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The Solution [poem]

by Greg Crowther


At the University of Washington, circa 1995, there was a physiology professor who often prefaced his lectures with poetry. He read poems carefully, deliberately, thoughtfully, as though each line is much too meaningful to be glossed over. I wrote this poem as a satire of the professor's artsy approach to science.


The research technician wore gloves --
Paper-thin, form-fitting, rubbery gloves the color of cumulus clouds,
Which he preferred to the sky-blue ones --
As his long, supple fingers gripped the blood-red cap
Of the marshmallow-white bottle from Sigma.
His face curled into a tense scowl,
Anticipating some frictional resistance from the cap,
But he felt none as it rotated easily
Beneath the counterclockwise thrust of his hand.

He carefully removed the lid
And peered into the wide mouth of the container:
There before him was a bottled beach,
A sterile terrarium of white crystalline sand
Guaranteed by the manufacturer to be 99.9 percent pure.
He blinked, and his thoughts drifted to the sandy shores
Where he and his fiancee had gone digging for clams
And, in the evening,
Had discussed mollusk physiology while sipping Cabernet.
That was last July, two months before she left him
For an associate professor with hard money and a soft heart.
He blinked again.
"Move on," he whispered impatiently to himself;
"You must move on."

And so, his safety goggles moist with saline tears,
He turned and trudged to the balance.
With a tiny metal trowel, he scooped the white grains from the bottle
And deposited them in a plastic weigh boat, over and over,
Until he had built a primitive sand castle,
A crude little mound weighing exactly 58.44 grams.

Now working more quickly, as if eager to be done,
He dumped the mound into a beaker,
Added a liter of distilled water,
Threw in a stir bar, and turned the stir plate on.
Then he sat down for the first time all day,
And took off his gloves,
And watched the buoyant crystals dance in front of him,
A merry-go-round of solute and solvent,
The remnants of his white beach slowly dissolving in the swirling water.