THE HUMAN GENOME:

POEMS ON THE BOOK OF LIFE

GILLIAN K FERGUSON

Tobacco


‘Rows of tobacco plants grow in a remote field in Virginia, United States. Although they look like any other crop, these plants, which contain a human gene, represent the future hopes of the biotech industry. CropTech Corporation, a company trying to turn plants into medicine factories, believes that tobacco plants like these, tested in field trials last summer, will one day be able to manufacture human proteins capable of treating a host of diseases. But the research has triggered debate among those opposed to the transplant of human genes into plants, including the Catholic Church. Tobacco was the first plant ever to be genetically modified, back in the 1980s. The easiest plant to genetically engineer, it is a rapid and efficient biomass producer. "Tobacco has a great reproductive rate and so a single plant will produce up to a million seeds," says Professor Carole Cramer, Chief Scientific Officer at CropTech and a professor at Virginia Tech. "If you compare that say with corn - a single corn plant will produce maybe 300 seeds.” She says that, in many cases, plants will be able to make drugs that no other system can make. "In a situation where medical costs are escalating at such a rate if we can actually come up with technologies that bring the forefront of science, the new medicines that are available, to people in a cost-effective way, that is significant." CropTech, based in Blacksburg, Virginia, has already inserted nine different human genes into tobacco. It is also testing proteins from a number of other biotech and pharmaceutical companies to see whether plants can be persuaded to synthesise these potential drugs.’ BBC News online


‘The whole claque is a benighted religion/ Around the godlike syntax and vocabulary/ Of a mute cell, that does not know  who we are/ Or even that we are here,/ Unforthcoming as any bramble-flower.’ Ted Hughes


Tobacco is a killer


“We had human serum albumin and another human protein, a clot bluster, a blood protein, growing in seven different sites in the state of Virginia in the field last summer.” Carole Kramer, Chief Scientific Officer, CropTech Corporation


I turn my leaves’ flat faces into sun,

hot light’s scouring, numbing rub –


my dazzling brothers help me forget

all the acres of death I have in me -


only the poppy understands my grief,

realising what you have done to us -


air inhales me but does not sicken,

earth feeds me but does not poison;


why did you come to me?

why did you come to me?


Just to grow is happiness enough

for a plant, seeds were my passion;


I was ignorant of myself, innocent.

And now you are in me - grossly


assimilated; I feel the bind of us,

our marriage in the hearts of me,


wanting me to bleed for you -

for there is blood in my seed


like a beating ghost of you,

alien print spreading script.


And I would refuse, deny -

wither, curl back into earth, 


but blood is the red current

of life in you, as water, sap; 


I am printing life for you

with myself, my energy -


diluting some of this death

that you have made in me,


by breathing my leaves,

drying and burning me;


in the same agony -

tortured incredulity,


as the scalpelled black-eyed poppy,

losing her sticky milk - her peace.


‘One example of a human protein that has been successfully expressed in tobacco plants, albeit in small quantities, is the human enzyme glucocerebroside, which processes an essential fatty substance in the body. If the enzyme is absent, because of a genetic mutation, the fat builds up in the organs and sometimes brains of newborn babies. The result is a rare genetic disorder known as Gaucher's disease,  which, in the most severe cases, is fatal by the age of six months. Gaucher's disease can be treated - by replacing the missing enzyme - but the treatment is very expensive and must be taken for life. Until recently, the enzyme replacement therapy used to treat Gaucher's disease, with an average price per patient of more than $150,000 (£104,000) a year, was known as the "most expensive drug in the world". The drug had to be laboriously extracted from human placenta, a single dose requiring 400-2,000 of them. Last year, a new drug, manufactured in a mammalian cell culture system, came on to the market. Although the drug is regarded as safer, it is no cheaper, which is why CropTech is trying to produce the drug in tobacco. CropTech is also working on producing blood clotting replacement products such as human serum albumin in bioengineered plants. The first generation of tobacco plants made human serum albumin but not in commercially useful quantities.’ BBC News online


I Shook Hands with the Tree


I shook hands with the big tree,

warm pink to cool green palm -


his words so slow, asthmatic,

I could not truly understand,


but noted the same star shape

of our hands, skeleton below -


touched skin to bark;

ear to trunk listening


for a hymn of leaves

I could amost hear –


and saw how his limbs were raised

always in the air like an evangelist,


forever on his knees in earth -

and the world was his church.




