c a t a l y s t
vol. 19 11
c o n t e n t s FICTION
8 TIBETAN SKY BURIAL
25 THE BOY WHO ATE HIMSELF 18 SHE DOES NOT Jonathan Leibovic WANT TO FOOL WITH WORDS NOW
11 THE MARSUPIAL LION AND THE KILLER KANGAROO Sofia Castello y Tickell
31 FIELD DAY Tess Carroll
40 MIRADOR Sarah Crosky
35 DO YOU HAVE THE 44 CALCULUS TRAIT?
46 FINDING HUMAN ITY WITHIN SCI- ENCE
52 MIDNIGHT DIP Lolly Lim
EDITORIAL STAFF ART EDITORS Nic Baird, Brown ‘14 Vivian Carlson, Brown ‘14
WRITING EDITORS Tess Carroll, Brown ‘13 Anna Gaissert, Brown ‘13 Natalie Villacorta, Brown ‘13
DESIGN Tess Carroll, Brown ‘13 Anna Gaissert, Brown ‘13 Nic Baird, Brown ‘13
EDITORS IN CHIEF Kara Kaufman, Brown ‘12 Terry Kho, Brown ‘12
COVER PHOTOGRAPH Sofia Castello y Tickell
PRINTING Go! Graphics, Providence
From the Editors
As you explore this semester’s magazine, we hope you enjoy its wide range of pieces, from fluid poetry to detailed photography about nature’s various life forms. Many of the poems in this semester’s issue include a spontaneity of thought and feeling that reverberates throughout the magazine, as well as an emerging awareness of how language shapes our ability to extend and grasp ideas. Gina Roberti’s poem “She Does Not Want to Fool with Words Now” captures the feelings of release and of wanting to go beyond the boundaries of words “too limited too already shaped for the moment.” Lolly Lim’s “Midnight Dip” highlights the playful intimacy of swimming beneath the nighttime sky, whereas Michael Weinstein’s “Calculus” uses the language of mathematics to ponder and parse through thoughts of existence and human limitation. Many of this issue’s poems also reflect a sense of wonder alongside uncertainty in beginnings and endings. Though Tess Caroll’s “Field Day,” Sarah Crosky’s “Mirador,” and Cara Dorris’s “Tibetan Sky Burial” are written with different tones, they usher the outside in and the inside out. Their respective moments of contemplation, wonder, and poignant urgency invite us to question where the body begins and where it ends. They also entice us to recognize that looking inward often requires looking outward.
Our prose selections comprise a wide range of styles, topics, and genres, yet all approach the world of science through a humanistic lens. From Sofia Castello y Tickell’s scientific article, “The Marsupial Lion and Killer Kangaroo,” to the humorous peculiarity of the short story by Jonathan Leibovic, “The Boy Who Ate Himself,” and the graceful realism of Terry Kho’s own short story “Carvings,” these prose pieces reflect the wide variety of angles from which to approach the sciences. They strike a balance between broadening and narrowing the reader’s focus to reach a deeper understanding. We retain a focus on the personal experience through the nonfiction pieces, “Do You Have the Trait” by Alex Markes and “Finding Humanity within Science” by Ryan Din. Both works encourage us to look beyond the objective language and setting of medical research to remember the human relevance of the field. We invite you to consider the many voices and perspectives that these writers and artists bring to their work. Through their words and visual pieces, they speak to the multifaceted interplay between the sciences and humanities. Ultimately, they remind us that the realm of science is both a source for and a result of the thoughtfulness and creativity that make us human.
Kara Kaufman and Terry Kho
T i betan Sky Burial Last summer your mother was buried in the sky. They gave the birds the whole of her - separated
fifty at a time. You swore you would come home but like everything else in your life you didn’t chase them like you were supposed to
the bones with mallets and rocks, ground it all in barley flour and milk while the monks chanted something that made
chase them through the rain to the edge of the earth where the sky just keeps spinning spinning to the dent in the mountaintop that only deepens like a cupped hand.
the vultures come. It wasn’t supposed to be like this only in Tibet the light never reaches the ground so the mountains catch all
You keep wondering about the hair sometimes they keep the hair but sometimes they throw the hair away you wonder
the water and fog, they catch almost everything in the rain shadow because the air’s so dry it makes your lips crack because the earth’s so rocky
if the birds took the hair but you can’t speak your voice is stuck under your tongue your voice brimming like butter tea or guilt in Tibet you come home just
they can’t dig a tomb. Last summer you puffed on a cigarette and all the black-footed birds flinched and shuttered away
to leave again in Tibet they left your mother for the birds and the red sky bloomed through her chest.
the marsupial lion and the killer kangaroo: insights into the culture of paleontology
Sofia Castello y Tickell It all started with one tooth, when, nearing the end of the nineteenth century, scientists analyzing two fossilized and fragmented jawbones noticed something unusual: an enlarged third premolar.
form of culture and the transformative power of the media. The dentition of T. carnifex called the attention of Sir Richard Owen, who immediately classified the species a carnivore due both to the structure of the tooth as well as the shearing pattern worn onto it by years of use. It reminded him of the “carnassial,” or meateating, teeth seen in placental carnivores such as dogs and cats, though in this case the tooth was much larger. He suspected a similar structure had been employed for the purpose of eating meat.
