Scientists for the first time have used a natural chemical to
                dramatically increase the life spans of human cells in laboratory
                dishes and perhaps make them immortal.

                                —The Washington Post, January   14, 1998

                We all came down with it
in the seventeenth century, back

                when it was still possible
to die. It was necessary then

                to dwell on drops of rain
until all the world

                wore beads, as when Vermeer, for instance,
made entire landscapes inlaid

                with pearl, brass chandeliers
beaded, brick houses mortared

                with pearl—and not just the necks
of women, either, but seed pearled boats,

                bridges, cold silver pitchers, rivers
and ribbons and bread; of course,

                in some paintings, even pearls
and paintings, too, eventually came down

                with Vermeer fever-beyond our reach
to cure, the way the shape

                of light resembling a pearl
could be conjugated

                into passe compose and finally
turn into light. We were like

                the squirrel, high on a branch
in winter, who curves his tail forward

                to cover his body and become
the initial that stands

                for his name; we, too, were diagnosed,
admitted: Je me ressemble,

                I resemble no one
so much as myself.