Joe Mills: “The Scientist After the Operation”

The Scientist After the Operation

A couple weeks after the operation, 
he finally can sit outside,
under the enormous black walnut tree
that hasn’t yet succumbed to a storm
although it loses limbs each time.
He holds in his lap a biography 
of Gregor Mendel, the monk 
who cross-bred plants 
and discovered genetic inheritance.

At one point, he had thought about
the church as a career. His mother had
suggested it would be a good place
for someone with his “proclivities,”
a comment so complicated he kept
returning to the statement for years
trying to determine if it was caring,
Machiavellian or something else.
He had studied science instead.

She doesn’t know he’s sick.
They haven’t talked since the wedding 
when the state finally allowed him 
and Greg to be a legal couple,
and yet, this was when 
his grandmother began talking 
openly to him about relationships 
in the months before her death. 
Some things skip a generation. 
Some things never get passed down. 

He sees Greg glancing out 
the kitchen window, checking
to make sure he’s okay,
awake, still alive,
and he waves the book
to reassure his partner,
like a preacher with a bible

About the Author: A faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Joseph Mills holds the Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities. He has published seven volumes of poetry, most recently Bodies in Motion. His collection This Miraculous Turning was awarded the North Carolina Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry for its exploration of race and family.


Image Credit: Edvard Munch “Landowner in the Park” (1903)

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