The jaw fragments belonged to two different species of extinct marsupials – Thylacoleo carnifex, now known as the “marsupial lion” and Propleopus oscillans, recently dubbed the “killer kangaroo” – and the teeth barely resembled each other outside the fact that they were enlarged relative to those of their kin. P. oscillans’ round premolar has been described as similar to an orange squeezer, with bumps for grinding, whereas the teeth of T. carnifex resemble two elongated, flattened humps of a worn blade, adept for slicing. The ensuing debate over the two species’ dietary habits, which spanned over a century, is relevant beyond the confines of their long-closed jaws because it showcases human facets of the scientific process, subject to bias in the Gina Roberti
Owen was quick to envision “one of the fellest and most destructive of predatory beasts” roaming a prehistoric landscape, but he quickly saw a backlash from his contemporaries, most of whom assumed T. carnifex was a herbivore. One such scientist, Professor Flower, rebutted in the pages of an 1893 edition of Nature that enlarged premolars could be seen in all of T. carnifex’s relatives. “No doubt its nearest alliances are
with the phalangers and kangaroos, which are neither of them carnivorous,” he continued, implying that if its relatives were all herbivores, there was little reason for T. carnifex to have diverged. Flower’s dismissive attitude seems to have been typical at the time; kangaroos were kangaroos, and there was little more to be said about the matter. Two groups of mammals come into play when analyzing this historical trend: placental mammals, who derived a placental structure and therefore carry their offspring to full development inside the womb (this group includes humans, dogs and whales); and marsupials, whose offspring leave the womb at a much less developed stage and climb up to a pouch, where they subsequently mature, using highly developed forearms (this group includes the Tasmanian devil, wombats, koalas and bandicoots in addition to kangaroos and wallabies). Marsupials at this time were subject to a sort of ‘biological chauvinism,’ and were postulated as being inferior to placental mammals, with less developed reproductive systems. They had long been regarded as a sort of stepping stone to excellence, and their absence in the Northern hemisphere was presumed to
be the product of a clash with placental mammals, an idea that rings of imperialist tendencies. This theory had been partially supported by evidence from the “Great American Interchange,” when North and South America were connected by Panama. Some theorized that the mixing of placental mammals and marsupials had led to their extinction in South America, and it is possible that this subordinating view of marsupials made it difficult to envision T. carnifex as a fearsome predator. Hypotheses regarding Thylacoleo’s herbivory continued to develop through the first half of the twentieth century. These culminated in the “melon-muncher” hypothesis circa 1950, which proposed that the large premolar had evolved in order to feed on a particular kind of native cucumber. In 1966, John Kirsch published a seminal paper in American Scientist. In it, he argued that despite the fact that marsupials accounted for only 6 percent of mammals, their morphological and ecological diversity rivaled that of the far more abundant placental mammals. “Here I advocate the view that 12
marsupials are quite adequate mammals,” he wrote, as he cast many of the features that had been used to relegate marsupials to an inferior status in a new light. It was possible, he pointed out, for a marsupial to cease investing in its offspring if carrying it should become disadvantageous – if it was being chased, or food was severely limited. Far from being a deficiency, this might be advantageous in the right circumstances. The placement of marsupials on equal ground with placental mammals opened up a new sector of research, and further examination of T. carnifex’s limbs and dentition reaffirmed its status as a carnivore. Indeed, a study carried out by Stephen Wroe, comparing the mechanics of its skull to those of Panthera leo (the likes of Simba) found that the marsupial lion was doing much more with less, translating 52 percent of the muscle force into 80 percent of the bite reaction force. Wroe recently described T. carnifex to the BBC as “one of the meanest, most frightening animals you could have the misfortune to meet.” Owen would likely have appreciated the conclusive arrival of these words, echoing his own, albeit a century later. The audience they 13
reach, however, is vastly changed, as is the manner in which scientific opinion is mediated. PROPLEOPUS P. oscillans, also known as the “killer kangaroo,” presents a different case in that it seems unlikely to shake its sensational nickname despite a lack of conclusive evidence for carnivory. As was the case at first with T. carnifex, many finds have been fragmented and were discovered in isolation, meaning that specimens for investigation are limited. Camps are strongly divided in regards to its possible diet, and the nickname has been applied to a few taxa – among them, P. oscillans and P. chillagoensis and Ekaltadeta ima. It currently appears most likely that P. oscillans – about the size of a small dog – was omnivorous. Stephen Wroe has written that he considers it “unlikely that any known propleopine was an obligate carnivore,” and so while it may have scavenged on prey left behind by larger predators when the opportunity arose, it likely fed on a variety of food. Nonetheless, the image of a bloodthirsty killer has been heavily disseminated through a collec-
tion of articles and videos in the media. A show called Paleoworld (available on Youtube) produced an episode titled “Attack of the Killer Kangaroos,” in which a dramatized, gravelly voice describes how “bloodthirsty, saber-toothed marsupials made a stand on every continent of the world.” This is not a matter of mere misunderstanding. Paleontologist Michael Archer makes an appearance, saying, “This thing, this offense to the senses, was a flesh-eating kangaroo.” At another point, he is pictured making a stabbing motion with the lower incisors— not the feature to distinguish it as a potential carnivore, because this dental configuration can be seen in other marsupials — and he therefore gives the public an inaccurate impression. To be fair to Archer, television provides unique challenges because the practice of chopping long interviews to keep the “best bits,” selected for show power rather than accuracy or relevance, can lead to misperceptions. However, there can be advantages for scientists in popularizing their work – garnering funding, for example – and a scientist who is genuinely excited about the work he/she is doing is likely to enjoy attention and want to make
people feel the same way. When content is less selectively curated, issues with accuracy can reach new levels. With the advent of the Internet, un-vetted text and images can be broadcast to the world at the drop of a hat. A quick Google search for Propleopus oscillans brings up a series of images, some of which are highly exaggerated and almost anthropomorphic in the muscular arms that they bear. On the one hand, direct communication with scientists is superb because it enables the accurate simplification of concepts, bringing them to a wider audience without the missteps that occur when an unfamiliar mediator appropriates information. On the other, it puts an expert in a position of absolute power in terms of the ideas he or she chooses to emphasize – a place that many readers will not be in a position to refute or even objectively assess. Although disagreements are common in the scientific world, they rarely make it into the public eye. It is often assumed that the general public is neither educated enough nor interested enough to appreciate the issues that scientists are parsing out over the decades. Science is a process – often a long one – and this conflicts 14
with the media’s general goal of producing high traffic stories, meaning that the public is most often exposed to conclusions and not the deliberative process behind them.
the acceptance of ideas during a certain time is subject to factors beyond direct evidence, and that scientists, being humans, cannot always see beyond the context that they are a part of.
