring peepers set my ears to whirring. Though their voices rise in loops through the air at dusk, I can’t see their bodies. Bubbles push through the opaque water and pop at the surface. These wetlands conjure primordial creation, the first rising of life from water.

When a tadpole crawls onto the shore with its newly grown legs and its gills that have been transformed into lungs, it mimics that revolutionary moment in the evolution of life when a finned fish crawled from the ocean onto land.

Every week I see a new magazine or newspaper headline: another of nature’s secrets discovered about a species biologists have been studying. These past several years I have noticed a trend. The bulk of the discoveries are about how much more intricate and complex a certain life-form is than we previously understood it to be, its intelligence wrapped in the mystery of a foreign sensorium. We now know, for example, that octopuses have neurons—the apparatus we have long thought of as exclusive to the brain—in their arms, as trees and plants have neuronal molecules in their roots that tendril underground, unseen. We know that the polarity of male and female is fluid, that nonfemale animals have nurturing roles, that there are many more genders than two, an aspect of nature that one kind of masculinity has no desire to discover. Almost every biological discovery I read points to our ignorance of how the whole thing is unfolding around us, holding us in its web.

The story I read about the uncovered mystery of how a frog’s liver produces glucose to keep it from freezing ends in a way that most all of these kinds of stories do. It says that researchers don’t yet understand what starts the frog’s heart again after being frozen. Such a statement is both a concession of ignorance and another stake on the vast territory of mystery, another act of colonization. No matter how diligently we apply our rational minds, no future awaits in which the human species understands every part of life, and life does not exist in parts really but as an unfathomable vast whole. The frog, living both on land and in water, reminds us that all of life on the planet in fact depends on water, the fluid substance that threads the land and falls out of the sky, a form that is considered nonliving and yet infuses every cell with life.

Because frog skin and a woman’s uterus are permeable, both frogs and pregnant women are particularly susceptible to the poisons and toxicants with which we’ve flooded our habitats. Life is threatened in every hidden recess where it grows and resides. As for the future that we stake claims on, how can we deny that we stand eye-deep in the greatest mystery that has ever eluded our vision, that question of how the vast collapse that we’ve set in motion will play out, and whether our species will survive and what will happen tomorrow or the next day?

The question, then, is how to act in acceptance of our ignorance and the limits of our knowledge, knowing what we know and can easily see.

To be in ignorance does not reduce our intelligence. To accept our ignorance enlarges our capacity for the love, reverence, and imagination that might nurture and bring forth better ways of living. Holding space for this mystery, we don’t know what we’ll discover.

In school, I remember staring out the classroom window at the wide world beyond those walls, as perhaps an explorer gazes across the open ocean. This seems a natural curiosity that pulls us deeper into life. Curious to know what else life holds, to witness the lives we are caught up in, what shapes of beauty and challenge exist. We wish to discover the unknown dimensions. We want to lift up a stone and find a salamander beneath it. We want to catch a leaping green frog in our hands, to feel its strength against our palm. We want to be intimate with life, to feel the unexplained joy that rises in the chest when we discover its pulse. The matter that concerns us is never settled. We stay curious.

I walk to the creek when it is flowing with new rains, a scum of surfactants swirling on its surface, toward the high-pitched whirs of spring peepers. I approach the bank, and a frog blurts out, leaps, plops into the water, propels itself out of sight. +