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May Swenson reads The DNA Molecule

I hope you enjoy this Caedmon recording of the poet’s exact reading of her poem as much as I do.






is The Nude Descending a Staircase
a circular one.

See the undersurfaces of the spiral treads
and the spaces in between.

She is descending and at the same
time ascending and she moves around herself.

For she is the staircase
“a protoplasmic framework an internal scaffolding

that twists and turns.”
She is a double helix mounting and dismounting

around the swivel of her imaginary spine.
The Nude named DNA can be constructed

as a model with matches and a ribbon of tape.
Be sure to use only 4 colors on 2 white strands

of twistable tape.
“Only matches of complementary colors

may be placed opposite each other.
The pairs are to be red and green

and yellow and blue.”
Make your model as high as the Empire

State Building and you
have an acceptable replica of the Nude.

But and this is harder you must make her move
in a continuous coil

and you must make her increase
while at the same time occupying the same field.

She must be made “to maintain a basic topography”
changing yet remaining stable if she

is to perform her functions which
is to produce and reproduce the microsphere.

Such a sphere is invisible to but
omnipresent in the naked eye

of The Nude.
It contains “a central region and

an outer membrane” making it able to divide
“to make exact copies of itself without limit.”

The Nude has “the capacity for replication
and transcription” of all genesis.

She ingests and regurgitates
the genetic material it being

the material of her own cell-self.
From single she becomes double and

from double single.
As a woman ingests the demon sperm and with

the same membrane regurgitates
the mitotic double of herself

upon the slide of time
so the DNA molecule produces with a little pop

as the waistline of its viscous drop
a new microsphere the same size as herself

which proceeds singly to grow
in order to divide

and double itself.
So from single to double and double to single and

mounting while descending she expands while contracts
she proliferates while disappearing

at both of her ends.
Remember the red can only be

opposite green and blue opposite yellow.
Remember that the complementary pairs

of matches must differ slightly in length
“for nature’s pairs can be made only with units

whose structures permit an interplay of forces
between the partners.”

I fixed a blue match opposite a red
match of the same length

in defiance of the rules pointed them away
from the center on the double-stranded tape.

I saw laid a number of eggs on eggs on the sticky side
of a twig.

I saw a worm with many feet grow out
of an egg.

The worm climbed the twig a single helix and
gobbled the magnified edge of a leaf

in quick enormous bites.
It then secreted out of itself a gray floss

with which it wrapped itself tail first and so on
until it had completely muffled

and encased itself head last as in a mummy pouch.
I saw plushy irridescent wings push moistly out

of the pouch.
At first glued

together they began to part.
On each wing I saw a large blue eye

open forever in the expression of resurrection.
The new Nude released the flanges of her wings

stretching herself to touch
at all points the outermost rim of the noösphere.

I saw that for her body from which the wings expanded
she had retained the worm.



And here are four more enjoyable May Swenson poems, the first one about friends.

Staying at Ed’s Place

I like being in your apartment, and not disturbing anything.
As in the woods I wouldn’t want to move a tree,
or change the play of sun and shadow on the ground.

The yellow kitchen stool belongs right there
against white plaster. I haven’t used your purple towel
because I like the accidental cleft of shade you left in it.

At your small six-sided table, covered with mysterious
dents in the wood like a dartboard, I drink my coffee
from your brown mug. I look into the clearing

of your high front room, where sunlight slopes through bare
window squares. Your Afghanistan hammock,
a man-sized cocoon
slung from wall to wall, your narrow desk and typewriter

are the only furniture. Each morning your light from the east
douses me where, with folded legs, I sit in your meadow,
a casual spread of brilliant carpets. Like a cat or dog

I take a roll, then, stretched out flat
in the center of color and pattern, I listen
to the remote growl of trucks over cobbles on
Bethune Street below.

When I open my eyes I discover the peaceful blank
of the ceiling. Its old paint-layered surface is moonwhite
and trackless, like the Sea—of Tranquillity.