Once I grew older like the lichen


Once I grew older like the redoubtable lichen;

imperceptibly, with all the time in the world -


but now my heart is like a mouse; I’m ageing

like a flower, who even as her bloom ignites,


beauty lights the world, is already dreaming

of bees and pollen, laying herself to seed -


I hold the Sunflower and Lily, flowers of day

and night, one in each hand, as scale; symbols,


and the lily’s deathly serenity drips freshly,

crumpling sunflower has seeds in her eye.




The rowan has bled to death


The rowan has bled to death,

drop by drop by drop.


Some shreds of dried leaf

flesh hold


by one starved finger -

still burning. 



Desk Lily


I am grateful to the murderous owl,

feather defibrillator


hooting my heart

into fluttering mouse,


butterfly hands,

hedgehog hair -


like a lonely man’s gratitude

for a ghost.



This desk lily has stoned me,

insidiously slowed my heart


with her airborne sugar-drug,

trademark sweet evening fug;


caught my bright cornflower eye

with her blinkless white gaze -


opening always further, wider,

until mouthing milky vowels


of peace, marble calm;

deathly sleep of effigy -


pilfered my mind from work,

like a feverishly new lover -


spawning hankering dreams

of perpetual love and oaths.



Her skin and mine now look the same,

luminous blue window twins hung -


sinister night brooders, bloodless sisters -

looming forever from a dark starless pool,


like the drowned green willow

who sees no point in weeping


among tearless fish,

impassive weeds -


by midnight’s black watch,

we have entered his realm,


we are white as our souls;

she has stolen me away.




Water Lily in Scottish Garden


Bringing Japan to the heart of Scotland -

embarrassingly plump, lush bud bulging

from water, like swimming very pregnant.


Pink meat flower, muscular, rubber-suited;

thug-flower fist, clenching blubber-tissue -

until sun rubbing her isolation, cool hiding.


She keeps sucking from cold lower black,

but begins opening her bingo-wing arms,

like an agonisingly slow, flabby ballerina,


head still achingly tight on sprung hinges -

but the angry Scottish sun, so long denied

from summer, beats savagely on her closed


cup, eyes her first pink skirt with intense blue

stares; until she hears the music of obese bees

composing in the warming garden - tuning up


over the Bottle Brush bush and rose -

serenading her now a handsome frog,

cheekily on her own leaf palm, moored


green platform for his comic song.

Her umbilical green rope to diving

bell of sunken bulb, now pumping,


live connection to naked air - she spreads

her ragged, jagged pinks to gasps; oh, so

delicate her tulle - another layer, another,


like paper flowers made by happy children,

until her white heart - everything displayed,

so pure, untouched - she dazzles ardent sun.


Gossiping local daisies smile at her exotic

charms, floating isolation - fat pink queen

on thin green barge, her finery symmetrical,


radiant, with sunburst aureoles.

She is a painting in the garden

by Nature among native species,


the twinkling Forget-Me-Not -

(who quite forgets herself), now

stares with all her tiny blue eyes,


like the cool prickle of star-gaze;

the dowager wine roses sniffing

pursed, thin-lipped disapproval


of this flamboyant foreigner -

such alien practice of floating,

being weird flower-on-water -


adapted perfectly for this miracle

of leaving solid respectable earth,

with superfluous, luxurious beauty.


‘Thus, dandelions and related plants such as hawkweeds reproduce parthenogenically – and have indeed abandoned sex altogether – but all of them are diploid; so parthenogenesis begins with the oocyte.’ Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell, Colin Tudge, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001


Summer Evening Vase


Punky yellow chrysanthemums

grin to a blushing Sun looking


in the window - shy white lilies

turn pink with virginal pleasure.