When such a process can last over a hundred years, it is not unreasonable to want it distilled down to four pages. Nonetheless, the debate itself can be just as significant as the conclusion, particularly when its influences can be picked apart in retrospect.
Evidence, particularly in paleontology, is always partial. The retention of theories – and beyond that, their application – fully depends on healthy debate, rigorous regulation and analysis of oneself as well as one’s peers.
Discussions over the dietary habits of T. carnifex and P. oscillans bring to light some of the nuances that lead to disagreement when scientists are presented with evidence. Scientists are only individuals, after all, and their biases – including gravitation towards prevalent ideas, the impacts of personal tendencies, and more recently, the way these factors can be amplified by interactions with mass media – are just as unique as the bright ideas they might bring to the table. Incorrect ideas may be more prone to flourish, briefly or otherwise, if they fit within an accepted framework. This is not meant to completely undermine the objectivity of science – over time, faulty hypotheses will still be weeded out and falsified – but to note that
In the words of Thomas Henry Huxley, one must be prepared for “the great tragedy of Science – the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.” Bibliography: “Paleoworld- Attack Of The Killer Kangaroos.” YouTube. Web. <http://www. youtube.com/watch?v=r4C-pIoX41c>. “Paleontologist as Rock Star: How One Tiny Fossil Sparked a Media Circus CSMonitor.com.” The Christian Science Monitor. 20 May 2009. Web. <http:// www.csmonitor.com/Innovation/Horizons/2009/0520/paleontologist-as-rockstar-how-one-tiny-fossil-sparked-a-mediacircus>. Amos, Jonathan. “Marsupial Munch Tops Big Biters.” BBC News - Home. 5 Apr. 2005. Web. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/ science/nature/4409039.stm>. Fastovsky, David E. “Ideas in Dinosaur Paleontology: Resonating to Social and Political Context.” Ed. Michael Ruse. The
Paleobiological Revolution: Essays on the Growth of Modern Paleontology. Ed. David Sepkoski. 239-52. Print. Flannery, Tim F. Chasing Kangaroos: A Continent, a Scientist, and a Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Creature. New York: Grove, 2007. Print. Flower. “Hunterian Lectures by Prof. Flower - Lectures IV. V. VI.” Nature (March 6 1873): 348-49. Print. Heinsohn, Thomas E. “Marsupials as Introduced Species: Long-term Anthropogenic Expansion of the Marsupial Frontier and Its Implications for Zoogeographic Interpretation.” Terra Australis 32: 13334. Print.
Bernard N. Cooke. “The Skull of Elkadelta Ima: An Analysis of Some Marsupial Cranial Features and a Re-investigation of Propleopine Phylogeny, with Notes on the Inference of Carnivory in Mammals.” Journal of Paleontology 72.4 (1998): 73851. Print. Wroe, S. “Cranial Mechanics Compared in Extinct Marsupial and Extant African Lions Using a Finite-element Approach.” Journal of Zoology 274.4 (2008): 332-39. Print.
Jones, Menna, C. R. Dickman, and Michael Archer. Predators with Pouches: The Biology of Carnivorous Marsupials. Collingwood, VIC, Australia: CSIRO Pub., 2003. Print.
Kirsch, J. A. W. (1977) The six-percent solution: second thoughts in the adaptedness of the Marsupialia. American Scientist. 65: 276-288. Moore, Andrew. “Bad Science in the Headlines.” EMBO Reports. Nature Publishing Group, 2006. Web. http://www. nature.com/embor/journal/v7/n12/ full/7400862.html Prothero, Donald R. “Is Paleontology Going Extinct?” The Scientist. 14 Aug. 2009. Web. <http://classic.the-scientist.com/ news/display/55888/>. Shinn, Terry, and Richard Whitley. Expository Science: Forms and Functions of Popularisation. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Pub., 1985. Print.
