Microbes Of The Skin
Think not of lilies but of skin
where microbes live and die without a sin.
Each time you wash your hands, and when you scour
the sweat from all your body in a shower
they wonder why to drowning they have been
condemned, in bathtub, swimming pool, latrine,
some in a stream where people choose to swim,
some in depilatories on a limb
when they are poisoned for esthetic reasons,
but not for microscopic wrongs or treasons.
They do not try to save their lives by praying,
or wonder which laws they’ve been disobeying;
while clinging to their rafts of keratin
they do not try to find some merit in
injustice that’s the fabric of their world,
the skin from which they know they must be hurled
at intervals they may predict but don’t
control. Though some may pray, most microbes won’t,
for they are rational and know that skin
is not a place to live forever in.
Edward Mendelson (“AUden and God, ” NYR, December 6,2007) writes about W. H. Auden in his review of “Auden and Christianity”:
He made it clear that he understood perfectly well that any belief he might have in the personal God of the monotheistic religions was a product of the anthhropomorphic language in which human beings think. Later in life, after reading a Scientific American article about the microbes that live on the human skin, he wrote a poem that asked what religious beliefs such creatures might devise to make moral sense of their world—and made the unstated point that human theology was as much a projection from circumstances as the theology of microorganisms would be:
If you were religious folk,
how would your dramas justify
By what myths would your priests account
for the hurricanes that come
twice every twenty-four hours,
each time I dress or undress,
when, clinging to keratin rafts,
whole citie are swept away
to perish in space, or the Flood
that scalds to death when I bathe?