February 3, 2023

Save the Net Books

Blogazine on Books, Arts, and Music

“Microbiome” by Andy Jackson [Introduced by Thomas Moody]

Andy Jackson’s Human Looking (Giramondo) won both the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry and the Australian Literature Society’s Gold Medal in 2022. Highly an accumulation of looking, both as observer and observed, and that looking is always human, that means, flawed, partial, dismissive, admiring, indifferent; while looking human implies that what is observed is not considered human at all.

Jackson lives with Marfan Syndrome, including a severe curvature of the spine, and his poetry gives a powerful account of what it’s like to be considered “human looking” – to be on the fringes of society because of the impact we have on others. However, “Microbiome” reminds us that being human means being inhabited by an abundance of non-human life, and that these microbes that dine on the body’s “soft table” are “always hungry/unassuming”. The speaker then offers his menu: both somatic and psychogenic, including “starch, sugar, paper and ink,” “hesitation in the face of violence,” and “the scent of the skin of the one I love,” which suggests an almost erotic intimacy with the microbes reminiscent of Donne’s flea.


As we live, we ourselves are inhabited

— William Bryant Logan, “Dirt: Earth’s Ecstatic Skin”

On earth, ready and still, what do I want

do I offer you? It says the menu will open

with the liver and the brain, for their wealth

of enzymes and water, the heart

before the bones. But so many of you

are already here at this soft table, always hungry,

no frills. I fed you protein

fiber, starch, sugar, paper and ink,

Confidence, the crimson jerk of the rosella

In the leafless tree, my own dying cells

Hesitation in the face of violence, more water,

the scent of the skin of the one i love

Confused with almost everything else.

And what are you going to make of all of this

turn? Warm compost, what remains.