Wroe, Stephen, Jenni Brammall, and 16
She does not want to fool with words now she does not want to fool with words now, words too sharp too limited too already shaped for the moment. she wants to deal with shades and shadows, motions and breeze brushing inhaling deep the dichotomous feeling of sitting back to the radiator breathing up opening heart for cold air allowed through a small crack in the window to the right. a window, she loves large windows. wondering, why even at night windows always let in light this light yellowish warm dusty, as if on its journey it trapped some unclean glass, falling to rest in blocky patterns across the floor. a floodlight is different from the sun: it does not shift with time. and time goes by she does not want to focus on light. symphonies rise within her, melodies wash over and eyes closed she forgets listens to the time of notes instead notes notes repeating layering wash over, curl within her belly make her arch her back in pleasure, make her reach up, stretch her neck in delightful sounds repeating layering she is lost in notes she forgets constructed space she closes her eyes and does not think in words. words so insufficient, so insufficient to describe professedly she studies rocks breaking bending folding ductily stretching into gniesses garnets Gregorvian chants have no place here music has no place here music does not shape rocks rocks are measured in labs rocks rocks are measured in labs sanitized with distilled water and acetone they use nail-polishremover to sanitize of all things sometimes she studies rocks but music shapes here, music and emotion and oftentimes, she wonders why the rocks lack such feeling. Gina roberti
Johns Hopkins Congdon 18
carvings Terry Kho
It is nighttime and Carmine watches stars from her balcony, small bristles of light in the darkness. Her roommate Rosco is inside cooking stew, a dark brew of beef, water, and carrots. He is wearing the blue checkered apron she gave him last Christmas after he complained that socks—particularly thick, woolly ones reminiscent of his Aunt Agnes— were passé. She notes that her whole childhood, with its tin lunch kits, hoola hoops, and Volkswagen Beatles, has become passé. Punch buggy no returns. She misses her Saturday morning cartoons. When was the last time? The phone rings and she hears Rosco pick it up. He laughs into it and she knows it’s Christy. She wishes it was her editor but she will see him tomorrow. Someone has carved initials into the wood of the railing beneath her elbow, whittled it so badly that it looks more like two erratic commas than a name. She hears the faint whisper of a hum, and returns to stargazing, to her search for constellations she cannot see.
* * * Jerry, Carmine’s editor, loves to pace. She has long memorized the awkward route between the desk and door that he walks no less than thirty two times a day. On occasion he trips on the paperweight he uses to hold the door open. Today is no exception. He trips when his eyes are halfway down the first page and grabs her shoulder to steady himself. “It’s great except for the point of view,” he says. “Second person is accusatory. Readers want distance; you’ve got to give them space.” His moustache is drooping, giving him a forlorn look. “Understand?” He uses her shoulder as a lever and pushes himself back into motion. “Yes, yes I do.” * * *
Rosco has an unsettling habit of bringing things home. The first week they roomed together he left a bonsai tree, its thin, emaciated limbs shedding green filaments on the red velvet of the pool table that came with the apartment. “Great, it’s Christmas come early,” she muttered. Rosco, nodding sagely, said, “Love is a bonsai tree,” then turned back to drawing enigmatic physics symbols on the walls. She put up with his newly revealed feng shui obsession for a week, after which the bonsai was unceremoniously replaced with an empty fishbowl. ‘Where’s the love now?’ she wonders. This morning, she is in no mood for Rosco’s eccentricities. A pumpkin, large and sickly orange, blocks the drain of the shower. She bursts through the kitchen door in her towel and screams at him to get rid of the damn thing. He blinks. She realizes it is the first time she has been angry with him. Why has it taken so long? “Who do you think you are? Fucking Cinderella?!” He grins. 20
Liz Resnick 21
“So what do you think of Christy?” Rosco asks. They are eating spaghetti on yellow plates and Carmine is struggling with the discordant colors. She has allowed the pumpkin to stay as long as Rosco keeps it out of the shower. Its orange belligerence sits between them on the table and distracts her from her dinner. She has taken to calling it the damn thing. “And be honest,” he says. She wishes he would drop the subject. “Marry her,” she says. His fork clatters to the floor. “We just met!” “So?” “That impressive, huh.” His right eyebrow - she calls it his scientist eyebrow - is quirked meaning he doesn’t believe her. “I’m only looking out for you. You’ve got to catch them before they discover how weird you are.” She remembers reading of a couple that divorced after thirty years of marriage. The husband complained that his wife moved the furniture every single day. “Touché,” he says. In spite of his eccentricities, Rosco is the master of self-awareness. “But no one marries after the first date.” She can tell that he is only pretending to consider her demands. “Then get her pregnant.” “What?! I’m not having this conversation.” But they are and it would be a waste. “Shotgun wedding, baby cakes.” * * * It is Sunday afternoon and the old bench at the park is giving Carmine back cramps. Rosco is on his second date with Christy. For encouragement, Carmine gave him the red toy ring she picked out of a fruit loops cereal box when she was eight. On Rosco’s palm it looked flimsy, as if it would float away, until he slipped it into his jacket pocket. Her writing remains infuriatingly stuck in second person. She tries again. ‘Diane touches the window with her left pinky, traces sensual waves through the dust.” Sensual? Is that too manipulative? She remembers the countless English teachers saying “show don’t tell.” The 22
