Kelly Cherry



Are humans somebody’s experiment? Some god’s or alien’s experiment?

Maybe somewhere people live forever, allowing medical researchers to observe and notate to their hearts’ content.

They have iPods and pay attention to the tiniest of details.

They write dissertations on human frailties, many of them thousands of pages long.

They have microscopes through which they can see both the outsides and the insides of a human being.

They have miniscopes through which they can see every detail of a human cell.

Because they have all the time in the world, they take great pains to get everything right. Accuracy is achievement.

Occasionally one observer will exchange a comment with another observer.

“This gentleman is taller than the norm,” he says.

“Remember to take into account the fact that over time humans in general have grown taller.”

“Thank you for reminding me,” says the first observer. “Then again,” he continues, “this human is as tall as Washington’s Needle.”

Silence. At last the second worker says, “That’s tall.”

For the most part, however, the workers do not comment on anything. With so much time on their hands, it makes no sense to say what can always be said at another time.

If you are a human, and dusk has darkened into night and you are ready to go to bed, be careful. Draw down all the blinds. Triple-lock your doors. Change into nightwear only at the back of your closet. All the lights should be off by now. Climb into bed, with or without a partner.

Stop breathing. You need to be able to hear if someone, other than a partner, is also breathing. If so, it may be one or more of the researchers.

Are there shadows? More shadows than usual? A researcher may be inside your house, your room.

Be careful to let your breath out as softly as possible. You don’t want the researcher to realize that you are there, in the bedroom, which is dark, which is silent, which weighs on you as if you were holding it up. Be careful not to disturb the silence. Don’t plump the pillow. Don’t let your wife or girlfriend light a scented candle (and anyway, you hate scented candles). Make love, if you dare, very very very unobtrusively. Don’t whoop it up! Don’t shout! In fact, try not to move. Yes, that may prove difficult, but remember, you cannot begin to imagine the poking and prodding, the pills and injections, the whips and knives, the horror! the horror! that will be inflicted on you. Pretend, on the contrary, that you are dying. That’s right. The less you exist, the less likely you are to be selected for an experiment.


Author’s Statement on Beauty

For me, depth of thought is an essential component of any creative art that is beautiful. I also love the beauty of mathematics and science, especially physics (insects and insides I find less attractive but I am glad that others study them). I love the depth of thought in great books and meaningful visual art. Why do I want depth of thought? Because I think.

But depth of thought does not register only thought. Depth of thought is also the route to feeling. The more deeply we think about our world, the stronger we feel about it. We experience the world’s pain. We experience the artist’s pain, the scientist’s pain, the child or parent’s pain. And this pain, which resides in our hearts and souls and even our bodies, gives rise to joy.

Is that not amazing? Is it not shocking?

But there is an explanation. Contradictions, plentiful in every inch and infinity of the cosmos, remind us that there is always another side to things. Niels Bohr discovered this and called it the Complementarity Principle. Remembering to check this principle ensures that we leave nothing out. That is what Beethoven, and other great masters (male and female), do: they hold our world together—in a score or on a canvas, in a laboratory or on a chalkboard or a computer, or in the pockets of Madame Curie’s dresses—permitting us to see what is otherwise too enveloping or distant or indistinct to see. I treasure this view, this many-angled unification of existence. We see the big and the small, the far and the near, the essential and the inessential, the mind and the heart, the joy and the pain.


Kelly Cherry is the author of 27 books, 11 chapbooks, and 2 translations of classical drama, the newest titles (published in 2017) being Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer: A PoemBeholder’s Eye: Poems, and Temporium: Fictions. Former PL of Virginia. Emerita at Poets Corner, NYC. Inaugural recipient of the Hanes Poetry Prize from the Fellowship of Southern Writers; NEA; USIA (the Philippines); Rockefeller (Bellagio); Bradley Lifetime Award; Phillabaum Prize, Weinstein Award; Weinstein Residency; Notable Wisconsin Author; three Arts Board fellowship grants and two New Work awards from Wisconsin; Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook Award (2000, for 1999); Walker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Southern Letters; four Prize anthologies. Eminent Scholar, UAH, 2001-2005. More detailed information may be found on her Wikipedia page.