Sue Blaustein: “Microscopy”






What’s under our skins?

                Show me –
through an illustrated cut-out,
                an incision
or window – what lies
                under soft
and folded flesh.

                What’s in there?
Zoom in, then in once more
                to see. Cell structures
revealed by swirls stained
                purple. Vacuoles,

membranes – pores
with intelligence! Chemical
                locks, chemical
keys – receptors.

What’s under our skins?

(My mother knew – from
autopsies and slides).

Away from the flaws
                and heat,
the embarrassments
                of flesh –

and schooled
in the wonders
of magnification,

my mother
in her working days
spent hours
at the microscope.
What’s under our skins –
                our skulls?

The more you magnify,
                the closer in –
cellular, molecular,
atomic, sub-atomic ­-
everything starts
to look strangely the same.

Is that a womb, or a brain?

and fundamental.
Coils of DNA, twitchy
                in a nucleus –

the secret codes and keys
accounting for the ways
                my mother and I
are alike and unalike.

                My mother –
who pored over
The Double Helix
when it first came out –
who could write lines
in a trip journal like:
our capable guide endlessly
                over-informed us.

                I stay informed.
I read about the frontiers of biology –

prion, shred
of protein.
Electron sharing and bonds
creeping along the boundaries
living and non-living –
                things known,
and not yet known
                in her time,
                her prime.
                On that last trip
for which she kept a journal,
(she’d been a widow for more
than a decade by then)
she woke thinking she’d slept
all night and it was breakfast.

                It wasn’t.
It was dinner. Some other
travelers set her straight
                and she wrote:

I was informed that I was dis-oriented.

                Shapes and
chemicals create
Tastes and tics, a way
of making
A preferred way
to spend your days.
Until reaching a point
at which you,
                or yours (on
your behalf) say:
                This isn’t
what I’d call living…



About the Author: Sue Blaustein is the author of “In the Field, Autobiography of an Inspector”. Her information can be found at Recently she contributed a poem to a “The Subtle Forces” podcast episode and was interviewed on the “Blue Collar Gospel Hour”. A retiree, she blogs for Milwaukee’s  Ex Fabula, serves as an interviewer/writer for the “My Life My Story” program at the Zablocki VA Medical Center, and chases insects at the Milwaukee Urban Ecology Center.


Image Credit: Frances Benjamin Johnston “Students in a science class using microscopes, Western High School, Washington, D.C.” (1899) The Library of Congress

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