world of show and tell is for kids only. She taps her pen on the page, mimics the pigeons’ beaks scratching against the gravel. A splinter on the bench leaves a tear in her nylons. The sight of her skin, a sliver of white against the dark weave of her stockings, upsets her, so she pulls them off. Through her sunglass she can see people staring. Her bare legs, smooth except for one red scar, reflect sunlight. * * * The damn thing has begun to smell. Even Rosco is having second thoughts. He moves to pick it up by the stem and it falls away leaving a small jagged hole at the top. Carmine catches a glimpse of what looks like brown mush before he jams the stem back in. “God it reeks” he says, and goes to wash his hands. For once, Carmine feels sorry for the damn thing. Its pungent smell and mud coloured patches remind her of the bromine she spilt on Rosco during a chem lab in college. They had been lab partners, he the budding physicist who loved the word ergo, and she the writer who signed up to discover the secrets of the world. She quickly learned that uncovering the secrets of the world required precision, something her gauche hands lacked. The chemical stains took ages to wash out, and she and Rosco bonded over their multiple trips to the Laundromat. The next day, the sun is setting when Rosco comes home holding a bundle of sparklers and a roll of duct tape. He picks up the pumpkin, balances it on one hand. “C’mon, let’s see some fireworks,” he says, and walks out the door. * * * “So how did it go with Christy?” They are climbing the stairs to the roof of their apartment building. Rosco takes the stairs two at a time and Carmine struggles to keep up. She hopes conversation will slow him down, will stop him from becoming a raging pyromaniac, though she knows it is like using tap water to douse phoenix fire. “Did she reject your proposal?” “Sort of.” 23
The roof is vacant, and Rosco gets to work. He places the pumpkin on the side ledge, and wraps the sparklers with duct tape. Carmine is bothered by its resemblance to a stick of silver dynamite. It is times like these that she must remind herself that Rosco is the scientist. Fortunately, like most absent-minded scientists, Rosco discovers too late that he has forgotten a key element. In this case, it is his lighter. “Can we go back now, and just leave the damn thing?” Carmine says. The cold is starting to get to her, but Rosco isn’t listening. He picks up the pumpkin and holds it out over the ledge. Because there are no trees in the city, Rosco sticks out over the horizon line like a scarecrow. There is a cream-colored Corolla down below. She can’t resist. “Ten points if you can hit the windshield.” He looks at her levelly. The damn thing is in his hands and the whispers of the city echo from the streets below. She can see the pumpkin crumple in its slow decay. “Well, what are you waiting for?” she says, and he lets go. They watch it fall into darkness and land in an imperfect shatter of glass. * * * Carmine can still hear the car alarm from the apartment. It pierces her mind in pulses and she vaguely remembers learning that sound travels in waves. She asks Rosco and he mutters something about the Doppler Effect before disappearing into his room. But he is talking about the sirens in the distance fading into nothing, like a television going black, sound waves cancelling in the air. Thinking in these terms, Carmine feels she is on the brink of some discovery, but the feeling quickly passes, and she remembers herself. She sits on the couch, remote in hand, and turns on the TV.
the boy who ate himself Jonathan Leibovic
Benjamin Brown sat in the waiting room, gnawing his fingernails nervously. To his right, a toddler pushed toy trucks into each other, blabbering vague engine noises. To his left, his mother watched the muted television news. Behind him a fish tank bubbled softly and two nurses whispered dully. Suddenly a door swung open and in bustled Dr. Raffles. “Benjamin Brown?” the doctor called. Mrs. Brown stood up and helped her son along to the examining room, with its yellow doorjamb and walruses and giraffes marching across the wallpaper. “Now,” said the doctor, “what seems to be the problem?” “I’m losing weight,” said Benjamin. Mrs. Brown wailed, “My son is wasting away!” Mrs. Brown was rather more correct than her son, whose voice matched his figure, a frail and fraying twist of rope. With every breath, Benjamin’s ribs rattled; his shoulders shrank with every step. His eyes bulged like eager jellyfish and his ears curled like salted slugs. “Tell me, Benjamin, what do you like to eat?” the doctor asked, sliding his stethoscope gingerly across Benjamin’s shivering torso. “Well,” Benjamin began, “I don’t drink gasoline.” “Never has,” chirped Mrs. Brown. “Or blood. And I’m allergic to money.” “Paper and coin?” the doctor asked, shining a bright light deep into Benjamin’s ear canals. Later, the doctor would swear he heard it echo. 26
“Yes, sir. And Ma says I’m too young for plastic.” “Too right you are!” said Mrs. Brown. “We tried him on glass once, but he complained of toothache.” “Buh Ah eeh ehurhinng eoh,” Benjamin said as the doctor depressed his waifish tongue and peered at his shriveled uvula. “Sorry. But I eat everything else. Bones. Grass. Paperclip pies. Play-doh, all colors. You know, whatever.”
“I also recommend that Benjamin refrain from any exercise until further notice. And finally, Mrs. Brown, is your son allergic to any anesthetics?” The doctor looked straight at her and twiddled his pen. Mrs. Brown furrowed her brow. “Not that I know of. I don’t believe he’s ever been anesthetized. Why? Does that matter?” The doctor cleared his throat. “Well, an anesthetic will make the operation much more enjoyable for young Benjamin.”
“Chips,” offered Mrs. Brown. “He likes microchips.”
“Operation?” whispered Mrs. Brown.
The doctor wrote all this down. “Do you like junk food?”
“Operation?” croaked Benjamin.
“What, you mean like trash?” Benjamin asked, apprehensive. “I mean wastepaper, tin foil, bits of lint. Banana peels. Anything like that?”
“Mrs. Brown, your son eats well, but all the food passes right through him. He needs an intestine transplant -- a longer, thinner, more convoluted gut will enhance nutrient absorption and ensure complete and proper digestion.”
“Oh. Sometimes.” Benjamin looked askance. “I guess. Does that matter?”
“I’m sorry,” said Mrs. Brown, flushing. “We are uninsured.” She stood up. “Come along, Benjamin.” Her son slouched towards the door.
“Everything matters, my dear boy. Open wide. No, not your mouth.” The doctor examined Benjamin’s raisinlike anus. “Tell me, Benjamin, how often do you move your bowels?”
In the parking lot, Benjamin was still pouting. “Ma,” he said. “But I want a new intestine. Ma.” But Mrs. Brown was already halfway into the driver’s seat of her station wagon.
“Oh, all the time. Three times a day at least, after every meal.” Benjamin beamed, then frowned. “Does that matter?”
“You don’t need a new intestine,” Mrs. Brown said shortly. “You just need to eat right, like every other child. Tonight I’m making fried fertilizer casserole with quicksilver sauce. And a side of coal.”