Half the new blood-red roses beat

beyond their crumpled petal rims -


devilish haloes burning crimson;

just sucking on cool green hoses


enough not to burst into flames.

Half droop supermarket-bruised


plum heads - crushed, blackening -

looking; hurting like broken hearts.



‘Two art students are planning to grow trees containing the genetic identity of human beings. The idea is to replace the unused ‘junk’ DNA in trees with entire human genomes. The ‘humanised’ trees would be unaffected by the change, but still carry the biological essence of the DNA donors. One possibility envisaged is that the trees could replace gravestones as a way of preserving the memory of departed loved ones. If an apple tree was used, it would provide an edible as well as a visible reminder. Like the rest of the tree, the fruit would contain human DNA. “Implanting your grandmother’s DNA into an apple tree brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Granny Smith’, said George Tremmel, from the Royal College of Art in London. “But would you eat an apple from your grandma’s tree?’ The Scotsman newspaper, UK, 2003


‘Crush an apple, crush a possibility.’ Arthur Tze, the Leaves of a Dream Are the Leaves of an Onion


‘Having spoken a little with Baucis/ Philemon reveals their joint verdict to the gods:/ ‘we ask to be priests and watch over your temples,/ and since we have spent harmonious years,/ let the same hour take us two, nor may I ever see/ my wife’s tomb(s), neither may I be buried by her.’/ Faith follows wishes: they were the guardians of the temple,/ as long as life was given; weakened by years and old-age/ when by chance they were standing before the sacred steps and/ discussing the place’s downfall, Baucis [saw] that Philemon was in leaf,/ old Philemon saw that Baucis was in leaf./ And now while the top grew over twin countenances/ while it is permitted, they returned mutual words and said ‘farewell,/ o companion’ at once, likewise bark covered concealed mouths:/ Bithynian inhabitants hitherto show/ the neighboring trunks from twin bodies there.’ Ovid, The Metamorphoses, Wikisource Literal Translation


Us as Trees


Love, we could get planted together,

at our time of death, decomposition –


no, stupid, not drunk, stoned,

as we have been many times,


when youth shone more brightly

in our slowly thinning paper-skin,


where much has now been written;

but as two trees remaining on earth,


printed with our holy recipe -

whatever script that wrote us


into each other as one poem,

like knitting from two pins -


merged our eternal word

in the letter-weld of love,


to our story, one song,

reciting in the world.


What would we be?

Creamy magnolia –


clinging honeysuckle?

so sugary, swoony -


but unable to take her own weight

of sweetness and evening romance;


or climbing ivy you say, irretrievably,

passionately tangled in one another -


some species mutually dependent anyway;

kissing mistletoe which survives like wire.




Tree Genome


A tree is the story of a tree

told by itself, reciting now


in bark and limbs.

From root mouths,


speaking into air,

with branch-arms


writing seasons of leaves

in old languages of green


chemistry, founded in swamps,

photosynthetic sun-grammar.


Each leaf has a thin star skeleton,

filled with arboreal blood words -


adding new works

to forest libraries -


leaving us fossil tales,

dreaming fern legends.



From the tree’s own dry body

come spectacular gifts of fire,


learned from wild space,

first combustive events -


furniture to ease human bones,

paper scaffolding art and word;


from her golden-ringed, printed

heart, adding chapter and verse


to the world’s green book

of all encrypted woods -


always hearing pale spring’s

yawning light, altered touch


of earth’s dark lips, wetting,

yet still numbed with winter.



A tree is a poem -

turning silver palms,


panicked green eyes,

evangelical arms,


to the wind,

heavenly blue -


then in cold metaphorical flames

burning red and holy, dropping gold


in a slow conflagration of symbolic death;

but seeds and nuts among the decomposing


star leaves, already encrypted

with life - more clone-poems.



Red Stem


I have grown you on our red stem,

flowering in the dark closed bowl.


Sucking bulb burning my blood

for the bright blossom of fingers.




