I was just reading an article in Quanta Magazine and lo and behold there’s an evolutionary biologist, Arik Kershenbaum, who speculates, as I do (and did in my poem Bicycles) that alien life is probably going to look a lot like life on earth. You can read the article here. Not only that, but Kershenbaum has written a book on the subject, the Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy.
I guess Bicycles was too late to make it into the forward.
I’m going to be buying this book for both my twin daughters, both of whom are majoring in earth sciences with an interest in exobiology.
Crabs rule the universe. I tell you that now. Don’t be shocked in the years to come. You heard it here.
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 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
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