Just as the Cosmos is remarkable In its homogeneity, so life Surprises not in its variety, But similarities—a living world May neither be too close nor orbiting Too distant from its sun, must be rocky, Have water and a molten core’s enveloping Magnetosphere. Consider living worlds Like organisms, each convergently Evolving oxygen, a temperate climate And life. And just as they're alike in their Constituent elements, the life arising Evolves alike—prokaryotic and Eukaryotic over billions of years Divided into plants and animals. The laws of evolution are not altered By time, locale or species. Anywhere There’s life there’s more that’s recognizable Than alien, more that universally Applies not just to life’s emergence but Also to sentience, intelligence And civilization, for in every world, Where though the sun is unfamiliar, Where night is visited by stranger tides And constellations, where though the byways And thoroughfares traverse implausible fields Under alien skies, you still will find The bicycle. There are an infinite number Among as many worlds. The universe Is everywhere replete with life, some worlds Awash in microscopic biomes While others teem with wilderness; but where Intelligence and sentience evolve So does the necessary wheel and means To turn the wheel: the chain, gears, frame and sprocket Both different and alike in their design— Blueprints of the physiology And minds inventing them. In any world Where there’s a child’s bicycle, there’s elsewhere In any quarter of the universe Another likewise trimmed with streamers, spangles And balanced on a kickstand. Were it possible To bridge the light years with a bicycle By pedaling or by a sail affixed To catch the winds of other Milky Ways; Or to visit on a summer’s day An undiscovered world; to gaze at nightfall At nebulae; and were there, anchored To every handlebar, a telescope To navigate the air (and wine and blankets In every basket); then bicycles Would populate the intervening skies, Would coast like comets through the scattered stars And glitter in the light. If on an evening You find a square of earth to unfold Your blanket and to gaze at constellations, You’ll see a thousand thousand worlds with life And yet see none. In every world you’ll see A thousand thousand bicycles and yet Not one. You’ll peer into another’s eyes, A billion intermittent years gone by, Whose gaze meets yours if only for an instant, Yet never know. Ride your bicycle The little while you can—and wait no more; Though a bicycle won’t ferry you Across the pathless oceans of the Cosmos, This poem has never only been about The bicycle—but our imagination. The Universe is full of bicyclists Who dream of navigating, just like you, The same intractable distances, To view, if for a day, another moon, Another sun—and you. So little Are our allotted days, so impossible— The grandeur, the sublimity, the Universe; Let your imagination be the bicycle And what before had been beyond your reach Will be the passage of an afternoon. Will be the nebulae that fade like leaves Among worlds moving darkly and unseen; Will be the radiant whirlwinds birthing stars And stars new worlds. There will be life and bicycles And for a little while—yours.
Bicycles by Me, Patrick Gillespie | February 14th 2021
This poem is one of two that Coleridge, who first created the genre, might have called an Essay Poem. Now that my novel is done, I’ve gotten back to working on long poems again, and a couple of short stories. Using the terminology of science in blank verse was an enjoyable challenge—and an experiment. I like to experiment in poetry. I suppose this is my contribution, in some sense, to the debate over what alien life might look like. One can find all sorts of wild speculation—often delighting in worlds teeming with life forms that are entirely unrecognizable, but I find that hard to square with the theory of evolution. The nooks and crannies that evolution will be filling on any given rocky planet are going to be all but identical to our own. And so convergent evolution kicks in. Perhaps the most well-known example of convergent evolution is called carcinisation or “crabification”. As one article writes, five groups of decapod crustaceans “evolved into crabs in five completely different contexts, giving rise to a meme that the long arc of history truly bends toward the crab.”
These are distinct species all evolving to fill the same niche and looking almost indistinguishable. So, if anything, there are probably more “crabs” in the universe than any other life form. What about sentient life? Could Octopi evolve into an advanced civilization? One stumbling block will be the “discovery” of electricity. The day any intelligent Octopi (or water-dwelling aliens) discover electricity will be the day they all float dead and electrocuted on the water’s surface. Dry land is the place for scientific advancement. And what will be the physiology of alien intelligence? The development of our brains was mutual with and coincided with the development of finger dexterity. That is, our intellectual capacity to invent tools relied on a pair of hands capable of manipulating those tools. Fat good that kind of intelligence would do a dog. So it’s my own opinion that the physiology of alien intelligence is going to have far more in common with us (than not) because we’re both filling the same evolutionary niche. But, anyhow, that’s the kind of thinking that inspired this poem. Hope you enjoyed it.