Singularity: An Animated Ode to Our Primeval Bond with Nature and Each Other (Toshi Reagon Sings Marissa Davis)

A song of praise for life and “the smallest possible once before once.”

This is the fifth installment in the animated series 2021/2022 of The Universe in Verse in cooperation with On Being. The Universe in Verse celebrates reality’s wonder through science-infused poetry. You can find the complete collection here.


When I’m down, I always think about the gladiolus.

Whenever I ache with self-referential humanity — that evolutionary miracle of complex consciousness that endows us with the capacity for reflection and rumination at the root of all sorrow — I think of the gladiolus and its primal scream of color and its two-hundred-million-year triumph, governed by insentient forces stretching back to the Big Bang that bloomed a something out of the unimaginable nothingness.

I think of the gladiolus with its mohawk of blossoms — one-sided, bisexual, belonging to nature’s nonbinary citizenry: the “perfect flowers” — most of its 300 known species native to Africa, to which we too are native. The Latin name for fierce beauty. Blade, known sometimes as “sword lily,” linking it to the flower for which my mother was named. A blade of blossoms pollinated by tiny wasps and long-tongued bees and hawk-moths, and then by self-conscious sapiens with opposable thumbs — a chainlink of humans holding hands across the epochs from Mendel to the young Puerto Rican woman at the Manhattan flower market, those generations of horticulturalists who hybridized and cultivated the small iridescent blossoms of the wild flower to make the towering blooms of solid red and white and yellow in my Bulgarian grandmother’s garden, on my Bulgarian grandfather’s coffin.

Gladiolus by Sydenham Teast Edwards from William Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, 1790. This print is also available as stationery cards and a printed copy. All proceeds go to The Nature Conservancy.

I think of the gladiolus, with which we share 98% of our DNA — that delicate arrangement of atoms forged long ago when all of them, yours and mine and the sword lily’s, banged into being 13.8 billion years ago from a single source, no larger than the dot levitating over the small i, the I lowered from the pedestal of ego.

Marissa Davis, a young poet, celebrates the atomic spirit in this chainlink between everything and us. “Singularity (after Marie Howe)” — a poem inspired by “Singularity” (after Stephen Hawking),” which the gifted and golden-souled Marie Howe composed for and premiered at the second annual Universe in Verse in 2018, commemorating the recently stardust-surrendered scientist who revolutionized our understanding of the universe by illuminating what happens to a dying star as it collapses to form a singularity — the tiny point of zero radius, infinite density, and infinite curvature of spacetime at the bottom of a black hole, kindred to the Big Bang singularity at the bottom of the Beginning — that original seed from which the universe bloomed.

Marie’s “Singularity” — which was transformed into a breathtaking animated film for the lockdown livestream of the 2020 show, a film that inspired this experimental literary-animated “season” of Verse: The Universe as a Book in the interlude between live gatherings — radiated across our Pale Blue Dot, eventually reaching Marissa to spark her own “Singularity” — an exquisite ode to our primeval bond with one another and the rest of nature.

For this fifth installment in the interlude series, in an homage to the intergenerational chainlink of inspiration from which all art is born, here is Marissa’s “Singularity” animated into vibrant aliveness by English artist Lottie Kingslake and set to song by the cosmic life-force that is Toshi Reagon.

by Marissa Davis
              (after Marie Howe)

The wordless beginning
iguana & myrrh
magma & reef              ghost moth
& the cordyceps tickling its nerves
& cedar & archipelago & anemone
dodo bird & cardinal waiting for its red
ocean salt & crude oil              now black
muck now most naïve fumbling plankton
Each egg that is hatched in the copycat soft
I am unwomaned, unraced
unsexed              as the ecstatic prokaryote
that would rage my uncle’s blood
Or the bacterium which will cause widowing
your eldest daughter’s eldest son
my uncle, her son              our mammoth sun
& her uncountable siblings              & dust mite & peat
apatosaurus & nile river
& maple green & nude & chill-blushed &
yeasty keratined bug-gutted i & you
spleen & femur seven-year refreshed
seven-year shedding & taking & being this dust
& my children & your children
& their children & the children
of the black bears & gladiolus & pink florida grapefruit
here not allied but the same              perpetual breath
held fast to each other as each other’s own skin
cold-dormant & rotting & birthing & being born
in the olympus              of the smallest
Once only

Previous on Verse: The Universe of ThingsThe following chapters are available: Chapters 1 and 2 (the origin of life and ecology), with Joan As Police Woman (Jane Dickinson) and Chapter 2 (Henrietta Leavitt and Edwin Hubble and the human desire to understand the universe, Tracy K. Smith); and Chapter 3 (martinator Maria Mitchell and poetics of the cosmic perspective, David Byrne (Patti Smith) and Chapter 4 (dark matter (the mystery of our mortal stardust) with Rebecca Elson and Patti Smith (dark matter and darkness and the mysteries of our mortal starst), with Patti Smith (res).

Donating = Loving

Since a decade and a half I’ve been writing for hundreds of hours each month, spending thousands of dollars every month. MarginalianThe magazine, which bore for fifteen years the unsettling name Brain Pickings. The site has survived despite being ad-free, and thanks to readers’ patronage it is still free. I have no staff, no interns, no assistant — a thoroughly one-woman labor of love that is also my life and my livelihood. Consider donating if you feel this work makes your life easier. Every dollar counts.

Subscribe to our newsletter

MarginalianReceive a weekly free newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s most inspiring reading. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

Related Posts