The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2017

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FEB 2017 Issue

a misplaced bestiary
Part 5: The Pre-Partum Mites (Acarophenax imaginaria)

For so long in the history of living things sexual reproduction did not exist, in theory or in practice.  Rather, among the one celled creatures of the first two billion years, among cyanobacteria for example, simple fission multiplied what might be thought of essentially as one species, connected through genetic division rather than through any declaration of individual intent.  (Foreplay and sexual bonding was to come much later.)  Sexual division—even to the production of creatures distinctively male or female—is actively new in the evolution of living things.  However, the older forms, existing, from our point of view, in a more “retrograde” fashion through “mere” sexual fission or the unstructured wandering of genetic material, may represent an even more permanent form of reproduction, in fact a more basic and long lasting one.

In earlier reproduction, the production of a “new individual” was rapid.  The reproduction of single celled organisms, if left unchecked, may increase to trillions in a relatively short time.  Yet, within the boundaries of sexual animals, gestation periods, though slow by comparison, may vary greatly, perhaps roughly in proportion to the size of any particular animal. The elephant is not only “slow to mate” but, like ourselves, slow to give birth—its gestation period being slightly longer than that of our own species. Others, like the mayfly, after a long period of “inactivity,” spend their genetic material in one day, from impregnation to birth, and then die; their offspring then lie virtually dormant for one year until the next mad party.  Some, however, like the cecidomyian gall midges, meastor for example, or micromalthus debilis, a beetle of some note, exist in an even more retrograde fashion, reproducing while still in the larvae or pupae.  And so with the common aphid.  And so with many others, for the desire to maintain the species is the necessity which empowers invention. 

The cecidomyian gall midges, for example, draw our interest because, among other things, the number of females produced greatly exceeds the number of males.  The male, within the mother's womb, having grown to maturity there, impregnates his sisters.  The results of these unions, immediately after birth, begin to eat their way through the mother to begin the same process as their sacrificial progenitor.

Though this mite of the genus adactylidium allows the male impregnator of his sisters to emerge for a short time from his mother's womb, acarophenax tribolii, the eponymous hero of yet another species of mite, has no such later stage and dies there. We have known of such insects for some time, and their fascination lies in their being examples of the proof of the Darwinian theory of the survival of the individual as an indication of the survival of the species and also of the curious way in which the male-female balance is maintained, for better or worse, in all species in which such a division has occurred.

However, as had been expected for some time, though not proven empirically, there must, literary biologists have dogmatically predicted, be a species which exists in an even more retrograde fashion to its offspring, to the point of conceiving them entirely mentally and therefore saving itself the trouble of giving birth to the imperfect and doubtlessly tragic struggles of its offspring (discounting even the worry of raising them).  The savings in energy and the increase in range of movement, if this were the case, would be enormous.

Here, according to the theory of these perhaps “imaginary biologists” but certainly biologists of the imagination, the offspring are “conceived” into being and though “thought” of as the continuation of their parents, would exist immediately and potentially as the possibilities of growth unleashed through the imagination.  And certainly the imagination is the womb from which these so fanciful creatures would be manifested, the crucible in which they are conceived, and the oil in which they are anointed.

For here, generation and genetic progression are pulled from their sockets and a hundred flowers bloom from sources far more effervescent and obscure. The random chance variables, the multi-forming genetic mutations in all their possibilities, have been consigned to their aimlessness, like soldiers who have suddenly found that war was a fiction and their enemy themselves.  Here, the products of the imagination emerge fully armed, like an infinitely fertile Athena, from the forehead of that fruitful womb, invention, whose chance permutations have read into them our desires for order, the very printing on the void. And it is here that evolution, having reached such diversity of form and such falsely progressive ends from the point of view of our species, finds itself entering another space-time continuum (we indeed may call it) bounded only by the fertility of that specious (and spacious) womb, imagination, the energy of which is unknown and unknowable.

And so it is that the imaginary productions of acarophenax imaginaria, this small though not gregarious mite, assume ambiguous proportions, for ultimately there is no way to recount the productions of its unions from the supposed “real” productions of other species; in fact, it is almost impossible to tell which are which or if there is any division between them, for so real are the species it produces that they rival the sheer abundance and inventiveness of all hitherto existing species.  But with this difference: they are somehow raised through an exponential power of pure release to some other older order of invention and proceed by quantum leaps toward loops which we can only participate in through an equal power of the imagination.  Thus, the mite requires not only the microscope to bend our eyes to the proper curvature of both space and time but also the lens of the imagination, which sees behind itself as it stares, for example, at its multiple configurations, both forward and backward.




In one generation of acarophenax imaginaria eleven distinct species were born, each with its carefully sculptured stages of growth, its fragrant illnesses, its poses and lapses into barbarity and its reconversions into the world of “high culture.”  Three distinct “sub-species” which share this progression have been identified, and though their maturation is slow, their progeny is being awaited with great anticipation.