Here is one of the most painful poems I’ve ever read; very cerebral and yet it bleeds.


Stop bleeding said the knife
I would if I could said the cut.
Stop bleeding you make me messy with the blood.
I’m sorry said the cut.
Stop or I will sink in farther said the knife.
Don’t said the cut.
The knife did not say it couldn’t help it but
it sank in farther.
If only you didn’t bleed said the knife I wouldn’t
have to do this.
I know said the cut I bleed too easily I hate
that I can’t help it I wish I were a knife like
you and didn’t have to bleed.
Well meanwhile stop bleeding will you said the knife.
Yes you are a mess and sinking in deeper said the cut I
will have to stop.
Have you stopped by now said the knife.
I’ve almost stopped I think.
Why must you bleed in the first place said the knife.
For the same reason maybe that you must do what you
must do said the cut.
I can’t stand bleeding said the knife and sank in farther.
I hate it too said the cut I know it isn’t you it’s
me you’re lucky to be a knife you ought to be glad about that.
Too many cuts around said the knife they’re
messy I don’t know how they stand themselves.
They don’t said the cut.
You’re bleeding again.
No I’ve stopped said the cut see you are coming out now the
blood is drying it will rub off you’ll be shiny again and clean.
If only cuts wouldn’t bleed so much said the knife coming
out a little.
But then knives might become dull said the cut.
Aren’t you still bleeding a little said the knife.
I hope not said the cut.
I feel you are just a little.
Maybe just a little but I can stop now.
I feel a little wetness still said the knife sinking in a
little but then coming out a little.
Just a little maybe just enough said the cut.
That’s enough now stop now do you feel better now said the knife.
I feel I have to bleed to feel I think said the cut.
I don’t I don’t have to feel said the knife drying now
becoming shiny.

An examination of self and place and space all at the same time. Perhaps it could be called Existence.

The James Bond Movie

The popcorn is greasy, and I forgot to bring a Kleenex.
A pill that’s a bomb inside the stomach of a man inside

The Embassy blows up. Eructations of flame, luxurious
cauliflowers giganticize into motion. The entire 29-ft.

screen is orange, is crackling flesh and brick bursting,
blackening, smithereened. I unwrap a Dentyne and, while

jouncing my teeth in rubber tongue-smarting clove, try
with the 2-inch-wide paper to blot butter off my fingers.

A bubble-bath, room-sized, in which 14 girls, delectable
and sexless, twist-topped Creamy Freezes (their blond,

red, brown, pinkish, lavendar or silver wiglets all
screwed that high, and varnished), scrub-tickle a lone

male, whose chest has just the right amount and distribu-
tion of curly hair. He’s nervously pretending to defend

his modesty. His crotch, below the waterline, is also
below the frame—but unsubmerged all 28 slick foamy boobs.

Their makeup fails to let the girls look naked. Caterpil-
lar lashes, black and thick, lush lips glossed pink like

the gum I pop and chew, contact lenses on the eyes that are
mostly blue, they’re nose-perfect replicas of each other.

I’ve got most of the grease off and onto this little square
of paper. I’m folding it now, making creases with my nails.

This is a very human question.


Body my house
my horse my hound
what will I do
when you are fallen

Where will I sleep
How will I ride
What will I hunt

Where can I go
without my mount
all eager and quick
How will I know
in thicket ahead
is danger or treasure
when Body my good
bright dog is dead

How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye

With cloud for shift
how will I hide?




May Swenson (1913 – 1989)


  1. I found the metaphysically scientific poem written and read in a sterile manner that is complementary to this writing. A poem that the body can embrace its impact by vibration, the way it has been written only such a performance can ring out the true quality and the words this prose teaches, leaving me to feel my brain has been flexed. Thought and reflection, on me, the reader, those biological forces taking place connecting with all life existence sharing a common thread of molecular and quantum structure in this wonderful excellently written art work.

  2. Through… enough to go on, this afternoon//

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