“The Fruit Fly (Genotype: nevermore)”

Male and female fruit flies. Drawing by Nan Swift, Improbable Research staff, in homage to T.H. Morgan.

This poem is reprinted from the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research.

Another in an endless series of poems evolved from E.A. Poe’s original

by Jennifer Sosnowski
University of Virginia, Charlottesville

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
O’er the latest volume of some scientific lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping at my lab’ratory door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my office door;
Only this, and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,
Each lab’ratory member left some data on my door.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow, sorrow for my low grant score
For the lab that sought to study Docking Protein v-SNARE-4;
Penniless forevermore.

I felt I would remember later strange sounds from each incubator
Oh, they filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my office door,
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my office door.
This it is, and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating, then, no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or madam, your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is, I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my lab’ratory door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you.” Here I opened wide the door—.
Darkness there, and nothing more

Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there, wond’ring, fearing
Doubting, dreaming dreams that no P.I. had dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only words there spoken were the whispered words, “Low score?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the words, “Low score!”
Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into my office turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping, something louder than before,
“Surely,” I said, “surely, that is someone with word of the status
Of the Golgi apparatus that my grant would fain explore.
Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore.
‘Tis the heating, nothing more.”

Fruit fly eyes. Drawing by Nan Swift, Improbable Research staff, in homage to T.H. Morgan.

I scarce had time all this to mutter, when, with quite a flirt and flutter,
In did zoom a tiny fruit fly, one of Barry’s stocks galore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
With a presence calm and staid, he perched above my office door.
Perched upon a bust of Darwin, just above my office door.
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this little insect brought some cheerful sparkle to my thought
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thine eyes be red as cherries, surely now thy genome varies.
I’ll bet thou art not wild-type, small one; could you be what I’ve prayed for?
Tell me of thy genotype, named by Barry heretofore.”
Quoth the fruit fly, “Nevermore.”

I wondered and I marveled, merely just to hear it speak so clearly,
As my hopes were raised that I could write my grant once more.
I let myself begin believing—by its genotype perceiving,
Could I finally start achieving fame that I was destined for?
I searched PubMed and rustled through the papers stuffed into my drawer
For a fly named “Nevermore.”

But the fruit fly, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further, then, he uttered; not a wingtip did he flutter;
As I dug through all my clutter, piles of papers on the floor.
I despaired and said “It’s hopeless – like my dreams I dreamed before.”
Then the fly said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it says is only what it’s heard before,
Caught from some unhappy master, whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster, ‘til his budget was no more—
‘Til the ruins of his research dashed his hopes upon the floor.
His iv’ry tower was no more.”

But the fruit fly still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of fly and bust and door;
Then, upon the canvas sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this fly knew of my score,
What this tiny insect who begot so much genetic lore
Meant in croaking, “Nevermore.”

Thus I sat engaged in guessing, finding this a bit distressing,
Whilst I watched those cherry eyes stare down into my deep heart’s core;
So I sat there, sat there pining with florescent light bulbs shining
How low were my hopes declining! This was grant revision four...
I’d be my resignation signing since my grant they did abhor.
Twill ne’er be funded, nevermore!

Three varieties of fruit flies. Drawing by Nan Swift, Improbable Research staff, in homage to T.H. Morgan.

Then, methought, the air grew colder, and I saw an old file folder
Pull itself out of a stack, and fall upon the dirty floor.
“Wretch,” I cried out, “Who hath sent thee?  Gene transfection tests have lent thee
Powers that thy kith and kin have not possessed before!
Come and join my lab and let’s your genotype explore!”
Quoth the fruit fly, “Nevermore!”

“Prophet!” said I, “Thing of evil!—prophet still, if fly or weevil!
Whether you were sent or fled a keen insectivore,
Desolate, yet all undaunted, my grant sits here quite unwanted
In this lab by horror haunted? Tell me truly, I implore!
Is there funding for my lab? Tell me, tell me! I implore!”
Quoth the fruit fly, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil—prophet still, if fly or weevil!
By that heaven that’s above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell me—Oh, my heart is chilled!—Now tell me: Will my grant be killed,
My fondest dream go unfulfilled, undone by just a lowly score?
Will I not a full lab build, undone by just a lowly score?
Quoth the fruit fly, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, fly or fiend!” I shrieked, still smarting—
“Get thee back into thy vial where thou ere hast lived before!
Leave no sign here as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy spear from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the fruit fly, “Nevermore.”

And the fruit fly, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the somber bust of Darwin just above my office door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming;
And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!


This article is republished with permission from the May-June 2007 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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