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Cope's Rule, Nepenthe, Magpie Lark

Kimiko Hahn received the 2008 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry.

Cope’s Rule

According to Edward Drinker Cope,
nineteenth-century paleontologist, fossil records show

lineages become larger over millennia

indicating that bigger is more successful.
Though later scientists offered further support for Cope's rule,

from mammals to corals,

paleontologists in the last century challenged such evidence.
Gould, in particular, was dismissive

of such a psychological artifact.

Current, more rigorous studies suggest
the results are plain to see:

being big provides a big advantage. And yet,
the study continues—

Why isn’t Cope’s rule more of a rule?

Laws of physics reveal that insects
cannot grow to the size of Tyrannosaurus rex


because their exoskeleton cannot support
heavy loads of body mass. Furthermore, a small rat


is probably better adapted to a certain niche.
There is also the issue of surviving mass extinction

though not everything can get small enough quick enough.
I am small already so that isn’t a personal concern;

still, each consecutive husband has gotten larger
though I’m not sure why or what that reveals

except it’s easier for Harold to reach for stuff on the top shelf
rather than watch me, at fifty, climb on the kitchen counter.

Even so, last weekend he bought for us both a step ladder
ruling out vulgar advantage.

 

Nepenthe

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, . . .
                               Edgar Allan Poe

The Nepenthes rafflesiana, or pitcher plant,
a bowl-shaped leaf with liquid at bottom,

acts like an animal predator to attract then digest insects
such as the itinerant ant that scouts around the dry lip

then bids colony members follow only to slip inside
due to increased humidity or nectar secretion.

Scientists measure this completely passive phenomenon

using tiny electrical probes.
Just what is the reward for such studies?

pure botany? unpredictability? symbiosis?

For me, more than the thought of wet lips
or Homer who mentioned Nepenthe

as a potion to dispel one’s misery,

I think of memorizing poetry in the fourth grade:
Edgar Allan Poe, while longing to forget the lost Lenore,

composed verse after verse that implanted recollection.
That drug, that conductivity,

that pleasurable sensation while stumbling into memory.

 

The Magpie Lark

Australian magpie larks that couple and clasp
produce an alternating antiphonal song

coalescing into the call of one—
an indication of how long the pair have sung duets

and how expertly they’ll synchronize a defense of turf—
which makes sense, though so unsure of my own part

I’m as ready to take off in torment
as I am to beat off any competitor

for a nest of twigs, trinkets and assurances.
But you’ve heard these words before.

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