The doctor turned to Mrs. Brown. “I am prescribing vitamins F, J, and P6 through 12. He should take one of each with breakfast, every day until he improves.” He tore out the page and handed it to Benjamin, who promptly ate it. “Thank you,” he said, and belched. “Excuse me.” 28
At home that night, Benjamin wouldn’t come down for dinner. “I’m not hungry,” he shouted through his locked bedroom door. And he sat down on his bed with his legs crossed, gazing deeply into his navel. Mrs. Brown wept into her frying pan. The tears sizzled as they hit the 29
oil and evaporated immediately. Mr. Brown kissed her. “The casserole is delicious, dear,” he offered, but Mrs. Brown couldn’t hear anything above the sound of her own wailing. She shook her head and buried it in her husband’s chest. Upstairs, Benjamin too buried his head in his chest, as far as it would go. “We have a little money saved up,” Mr. Brown tried again. “You can’t send a starving child to college, anyway. How much would the operation cost?” But it was too late. In the upstairs bedroom, Benjamin Brown had just finished eating himself. He had had enough of diets and drugs, snake-oil salesmen and hypnotists. He was sick of lying still all day trying not to burn a single calorie, and he couldn’t stomach another cup of concentrated corn syrup. The growth hormones gave him ripping headaches and the fat infusions left him sluggish for hours, yet never a pound heavier. Chewing on souped-up car batteries had fried his taste buds, and the constant megadoses of fertilizers made his stomach churn perpetually. Benjamin Brown was fed up. When his parents finally broke down his locked bedroom door, all that remained of Benjamin was a set of gnashing teeth.
field day The zoo has just bought a giant bird of prey We go to see it We stare up at it like children We are cold in its shadow In the gift shop We buy albatross bones They are hollow Inside them there are sweets, beads, tiny statues You have to break the bones to find them You have to crack them open tess carroll
d o y o u hav e the tr ai t? Alex markes
It was the day of reckoning. It had been drilled into me through numerous emails that peak physical fitness was the absolute standard. The Brown Men’s Varsity Soccer Team rule stated that in order to be eligible to be on the team and play in games, all members had to run three miles in under 18 minutes. All summer I had trained, waking up before 6 a.m. because running any time would have been a battle against the brutal California summer sun. Though I struggled through June, July, and August, the closest I could get was 18:40. But since I was running alone, I thought that come race day, when I was with the team, I might make it.
The East coast humidity was grueling, and I crossed the finish line only a mere 11 seconds too slow. I immediately hit the ground and for the next 20 minutes was unable to catch my breath. The trainer called EMS, and the emergency medical team arrived within 10 minutes. My blood pressure was measured at a very low 80/40 compared to
the average for adults of 120/80, though it had been a half hour since I had stopped running. Luckily, after being taken away in an ambulance and given IV fluid, I was finally able to breath and my blood pressure returned to normal. I was diagnosed with extreme dehydration, which possessing the sickle cell trait made more severe. Sickle cell anemia is an irreversible genetic disease in which red blood cells are shaped like crescents or sickles instead of the normal disk shape with a depression in the middle. Normal red blood cells have iron-rich protein called hemoglobin that carries oxygen throughout the body. But people who inherit two copies of the sickle cell gene — one from each parent — have sickle cell anemia, a recessive, genetic disorder in which red blood cells produce hemoglobin S.1 This irregular hemoglobin causes cells to
1 National Hearth Lung and Blood Institute, “What is Sickle Cell Anemia?.” Last modified Feb 01 2011. Accessed February 15, 2012.<http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/ health-topics/topics/sca/>
become cyclical, and as a result, they easily block the flow of blood through vessels causing pain, infections, or organ damage.2 Individuals who only inherit one copy of the gene for irregular hemoglobin will have a disease called sickle cell trait. People with sickle cell trait are generally deemed healthy as they do not exhibit the irregular symptoms characteristic of sickle cell anemia.
endurance — the ability to run multiple sprints with a recovery period in between — as opposed long-distance runs. The sprinting was tough but it wasn’t until I started doing seven-mile runs that tested the absolute limits of my physical fitness that my sickle cell trait began to seriously affect my performance. Throughout the summer, I had several moments of despair when I wondered if my trait would keep me from making the mark. How much of an impediment to my goal of becoming a college athlete would sickle cell trait be? What path does a coach take if he has make the choice between a great sickle cell athlete and an average normal athlete? Will coaches not want to take the risk and discriminate against sickle cell athletes?
I happen to be part of the ten percent of the African American population that carries a single copy of the gene for sickle cell disease. As it is a genetic disorder, I have had to deal with it all my life. When casually going about my day, the sickle cell does not affect me, apart from the rare, jolting pain in my chest that bars me from taking full breaths when a blood vessel is clogged with sickle cells. But these painful flashes occur so rarely, that I do not worry about them. Even in regards to my athletic ability as a soccer player, my sickle cell trait was never a problem before my summer training.
