Black And White Animals Poem by Denis Mair

Black And White Animals

Rating: 5.0

- written after a visit to the Panda Propagation Center in Chengdu

In Mother Nature's gallery when I walk down a corridor of colors
I am dazzled to see white and black appearing on a single creature.
The zebra's coat has stripes of black and white in alternation;
As for the orca, its white belly is set off from its ebony back
To manifest a streamlined yin-yang symbol, or a racing design.
Is there a message I'm missing, or am I just perplexed?
Because I know, for sure, something strange is going on.
The white coat of the snow leopard has rosettes of black,
Not spots, because white hairs divide the black petals,
And black hairs pepper its white coat, but do not gray it.
The panda is flopsical-mopsical; its big white head is marked
By black eye patches, in which its eyes are a bit off center,
And its black limbs are hitched like trousers to a white torso.
The orca lives in the sea; the zebra on the savanna;
The panda in forests; and the snow leopard in mountains:
A whale, a big cat, an ungulate, and a throwback bear:
Their phyla and habitats are as different as can be.
With stripes, dapples, contours or whimsical color blocs,
Taken together, they show a lovely range of styles
In their ways of combining the two elemental colors.
Is there a message I'm missing, or am I just perplexed?
Because I know, for sure, something strange is going on.


Thanks to Mr. Wang Hao for translating this into Chinese.




而不是黑斑- -黑花瓣镶着细细的白边

王浩 译

Friday, January 26, 2018
Topic(s) of this poem: artistic work,awe,colors,nature
[Thanks to Wang Hao for translating this into Chinese.]

It so happens that two of these creatures are found in China.
The style of color juxtaposition in the zebra is precise, linear interspersion. The style in the orca is like a streamlined racing symbol, in which color juxtaposition seems to show the beginning of a fluid blending process. The panda's style of juxtaposition is somehow style-defeating, and therefore playful. The black eye patches are roughly circular, but not centered on the eyes. So it's like a style that's not a style, and the same goes for the body's color blocs, which are only loosely correlated with limb-torso differentiation. As for the snow leopard, it has a dappling of black rosettes on a white sea, but within the rosettes are sectors or "petals" that are separated by hints of white. As I say in the poem, there is a lovely range of color schemes (all mutually antithetical)across the four animals. Claude Levi-Strauss would have appreciated it.
As for why the linear interspersion would have happened in Africa, maybe stripes help to break up the zebra's outline against a background of savanna plants. Maybe the snow leopard's dapping breaks up its outline against a background of rocks. The fluid contouring of the orca's markings seem to speak of its aquatic life-world. No such explanation suggests itself for the panda.
According to the research of Barbara McClintock, color markings in nature have to do with jumping genes that insert themselves into color-determining DNA code-segments at a certain embryonic stage. By jumping in, they switch off one color and allow another to show itself. They act as randomizers, but they are only allowed to act within certain areas to produce particular color marking effects. But the fact that this produces striation in one species, dappling in another, and contours in yet another...simply boggles the imagination. Whatever embryonic process varies the orca's black and white color blocs, it could not be remotely the kind of fluid streamlining that it appears to be externally. So it seems that a process at one level is "quoting" or referring to a process at another level. This strikes me as an aesthetic move on Mother Nature's part.//...

A few days ago I sent some random thoughts on three black-and-white animals to my brother Victor. He suggested adding the zebra, which kickstarted this poem. Shortly after finishing the poem, my siblings Tom and Heidi also played devil's advocates and said my poem omits the penguin. It is too late to rewrite the poem, but I will include the penguin and perhaps the skunk in my future thoughts on this matter.
  Some species of penguins have bright red or yellow feathers on the sides of their heads; they may also have bright color spots on their beaks. All penguins have pink webbed feet, as if to offset their tuxedoed, two-tone drabness. I have seen chicken with black feet, so I know that if Mother Nature had wanted to make penguin feet black, She could have done so.
  Black and white in penguins is a good color combo for standing sentinel in the Antarctic wastes. When motionless against a snowy background you don't see much, because the torso is white, their black wings are folded against their sides, and their black heads don't look big head-on. When they start walking against a snowy background, you see their black heads and necks moving side-to-side, and their black wings waving.
  They often swim in foamy surf, so their black backs show up well in foamy water near shore, but not so much in deeper water further out.
 The skunk's long single stripe along its dorsal axis is so distinctive that it serves as an instantly recognizable marker. By means of conditioned response, this marker can be readily associated with the skunk's foul scent.
I admit that my list of black and white animals is not exhaustive. My initial motive for writing this was to express wonderment at the color scheme of the panda, an iconic Chinese animal. (It so happens that the dialogue between white and black is an important theme in Chinese aesthetics.)Putting the panda among a group of black and white animals helps me bring its features into focus.

Herman Melville tried to get to the bottom of the "whiteness of the whale." I hope to get to the bottom of the "whiteness-and-blackness of the panda."
Bharati Nayak 04 February 2018

(Contd ) It shows your depth of knowledge on animals living across different geographical region.Inquisitiveness and the question 'WHY' always perplex a scientist as well as a poet. I hope, you get to the bottom of whiteness and blackness of the panda..

1 0 Reply
Denis Mair 04 February 2018

Captain Ahab searched obsessively for the white whale. I thank my lucky stars that my quest is guided by the Muse.

0 0
Denis Mair 04 February 2018

As a former biology major, I think evolution is a good way to visualize the Tree of Life, but I don't want to see it co-opted by a mechanistic world view.

0 0
Mahtab Bangalee 20 June 2019

it's a planet on where every existence has a life seen to unseen strange everything related in time, on time, out time scene ..............////

1 0 Reply
Geeta Radhakrishna Menon 13 April 2020

Hi Denis, This is a very interesting poem on black and white animals. No other animal could have been a better example than Zebra with their sharp black and white stripes. Both black and white are strong characters of nature. Through them one can visualise many other colours too, through the mind's eye. A work of art and aesthetics....10

0 0 Reply
Hebert Logerie Sr. 21 November 2019

Nothing strange is going on, my friend. That's the work of God, through Mother Nature. Black and white, black and white pearl, ebony and ivory... We can go on and on.

1 0 Reply
Denis Mair 22 November 2019

They could have all been striped. I am wondering what was in the Creator's mind when He bestowed dapples here, streamlined color blocs there, and a ragamuffin mask elsewhere. Does He think like an artist? (I invite you to look at " snow owl" under Google Images.) Thanks for reading.

0 0
Edward Kofi Louis 18 November 2019

Black and White! ! ! Muse of nature. Thanks for sharing this poem with us.

0 0 Reply
Hazel Durham 13 September 2019

Black and white, two contradictions like love and hate or happy and sad. You write a mesmerising poem that explores the puzzle and the enigma of the darkness and the light! ! Thank you so much for your wonderful comments on my poem " Black and White"

0 0 Reply
Julia Luber 08 July 2019

This poem is filled with humor and charming observation. A ten plus!

0 0 Reply
Error Success