From the Archive: “Ode to the Alien,” by Diane Ackerman

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“Ode to the Alien,” by Diane Ackerman, appeared in the Spring 1979 issue of MQR.


        Beast, I’ve known you
in all love’s countries, in a baby’s face
     knotted like walnut-meat,
                in the crippled obbligato
 of a polio-stricken friend,
in my father’s eyes
      pouchy as two marsupials,
                    in the grizzly radiance
of a winter sunset, in my lover’s arm
      veined like the blue-ridge mountains.
To me, you are beautiful
              until proven ugly.

          Anyway, I’m no cosmic royalty
either; I’m a bastard of matter
    descended from countless rapes
                       and invasions
   of cell upon cell upon cell.
I crawled out of slime;
          I swung through the jungles
                 of Madagascar;
I drew wildebeest on the caves at Lascaux;
            I lived a grim life
     hunting peccary and maize
in some godforsaken mudhole in the veldt.

            I may squeal
      from the pointy terror of a wasp,
or shun the breezy rhetoric
            of a fire;
but, whatever your form, gait, or healing,
      you are no beast to me,
I who am less than a heart-flutter
    from the brute,
        I who have been beastly for so long.
Like me, you are that pool
              of quicksilver in the mist,
    fluid, shimmery, fleeing, called life.

          And life, full of pratfall and poise,
     life where a bit of frost
one morning can turn barbed wire
            into a string of stars,
    life aromatic with red-hot pizzazz
drumming ha-cha-cha
            through every blurt, nub, sag,
    pang, twitch, war, bloom of it,
life as unlikely as a pelican, or a thunderclap,
    life’s our tour of duty
          on our far-flung planets,
      our cage, our dole, our reverie.

        Have you arts?
    Do waves dash over your brain
        like tide-rip along a rocky coast?
Does your moon slide
      into the night’s back pocket,
                just full when it begins to wane,
so that all joy seems interim?
        Are you flummoxed by that millpond,
deep within the atom, rippling out to every star?
            Even if your blood is quarried,
I pray you well,
    and hope my prayer your tonic.

            I sit at my desk now
                  like a tiny proprietor,
a cottage industry in every cell.
      Diversity is my middle name.
My blood runs laps;
          I doubt yours does,
                but we share an abstract fever
                            called thought,
a common swelter of a sun.
 So, Beast, pause a moment,
                you are welcome here.
          I am life, and life loves life.


Image: Gauguin, Paul. “The Universe is Created (L’Univers est créé), from Fragrance (Noa Noa).” 1893-94. Woodcut on china paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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