Wishes


Wishes

like dried ghosts of tiny stars

sail today -


my small son bouncing -

baby rabbit, lamb; fluffy,

flapping, fledgling bird -


half-taking off,

reaching like a midget

basketball player;


plucking them like snowflake husks

from shiny blue air,

hijacked enroute to heaven.


He cannot believe his luck,

a whole flotilla, drifting -

double, triple wishes;


some motherly plump thistle

finally bursting,

birthing near today.


I see he believes,

eyes Chinesely-squeezed shut,

dreams his lips whisper


will really come true -

these airy vessels, fairy-haired,

are truly wishes waiting to be filled,


carrying their bright cargoes,

snared on simple wings,

somewhere up there -


gold and shining, heavenly.

Whoosh, he speeds them,

written, encrypted seeds -


some catching on grass and trees,

others flying free, up and on -

clear out of sight to invisibility.


Why should I not laugh, spark

delight endangered in the adult species,

preserve a sparkling share -


say not to tell me

or the wish won’t come true –

the least that can happen is a flower.




The leaf does not want to leave the tree


The leaf does not want to leave the tree;

clinging with one skinny wrist – tugged,


resisting, like a desperate man in fast water.

Already it is on fire – a burning red/orange


star, but still sucking; though the mother

is falling to sleep, her gold summer ring


grown - marriage to the season symbolised;

losing awareness of this September struggle.


At last crisp, a whispering yellow ghost;

each powering green vein turned blood-


crimson on the way to death, now black -

skin brown-spotted like old human hands,


a cunning gust plucks the leaf, now golden

with stolen autumn sunshine - transfigured


to the emblem of a leaf; embroidered

in royal threads on a blank blue sky -


but even as patient death stalks her downward,

wet/wounded-butterfly flutter - comes picking


for her starry skeleton, her pattern for frost -

this leaf struggles like a plump duck, hungry


bumble bee, to stay airborne - funnily,

like a cartoon man fallen from a cliff;


determinedly spreading her flat little star-wing,

parachute skirt, whole-skin parasol - boarding


the intricacies of invisible wind,

holding her breath and weight -


until, always ski-ing nearer ground,

desperate, she steals the bright spirit


of a passing bird once she sheltered;

for one frantic, upwardly aeronautic


flight - tumbling, swinging on a bright

trapeze of crackling white air - thinks


she’s cracked it; so shining, flashing

gold, alive - Lazarus leaf rising again,


but free in shimmering ice-breeze,

making for that great blue opening


where she has looked up a lifetime,

with her whole green hand and eye.



‘Deforestation is a major contributor to the habitat loss that continues to threaten endangered species across the planet. For example, the rate of destruction of the Amazonian rainforest increased by 40% between 2001 and 2002. More than 25,000 sq km were cleared in a year, mainly for farming. That represents an area of land larger than Belgium. The Amazon is home to up to 30% of the world's animal and plant life. Trees also convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, thereby playing a major part in reducing pollution and controlling climate change caused by excess greenhouse gases. It is impossible to stop deforestation in the foreseeable future, but there are many opportunities for bringing it under control and minimising its negative impacts. Residual forests can be preserved, logged areas replanted and new laws can be introduced to limit the amount of land that can be deforested each year. People can also explore the use of alternative materials and recycled materials.’ BBC, 2006


My paintings are like my garden


My paintings are like my garden;

I am their earth -


colours and shapes come,

my flowers -


strange slimy things

limping under leaves;


earwig and butterfly,

lichen and lily.


So where does this light

that draws them come from -


what water christens beauty,

spawns this awful darkness:


from what complicated seed

does it all spring and bloom.
Rice.html


 
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Note from the author
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INTRODUCTION
CONTENTS
SEQUENCE ONE
SEQUENCE TWO
    Gene Zoo
    Wings
    Gene Garden
        Tobacco
        Rice
        GM
        Terminator Technology
    Earth Poems
SEQUENCE THREE
SEQUENCE FOUR

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