I’m still here, although
I ought to have retired by now—
some places you just
can’t leave behind, no matter how
much you might have wanted.
Scientists, answerless and gaunt,
stare at screens, pace the halls,
our days and nights haunted
by the memory of our research
chair’s voice, and his inflection
when he spoke of the containment breach
found during inspection.
To a person, we agreed
that there’s no way
we’d leave, and risk infecting
others—we’re all doomed to stay.
Besides, we knew
when we applied
that studying the flock dynamics
had a downside.
Lisa Timpf is a retired HR and communications professional who lives in Simcoe, Ontario. Her speculative poetry has appeared in New Myths, Eye to the Telescope, Star*Line, Dreams & Nightmares, and Polar Borealis. You can find out more about Lisa’s writing projects at her blog site, http://lisatimpf.blogspot.com/.
Author of “At the Bleeding Edge”
What inspired you to write this poem?
In its earliest form, this poem was drawn from an exercise that involved picking up phrases from different sources and putting them together, which is how “flock dynamics” and “superbugs” got joined up. When speculative poetry zine Eye to the Telescope put out a call for submissions on the theme “Infection,” I went back to the original poem and modified it for submission there. Though the poem didn’t start out with a rhyming scheme, as I worked with the poem some rhymes suggested themselves and I went with it.
What do you hope readers take from this poem?
A couple of things. I have a lot of respect for people who put their well-being on the line to help others, including those who fight disease outbreaks, or who do research on viral antidotes. At the same time, some of this involves a personal danger on their part. No matter how careful you are or how many procedures you have in place, when a human element enters into things, there’s a risk. A second take-away is the fact that a lot of research is a two-edged sword. Research into dangerous infectious diseases has the potential for unleashing undesirable consequences, and we should go into such endeavors with our eyes open to the potential downside. It seems to me that there are a lot of fields (not just disease) that humans are poking into for various reasons (military included) that might be better off left alone.
To give other writers hope, would you mind sharing with us how many edits and/or submissions this story/poem has been through?
This was the third submission for this particular poem. Usually, I’ll make some changes (ranging from a small tweak to a major overhaul) to poems for each market, although that isn’t always the case if I’ve gotten something to the stage where I’m happy with it.
Recommend something to us! This could be a book, a short story, a video game, a project you’ve heard about, something you’re working on, etc. Anything that has you excited and that you want people to know about.
As part of my personal strategy for improving my fiction writing, I review books. One that I reviewed recently that I really enjoyed was Suzanne Palmer’s novel Finder, published in hardcover by DAW Books in 2019. The inventive settings, compelling characters, and plot twists had me hooked. I’d recommend it for anyone who enjoys reading space operas.