Fortunately, research has been done on the effects of not just sickle cell anemia, but also sickle cell trait. Researchers have coined the term “sickling collapse” to describe when a sickle cell individual experiences weak muscles, is breathing rapidly but not wheezing like asthma, and occasionally reports lower back pain or stiffness.3 Research is still ongoing to find the exact cause
Though endurance is greatly needed in soccer, until college my coaches tested me in sprinting
What is Sickle Cell Anemia, 1
of these symptoms. However, the muscle weakness can be attributed to a process called exertional rhabdomyolysis, or the breakdown of muscle fibers. When an athlete experiences sickling during maximal exertion, vessels carrying blood to muscles can deprive the muscles of vital nutrients and oxygen. The muscle fibers degenerate, releasing myoglobin into the bloodstream that the kidneys then filter. Myoglobin is toxic to the kidneys and can cause acute renal failure; however, no correlation has been found between sickle cell athletes and acute renal failure.4
In the past decade, no deaths in NCAA Division I football have occurred during games; however, 16 deaths have occurred from conditioning, ten of which were related to sickle cell trait.6 After a lawsuit filed against the NCAA and Rice University in 2006, the NCAA has mandated that all athletes must be tested for sickle cell disease, provide prior test results, or sign a waiver.7 Even I, who openly told the University that I had sickle cell trait in every health questionnaire I filled out, was still required to take a test to prove something I already knew. Those who test positive for sickle cell trait must speak with their athletic trainer and read through NCAA-issued information handouts about the dangers of exercise with sickle cell trait. The NCAA-mandated screenings have met controversy as some believe that colleges will begin using these mandatory screenings to discriminate against athletes with sickle cell trait. Some fear
Four factors have been found to compound the sickling of red blood cells: severely low oxygen levels, metabolic acidosis (low blood pH), over-heated muscles, and red cell dehydration.5 These factors result in “Intensity Syndrome”— in general, athletes with sickle cell trait can only last for two to five minutes of maximal exertion before metabolic changes begin to foster more sickling.
6 Randy Eichner, “Sickle Cell Trait in Sports.” Current Sports Medicine Reports. 9. no. 6 (2010): 347. 7 Dodd, Dennis. CBSSports, “NCAA Sickle Cell Testing Debated.” Last modified Jan 26 2012. Accessed February 15, 2012. http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/ entry/6270202/34585354
4 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmedhealth/PMH0001505/ 5 Medical Jurisprudence, “Sickle Cell Trait Syndrome and the Athlete.” Accessed February 15, 2012. http:// medicaljurisprudence.com/articles/1008-Sickl eCellTraitSyndromeandTheAthlete.shtml 37
that colleges may go as far as retracting the athletic scholarships of these student-athletes.
the symptoms of sickle cell more likely to arise.9 For this reason, Coach Michael Tomlin decided not to play Ryan Clark. It’s impossible to say that if the Steelers had played Ryan Clarke, they would have won. In the future, will more restrictions be placed on sickle cell athletes?
If you can play the sport and pass any fitness requirement, should it matter if you have sickle cell trait? Asthma is prevalent in athletes and has been for years, yet there has been no discrimination in their selection. If asthma does not change a coach’s perception of an athlete, I would like to believe that sickle cell trait will not either. Unfortunately, there are already cases where athletes have been barred from playing because they possess sickle cell trait. Ryan Clark, one of Pittsburgh Steelers’ best defensive players, was kept from playing in the 2012 American Football Conference Wild Card game. His team would go on to lose to the Denver Broncos. The last time Clark had played in Denver in 2007 he became extremely ill, eventually resulting in the loss of his gallbladder and spleen due to oxygen deprivation8.
In 2010, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) held a workshop conference at the National Institutes of Health to “frame the research agenda for Sickle Cell Trait.”10 At this conference, researchers discussed goals and agendas in regards to sickle trait, such as how it relates to athletes or military personnel. The general consensus on this subject was that “prevention of complications in college athletes should be possible by applying universal precautions without the need to single out affected individuals for special treatment.”11 From what I deduced, the researchers agreed that team-wide precautions, such as more water breaks during practice, need to be taken to prevent the need for treatment
Because the Bronco’s stadium is at a high altitude, there is low oxygen concentration, making
9 Söze, 1 10 http://www.hematology.org/ Publications/Hematologist/2010/5633.aspx 11 http://www.hematology.org/ Publications/Hematologist/2010/5633.aspx
8 Michael Söze. The Inquisitr, “Ryan Clark: Sickle Cell Trait Forces Steelers Safety to Miss Denver Playoff Game.” Last modified Jan 04 2012. Accessed February 25, 2012. 38
of sickling. Unfortunately, most current researchers in this field would agree with this stance. The only known cure for sickling, which is still undergoing clinical trials, is a bone marrow transplant — a procedure currently only performed on individuals with sickle cell anemia.12 This stipulation is necessary as the procedure is too dangerous to perform. The outcome is a masking of symptoms in individuals with sickle cell anemia. Although these individuals can function normally, there has been no research in to the treatment’s effect on stopping sickling when under maximal physical exertion.
sickle cell, or whether I continue my current pre-med track and research the disease in greater detail, my sickle cell trait will always be with me. Sickle cell athletes will face large problems of subtle discrimination in the future as more is learned about the disease without a cure. In 2009, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) went into effect, barring “use of genetic information in making employment decisions.”13 In addition, the sickle cell trait victim has the right to medical privacy and does not have to disclose any genetic information to his employer. However, any genetic information that has already been made public via a waiver signed by the victim is fair game. But will this law really stop a coach from discriminating against a sickle cell trait athlete, pointing to some other unapparent flaw?
Although science has come far in elucidating the specifics of sickle trait, progress is still hampered by a lack of motivation for addressing sickle cell trait. Scheduling more water breaks in practice could not help save Ryan Clark from losing his spleen and gall bladder. I do not know how sickle cell will affect my future, but I do not plan to let it leave my mind. Whether I pursue professional soccer and have to deal with the constant strain of performing with
13 U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Genetic Information Discrimination.” Accessed March 1, 2012. http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/genetic. cfm.
