March 14

Me, my cells and I: a love poem

 

matte black curtains are taped tightly

to the windows

the only light allowed here

is the gentle yellow glow

that illuminates the stage

 

gracefully getting into position

I delicately balance

between thumb and forefinger

a thin disk

carried with a careful reverence

placed gently on the altar

humble sighs aside

my hands rise with an eager authority

it’s time for us two to tango

to practice

perform nay

perfect

our private paso doble

so I spin in my seat to face the machine

green light

go

 

I fill tiny glass tubes with a cold and clear solution

and mount them to the microscope

next to the bright red bin

of discarded sharps

next to the frosty blue bucket of ice

the leaden metal micro-manipulators

look especially sinister

with wires protruding

every which way

orange faded labels overlooked

 

I immerse myself in this well

of salt solution and cells

scanning the bottom for her shadow

her shapely cell body catches my eye

and I stop to take her in

her subtle

smooth curves

her lengthy spine

and hazel dyes

tell me she’s

the exciting type

a hungry greed comes over me

 

my indigo gloves dance furiously

twisting and spinning knobs

in no particular pattern

until the positive pressure gently presses

on the surface of her skin

and once released

she moves in a little closer

now my gut engulfs itself

and I’m nervous

I’ve become attached and

pucker my restless lips

inhale softly

to lay kisses that may

break barriers between us

but

time slows

behind a thin veil her membrane rests

patiently

my own brain on the edge of exploding

and then a burst –

she opens up to me!

and commands my attention

the bright white screen illuminates my face

and my eyes melt into the monitor

as I watch a trace slide across the screen

fancifully dancing its way into my heart

and in spite of a growing pride

I’ve shrunk a few million sizes

to live within her hold

comforted by a silence interrupted

only

by flirty little mini blips

not unlike a timid sonar signal

and while I hate to kiss and run

we are but transient lovers

its time for me to move on.

to seek the next neuron

 

 

I wrote this poem as part of a UCSD Extension creative writing course, and the assignment was simple: write a color poem. So I wrote about something that I see everyday, which may have been dulled to my eyes, and attempted to infuse some color.

Electrophysiology – or the study of the electrical properties of physiological systems, cells and tissues, etc. – is such an important tool in medicine and science. For instance, we can measure muscle activity using electromyography (EMG), heart activity via electrocardiograms (ECG or EKG), and brain activity through electroencephalography (EEG). The list goes on! But a lot of times we also want to understand how electrical activity is impacted on an even smaller scale, we’re talking individual cells within the brain. Electrophysiology (ephys for short) in neuroscience is the stethoscope we use to measure the cell’s heartbeat, i.e. the flow of electrically charged ions into and out of a single cell. Based on this understanding of ion exchange across a membrane, we can measure the identity and abundance of receptors on the cell surface, ion exchange in response to neurotransmitter stimulation, and the dynamic communication between cells, among a range of other queries. All of this information leads us to a deeper understanding of cell behavior, system interaction, and potentially, disease. To record the electrical activity of these cells, we carefully poke neurons with tiny glass pipets (you can see an awesome gif here!) and this process of delicate probing is the story that this poem aims to tell. While I may have ineptly strayed far from color, I learned a valuable lesson in finding novelty in daily patterns, in appreciating the mundane, and in taking advantage of sticking science puns into poems whenever possible (I count 15?).

 


 

Nicole is a Neurosciences graduate student at UCSD who likes to eat, read, write, and sleep.