VANCOUVER—The legend of vampires
and werewolves may have been inspired by
ordinary people who suffered from a rare
genetic condition that affects oxygen
transport in the bloodstream, says a chemist
at the University of British Columbia.
Research being conducted at the
university indicates a set of blood disorders
known as porphyias can disfigure the human
body so that it resembles the hairy monsters
and blood-sucking vampires of legend.
Bela, it was all a mistake,
we were sick, that’s all,
common people with little more
than runny noses, acne,
not the gods we thought we were
but patients awaiting cure,
victims of chemistry, not curses.
It isn’t true, Lon,
I don’t care what they say,
our blood wasn’t pale with disease,
it was vibrant with difference,
rich. Yours, perhaps, but my blood
was nectar, a river running
through time, littered
with my ancestors’ debris.
Oh, no, my hunger was no trick
of the juices, but deliberate,
part of the divine plan.
You’re mad, Bela, just as ever.
There’s the proof,
in the eating, as they say.
That fist which closed upon me,
that burning, the itching
across my chest where the brand
should go, the dried blood
on my body afterwards, thick as hair,
all symptoms, not cause, after all.
There’s no arguing with science.
But that’s just the point,
Lon, don’t you see?
I was mad, but you were the fool,
a romantic, eyes filled with gypsy moons,
someone merely bitten, afflicted.
I was ageless, ordained, an heir,
carrying on god’s own work
according to a logic even he had forgotten.
Science is a way of explaining
what cannot be understood.
I was never the victim,
I was the disease, waiting to be caught.
Questions and Answers
What inspired “Arguing with Science”?
Like some of the other poems of mine in this archive, this one began with a newspaper item that sparked my interest: an attempt to give a scientific explanation to werewolves and vampires. The item was serious enough, but it evoked a very fanciful response in this poem, which I’ve always really liked.
What poetic techniques did you use in “Arguing with Science”?
The poem is constructed as a dialogue (a conversation) between two Hollywood actors: Lon Chaney, who became famous playing werewolves in the 1930s and ’40s, and Bella Lugosi, who perfected the role of Dracula. Unlike most actors, these guys were so highly identified with the characters they played, in the public’s mind they might as well have really been werewolf and vampire. So in the poem, I treat them as if they were. As I said above, it’s a very fanciful poem.