12 http://www.stjude.org/stjude/v/ index.jsp?vgnextoid=0f3c061585f70110VgnVC M1000001e0215acRCRD 39
The only thing as natural as this mirador is our bodies, so we put them in the water. We bring the outside in. It is breaking my bones. This is what it takes to be part of the view, the reflections in the water tell us. The trees look like lungs inhaling the wind through split branches, trading air for life with each dash of sun.
m i r a d o r I love being in bodies of water. I love being a body in water. Skin and mountains. Turquoise water. It is breaking my bones. This turquoise lake with one bird and one million reflections. The snowcapped mountains dip their peaks into the ripples and the frost enters my bones and moves outward. 40
The turquoise water shrinks my lungs, my breath surrenders before it reaches my veins, my diaphragm confused and tense. This is what it takes, say the reflections. And the lung trees creak with my stolen breath. The wind speaks like faucets between the rocks and the reflections grow. I pull my limbs away and beg the sun and sculpted stone for warmth. sarah crosky
Sofia Castello y Tickell
The derivative of existence is movement, And the derivative of movement is time, I think
And if you expand thinking into a series and integrate into a series of thoughts and find the sum of that series of thoughts you get you You get everything you’ve ever thought all at once, your existence
And if you expand thought into a series, you get a series of words that approximate that thought And if you take the derivative of each term of that series of words, you get the rate of change of words: that’s flow And if you integrate your words, you get context, the area under them And if you converge that context back into a general term for the series, you get theme And if you derive the theme you get the thought, and if you derive the thought you get the thinking
I think we are our own factorial, the product of all our past selves
And when you take the definite integral of time t between the ground and sky, you get the space we inhabit
I don’t know why, but we take the limit of everything we see and call those symbols reality
And if you take the limit of up as d goes to infinity, you get the sky
I think The derivative of existence is movement, And the derivative of movement is time
c a l c u l u s
finding humanity within science R ya n D i n
Hamna’s face stared back at me, flattened from the two-dimensional nature of the Polaroid photograph tucked into the front pocket of her file. Her presence caught me off guard; hers was the only photo I had encountered since opening countless patient files filled with monotonous words and numbers. Another file labeled “Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome,” another sample in our research study, another addition to our “N=” statistical value used to affirm our conclusion’s legitimacy. But this file was different. I stared into the picture, noting Hamna’s dark brown locks that fell delicately over her plump cheeks, and her deep hazel eyes that gazed slightly downward. She said nothing. She simply stared back at me in silence from the depths of her photograph. As I pored over the rest of her file, the afterimage of her distinct expression resonated in my mind. Trying to move past the image and get my work done, I searched for her insulin and cholesterol readings, data I was accustomed to spotting through the black and white sea of numbers and figures. Having found them, I recorded them in my spreadsheet and dutifully hit save, but before grabbing my next file, I paused. I used to feel guilty for having a stronger academic focus on science rather than humanities. Does a penchant for scientific inquiry entail that I am incapable of imaginative thought? Is there no depth to me because I prefer conclusions over conjectures? I certainly hope not. Intellectual challenges continuously excite me, philosophical discussions enthrall me, and I feed off of conversations that expose diverging perspectives. Nevertheless, I am always drawn back to the manner in which science channels curiosity to unveil our world’s infinite phenomena. 46
Unfortunately, it is inevitable at times that the practice of science becomes mechanical – a feeling I could relate to sitting huddled over a laptop next to a mountainous pile of patient charts at the research hospital where I was working. However, as I opened Hamna’s chart, the unanticipated image of her face took me aback. As I continued perusing the pages of Hamna’s file, I simply could not erase that image from my mind. Each time I recorded an abnormal datum from her chart – an excessive level of luteinizing hormone or an insufficient level of high-density lipoprotein – a chilling sensation 47
permeated through me, tingling at my fingertips as I typed the numbers into the computer. The deeper I dug into the sheets of Hamna’s chart, the more I felt I was peering into her life, feeling her personal strife pulsating through me vicariously. How was it that inanimate objects, sheets of paper with endless numbers printed on them, felt so alive? I finally gave in to the urge and turned back to Hamna’s photograph. There she was, trapped in a folder, but still equipped with all the living, breathing complexities and ineffable emotions of a human being. What could you possibly be feeling? I pondered. Emptiness? Uncertainty? The chart labeled Hamna as “infertile” and “obese,” terms I considered offensively over-simplistic in describing such a vast, three-dimensional individual with emotion so honest and palpable. Looking deeper into her eyes, I encountered courage and dignity. You’re more than a disease, I whispered to Hamna, growing increasingly disheartened with my study. When I looked back to her photo one last time, I suddenly perceived a new emotion embedded in her countenance: a heartfelt plea to help find out what existed inside her that limited her capacity. I paused, overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. Eventually I uttered, we’re trying, as it dawned upon me the importance of my research. From Hamna, I realized that it was wrong to ever distinguish between humanities and science. Though I have never met her, her presence taught me to see the tremendous depth of human beings through the scope of scientific study. Granted, science involves hours of experimentation, data collection and analysis. But at its core, scientific research is the amalgamation of intellect, creativity, curiosity, and, most of all, relentless passion. As scientists, we are propelled by the thrill of the chase after an undiscovered truth. Hamna reinvigorated this passion within me and allowed me to appreciate science’s ability to leave a lasting impact on humanity. 48
we slowly move back to shore bounce up and down push against her who is done playing on the most silent of nights.
we bid her goodnight we bid the moon goodnight
too soon our teeth start to chatter and our skins prick up she says enough for the evening
letting her catch us letting her bear our weight we belch laughter in her her giggles penetrate the darkness we tickle her with the gaps between our toes she dances for us
we start moving with her spinning flipping grooving
I glide on my back nipples peek up at the sky, heavy with stars they bob up and down to kiss the line between her warmth and the warm air
we offer ourselves to her inky embrace on the most silent of nights toes lacquered with moss from the walk over slip in then knees and hot thighs
Bridging the gap between the sciences and the humanities