By the Skin of the World’s Teeth

I squinted at the starless sky, humbled,
Once again, by the immensity of creation.
Billows of mist rose from distant depths,
Eddying over the land as musty reminders
Of yesterday’s blood and carnage, a testament
To the unchanging, callous law of nature.
With faraway chasms rumbling overnight,
How incessantly the earth had trembled
Throughout the eternity of agony I had endured
In my first—and, I swore, my last—childbirth.
Although the horizon palely glimmered,
The unpunctual sun was scarcely expected
To grace my age-old ancestral residence
Leeward of this bleak and barren sierra,
As it had never done so since my mother’s time.
I for sure had waited all my life for this moment
To glimpse at these sweet, tiny faces—which,
Thankfully, did resemble mine—
Despite the fact I could not recall
How and when it exactly happened,
Nor who the father of these little bastards was.
Now that my labour was over, my strength was spent;
I had kept my faith, I had run my race,
And the time of my departure was at hand.
“Farewell, my children,” I pleaded. “Mother must go,
For sweet, eternal peace awaits my soul
From where the thunders roar and summon.”
I, a worm at the foot of a feline’s fang,
Who presently leaped into the unknown chasms,
Would soon join my mighty host as one.
Then, for many, many a worm-year after,
I tumbled through unseeable oceans and worlds,
Until my flesh slowly dissolved in purgatory,
When an amoeba emerged from my ruptured guts.
“O, my lord, my lord!”
With pseudopods stretched out in pious prostration,
The wretched thing cried out to me,
“My ears had heard of you,
But now my eyes have seen you!”

 

Colin Lee

colin-lee-small

Inspired from the Yiddish proverb, “To a worm in a horseradish, the whole world is a horseradish,” I came up with this thought experiment today, which, I suspect, might turn out as equally agreeable—or, rather, disagreeable—to the atheistic and theological alike. I hope none would mistake my playful allusions for blasphemous gestures; if anything, the fable, though peppered with references familiar to evangelicals, is to convey the bizarreness of colliding dissonant worldviews, which neither the evangelisers nor the evangelised should ever uncompromisingly ignore. Either way, one is also free to toss my intended context away altogether and view the story through the lenses of, for examples, the slumbering big cat’s, Zhuangzi’s, and so on.

Photo Courtesy: ibtimes.co.uk
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18 thoughts on “By the Skin of the World’s Teeth

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  1. “Although the horizon palely glimmered,
The unpunctual sun was scarcely expected
To grace my age-old ancestral residence
Leeward of this bleak and barren sierra,”

    I wonder what kind of strange world or purgatory would live by an unpunctual sun? These lines fascinate me, and yes, evoke Zhuangzi’s butterfly.

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    1. Thank you for reading, Amaya. In order to put on the POV as a parasite in the mouth of an unknown feline, I appropriated the protagonist’s perception of space-time through a little too much dramatisation. Therefore, the bug was awed by the oral cavity of its host and marvelled at the latter’s fangs as a lofty sierra; the momentary generations were seen as age-old. And, since the sun would have been a rare sight from within the beast’s jaws, our protagonist had scarcely seen any light in her time. Then, as she fulfilled the procreative purpose of her existence, she spent worm-years in her version of afterlife—in the beast’s digestion. At last, when the amoeba emerged upon our protagonist’s ultimate passing, that particular juncture was, to me, the convergent of all three existences in a shared reality—the encounter to which the beast remained oblivious, nonetheless, dropped for the worm its final curtain, while leading the amoeba to its version of enlightenment—thus my so-called thought experiment. I don’t suppose many would see it the way I see it any more than the worm’s identification with the amoeba, but still, I do hope it makes an interesting story. 🙂

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  2. Yes, a fascinating and vivid read that provokes many thoughts – not all of them entirely comforting. But a valuable piece within a strong literary and mythic tradition. Thanks for a stimulating read, Colin.

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  3. I love your poem Colin. It is such delicious play on words with you being a worm at the foot of the feline’s fang…
    I liked your weaving of life and death and evolution all into the concept that evolution might one day re-occur!
    Well done!
    dwight

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    1. So glad I had a chance to reread this, Colin. While reading the poem before your comment with a clear explanation, I found myself identifying with the protagonist but switching identities, beginning with God and then moving on to others. Given my background, I found all kinds of biblical connotations. It’s fun to see how any poem strikes a person differently based on their background.

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      1. I’m thrilled you took such pains to digest my humble story. Thank you so much, ma’am! Re the closing remark, I can’t agree with you anymore. It’s after all by our subjective experience that our perception of reality is determined and restricted, like the different participants in my story. Is there intelligent design? Or are we products of chance and chaos? Or both? Is there divine justice? Or is truth an airy image upon an arbitrary framework? Is there any purpose to our existence? I don’t think any of us can see it all and make complete sense, especially when at times baffled by misalignments of reality against our belief — I suppose that’s where faith comes in, to fill in some gaps between the big picture and the small ones. Either way, as much as the worm cannot invalidate what the amoeba experiences, and vice versa, those who’ve taken a leap of faith should recognise they’ve taken a leap, while those who haven’t are perhaps better off to remain open to the possibility of such leap. Hmm.

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      2. Speaking of this mystery, it’s sad to see the passing of Professor Hawking today. I suppose he can now see the other side of the wormholes for himself at last. Thank you again, Victoria.

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