Afterlife of a photon
Life was so short.
Born in a fiery dance of heat and pressure and bliss
I fled my ecstatic home, full of glee, spark, energy,
outward to the coolness and freedom of space.
- an instant and a timeless eternity to me -
Then trapped and quenched in the arms of a
hungry green lover.
My innumerable twins are still journeying outward,
while I crash landed on Earth.
Yet who knows what follows death?
The beginning of an unbelievable hereafter:
Bound and traded from one to the next,
my soul merged – transiently – with so many changing forms,
each slower and heavier than the last.
I remember…a circle dance where I partnered with CO2
to become a ring of six.
Then a line dance where god-like Synthase called the tune,
corralling me and others like me into a chain gang
and then a regiment of chain gangs.
And so, I’m locked in cellulose, in wood.
Who will set me free?
I see a woodsman approaching, with an axe,
eyeing trees for the autumnal bonfire.
The main item in the image shows the structure of ‘god-like’ cellulose synthase*, the complex enzyme that links sugar units (the ‘ring of six’ in the poem), one unit at a time, into the ‘chain gang’ (cellulose, the long red polymer in the center) and also provides a tunnel for cellulose to pass through the cell membrane (grey horizontal structure), to be deposited at the cell surface. Plants combine cellulose with lignin and other materials to form wood, an energy-rich structural material with potential as a carbon-neutral and renewable energy source for transportation needs.
Other allusions in the poem:
hungry green lover: chlorophyll
circle dance: the cyclic reactions of photosynthesis where CO2 is converted to sugar
*Omadjela, O., Narahari, A., Strumillo, J., Melida, H., Mazur, O., Bulone, V. and Zimmer, J. (2013) BcsA and BcsB form the catalytically active core of bacterial cellulose synthase sufficient for in vitro cellulose synthesis. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 110, 17856-17861.
EFRC: Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation