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An Attempt at a Love Poem & Rosalind Franklin, the "Dark Lady" of DNA

by Charlotte Pence

An Attempt at a Love Poem

Some atoms are intended to unhinge,

expand from single flame to fire,

spark on a charge, roof-jump,

tongue-flick, burrow-bore

the faulted flange under

the tar-shingled tile.

Some people are also meant to expand,

like when I met you. Don’t tell

me this wasn’t terrifying:

to want a person more than

reason should warrant.

To want want more than reason.

And now, a year later, I can say

I do not fear the fear.

I see it as it is: a speck

of lithium dust creating a world

I did not know. A world I love

too much to diminish with a name.

Rosalind Franklin, The “Dark Lady” of DNA

James Watson wrote: “Important biological objects come in pairs.”

Rosalind Franklin took the photograph of DNA that told him so.

He “wondered how she would look if she did something novel with her hair.”

Walking past a bomb crater to her lab, she was unaware

of the x-ray radiation that furrowed

inside her ovaries, another object that comes in pairs.

Only praise for “discoveries on viruses” is etched in square

letters on her tombstone. With her helix photo stolen, Watson was left to

wonder if he should do something novel with his neckwear.

Using x-ray crystallography, interpreting a single photo took a year.

Franklin would have to measure the pattern of DNA’s shadow

to determine its dimensions. Radiation and crystals: an unlikely pair.

Watson and Crick invited Franklin to see their model and share

her thoughts. She wondered how their work looked so much like her photo.

Watson wondered if she’d done something novel with her hair.

After scientists created death from an atom, they needed life to reappear

in their equations. Rosalind, too, wondered how to better tomorrow.

Watson wondered if he should do something novel with his hair,

believing as he did that important biological objects come in pairs.


Charlotte Pence’s first book of poems, Many Small Fires (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), received an INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award from Foreword Reviews. The book explores her father’s chronic homelessness while simultaneously detailing the physiological changes that enabled humans to form cities, communities, and households. She is also the author of two award-winning poetry chapbooks and the editor of The Poetics of American Song Lyrics. Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have recently been published in Harvard Review, Sewanee Review, Southern Review, and Brevity. In July of 2020, her new collection, Code (Black Lawrence Press), was cited by The Millions as one of four “July Must-Read” poetry titles. A graduate of Emerson College (MFA) and the University of Tennessee (PhD), she is now the director of the Stokes Center for Creative Writing at University of South Alabama.


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