Geneticist as driver, down the gene
codes in, let’s say, a topless coupe
and you keep expecting bends,
real tyre-testers on tight
mountain passes, but instead it’s dead
straight, highway as runway,
helix unravelled as vista,
as vanishing point. Keep your foot
down. This is a finite desert.
You move too fast to read it,
the order of the rocks, the cacti,
roadside weeds, a blur to you.
Every hour or so, you pass a shack
which passes for a motel here:
tidy faded rooms with TVs on
for company, the owner pacing out
his empty parking lot. And after
each motel you hit a sandstorm
thick as fog, but agony.
Somewhere out there are remnants
of our evolution, genes for how
to fly south, sense a storm,
hunt at night, how to harden
your flesh into hide or scales.
These are the miles of dead code.
Every desert has them.
You are on a mission to discover
why the human heart still slows
when divers break the surface,
why mermaids still swim in our dreams.
-by Michael Symmons Roberts
Source: Poetry (June 2003).