Simulacra

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.

Presented by

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

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

Video

What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In