Simulacra

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Before the beak of a tiny pipette
dipped through a glisten of DNA
and ewe quickened to ewe
with exactly the simulacrum
forty thousand years had worked toward,
before Muybridge’s horses cantered
and a ratchet-and-pawl-cast waltzing couple
shuffled along a phasmatrope,
before dime-size engines
sparked in the torsos of toddler dolls
and little bellows let them sing
and the Unassisted Walking One—
Miss Autoperipatetikos—stepped
in her caterpillar gait
across the New World’s wide-plank floor,
before motion moved the figures, and torsion
moved the motion—or steam, or sand,
or candle flame—before cogged wheels and taut springs
nudged Gustav the Climbing Miller
up his mill’s retaining wall (and gravity
retrieved him), before image, like sound,
stroked through an outreach of crests and troughs,
and corresponding apertures
caught patterns in the waves,
caught, like eels beneath ancestral ponds,
radiance in the energy,
before lamposcope and zograscope,
fantascope and panorama, before lanterns
recast human hands, or a dye-drop
of beetle first fluttered across
a flicker book of papyrus leaves,
someone sketched a creature along the contours
of a cave, its stippled, monochromatic shape
tracing the vaults and hollows,
shivers of flank and shoulder
already drawing absence nearer,
as torchlight set the motion
and shadow set the rest.

Linda Bierds’s new collection, Roget’s Illusion, will be published early next year. She teaches at the University of Washington.
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