Saturday, May 09, 2009

from 'Shedding Life'

Miroslav Holub's essay, 'Shedding Life', from The Dimension of the Present Moment is one I've been returning to again and again. It must have been pretty central to him as well, because he named a later collection of essays after it.

I can't post the whole thing (I shouldn't) so here's an extract:

The blood corpuscles were caught in tender, massive nets of fibres formed from fibrinogen, stimulated by thrombin that was formed from prothrombin. A long sequence of events occurred one after the other in the presence of calcium ions, phospholipids from blood platelets, and thromboplastin, through which the shot arteries were trying to show that the bleeding should be stopped because it was bad for the muskrat (though in the long run it didn’t matter). And in the serum around the blood cells, the muskrat’s inner life signals were probably still flickering, dimming and fading out: instructions from the pituitary gland to the liver and adrenals, from the thyroid gland to all kinds of cells, from the adrenal glands to sugars and salts, from the pancreas to the liver and fat tissues – the dying debate of an organism whose trillions of cells co-exist thanks to unified information.

And, especially because of the final chase, the adrenalin and the stress hormone corticotrophin were still sounding their alarms. Alarms were rushing to the liver to mobilise sugar reserves, alarms were sounding to distend the coronary and skeletal muscle arteries, to increase heart activity, to dilate bronchioles, to skin arteries and make the hair stand up, to dilate the pupils. And all that militant inner tumult was abandoned by what should obey it. Then there were endorphins which lessen the pain and anxiety of a warrior’s final struggle, and substances to sharpen the memory, because the struggle for life should be remembered well.

So there was this muskrattish courage, an elemental bravery transcending life.

But mainly, among the denaturing proteins and the disintegrating peptide chains, the white blood cells lived, really lived, as anyone knows who has ever peeked into a microscope, or anyone knows who remembers how live tissue cells were grown from a sausage in a Cambridge laboratory (the sausage having certainly gone through a longer funereal procedure than blood that is still flowing). There were these shipwrecked white blood cells in the cooling ocean, millions and billions of them on the concrete, on the rags, in the wrung-out murkiness. Bewildered by the unusual temperature and salt concentration, lacking unified signals and the gentle ripples of the vascular endothelium, they were nevertheless alive and searching for whatever they were destined to search for. The T lymphocytes were using their receptors to distinguish the muskrat’s self-markers from the non-self bodies. The B lymphocytes were using their antibody molecules to pick up everything the muskrat had learned about the outer world in the course of its evolution. Plasma cells were dropping antibodies on the bottom of the pool, releasing their digestive granules in an attempt to devour its infinite surface. And here and there a blast cell divided, creating two new, last cells.

In spite of the escalating losses, these huge home-defence battalions were still protecting the muskrat from the sand, cement, lime, cotton and grass; they recognised, reacted, signalled, immobilised, died to the last unknown soldier in the last battle beneath the banner of an identity already buried under the spruces.

Update: Here's his 'Five Minutes After the Air Raid'.* I've actually blogged a poem or two before. Please search, no?:

In Pilsen,
Twenty-six Station Road,
she climbed to the Third Floor
up stairs which were all that was left
of the whole house,
she opened her door
full on to the sky,
stood gaping over the edge.

For this was the place
the world ended.

she locked up carefully
lest someone steal
or Aldebaran
from her kitchen,
went back downstairs
and settled herself
to wait
for the house to rise again
and for her husband to rise from the ashes
and for her children’s hands and feet to be stuck back in place.

In the morning they found her
still as stone,
sparrows pecking her hands.

–Miroslav Holub, “Five Minutes After the Air Raid”, transl (I think) by Ewald Osers.

*Falsie, in some discussion some time ago, this was the poem I was referring to. At the time I couldn't remember where the image of stairs and open sky came from.


km said...

You are on a medical writing trip, aren't you? :)

(I have not read Holub before, but his Wiki entry says he is a poet *and* an immunologist, which sounds like a contradiction and so I must check his books out.)

dipali said...

This was great reading, SpaceBar.

Cheshire Cat said...

Lightmanish stuff, makes one feel more like a zoo than a human being... Hard to infer the poet from this.

dipali said...

What a poem. Phew.