One species (acarophenax atropium) followed the path of least resistance, allowing itself to decay through periodic bursts of inactivity, which resemble the spines of scorpion fish, then the reflex behavior of sunsets swarming with radiant dots, whose non-existent mouths, voraciously and with a deliberated purpose (which was to anticipate the coming of daylight), ate holes into the night; then transformed their already loosened bodies into the penis flower inseminating the darkness with stars and eyelids, roots and so-called “gravity lens levers,” which lifted the back sides of things into sight; then lifted themselves into an embodied shout of great, galloping density; then painted and penciled their next projection into a gelatin wharf in a sea of orange radiolaria then blushed their roseate expansions of sighs from the breaths of the maidenhair fern; and so on, on and on, until its power, through subtle transformations of sense, had obscured its inner instant drives and “diversions” and those processes had entered the world around it and left in the vacuum at its center a flower of nothingness perfectly set in the jeweled crown which it had created, not for its mastery but for its infinite transformations.

This was but one sub-species, which intended through its actions to attract its male siblings into its eye of nothingness and thereby, in merging motion, mate with them. To produce what?  We  are still waiting for its productions, which may be perceived only through other imaginary inventions.  The other two sub-species (acarophenax dictionarea and acarophenax compendia) have been identified as male through their positive energy in the art of subtle word accretion and benign blasts of discovery—“pinnacle,” “calandrial,” “kyphosis,” “buckshee,” “geodesy,” “paludal,” “mephitic,” “bruxism,” and “pleonasm” being some of their most widely employed, though uninvented, exactitudes.

The words themselves, though existent in other, more practical contexts and usable on the periphery of human actions, have considerably more weight through their juxtaposition with states of imaginative flux within the barriers of space-time curtains (which exist in uncontaminated regions of our beings and which, through definition, can never become fossilized). 

“Buckshee,” for example, exists as much for its sound of a wilder west than it does in its origin, which is undeniably British. “Kyphosis,” on the other hand, has an elegance of time wedded to lithic sculpture, the backward march of awe produced by our collision with the wall of the present. (Our blood has been left there within the over-dried out distances.)  “Mephitic” has the ring of a true misraim, an inchoate Egypt, within it, internal echoes of stone within stone within stone toward a containment scarcely recognized within our loosely packed bodies, part gaseous, part watery worlds. “Bruxism” exists where matter has met itself and produced an overly full and constantly filling consciousness, whether in water over water or in the colliding galaxies which send out their ever-new, ever-invented messages until some stability has been reached and there is in fact a balanced silence produced by a stasis of tension and a skin of intent.

Fortunately, within these two male sub-species, there is only a lamentably limited constellation of words, which form a pattern akin to a confederation of flies playing in their own sharpened sunlight.  They will each be attracted to the female entablatures, the foam around the hollow core of their own extractable darkness, and on entering that hole, they will be, in fact, they must be, transformed; all the words by which they have defined themselves will disperse, informally trance-formed and trance-elated, fed into the maw of stability, the black box of chance, the heresies which power the world of words, and produce something, perhaps only a simple geometry tenderized by the variations of a larger history of histories or perhaps a creature so immense we will not be able to conceive of its existence and therefore will proclaim that there has been indeed no birth at all.  But, of course, there will be.  Birth is palpably inevitable, for in all the realities of the imagination the center of its productions must rely on ourselves for recognition in the solipsism of true belief and the mindlessness of creation beyond all mindless purpose.




These mites of the imagination are the power which moves us, the mote in the mind's eye, the disappearing point in the optic nerve which leads back into its disappearing point and then outward to another existence in the womb of time.  The mite is us, compounded by all the others, even to the point of being the mortally mental fingers which point toward it in order to point beyond it, the coarse laughter from which all the sands of its ocean are made and on which we are lying, as we dream of the winds (and their whispers) blowing out of us over its waters.  Is there any hope for the birth of our immanently compressed desires, the embodiment of which we know nothing— naked desire fed by other, more exogenous forces?  The pattern unfolds, but the unfolding is merely another state of the present, as we look over the walls at the circus beyond, through the knotholes of belief and the scenes which enfold us to wave on the shores of the continent, and unfold like an undulant, world-bursting flag in an everywhere, which is beyond and around us.


Sid Gershgoren

Sid Gershgoren has published six books of poetry and prose: The books of poetry: Negative Space, Mutual Breath (a book of 65  villanelles), Symphony (a medium long poem in a "symphonic" form), Through the Sky in the Lake (a book of "lines"), The Wandering Heron (a book of haiku), and two prose works, Past Rentals (a fictional "catalog" of a company that rent its "customers" space, place, and situation in a particular area of the past within a particular time, place, and situation), and The Extended Words (an imaginary dictionary). Sid Gershgoren has published widely in various magazines and anthologies. 


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2017

All Issues