Issue 4 / Poetry

Poetry by Maya Jewell Zeller

Biological Half Lives

Note: This poem is a collaborative effort: half of the language of this poem (most of that aligned left) was taken directly from the Wikipedia page on biological half-lives. The other half of the language is my own.

The biological half-life

of a substance

is the time it takes for a substance

(for example a drug, a city, a daughter,

a paternal grandmother, a uterus, a country,

or other substance)

to lose half of its pharmacologic,        geographic, internal, emotional, familial, reproductive,


or radiologic activity. Typically,

this refers to the body’s                       (or the brain’s, or the van’s, or the closet’s,

    or the father’s, or the mother’s, or the photos in the

    briefcase under the bed, or the passport, or the stories, or

    the whole car or house’s cleansing through the function)

of kidneys and liver

in addition to excretion                       (for example the purging of material goods, selling the

doll house, for example, or killing the chickens, hurling

the couch into the ditch where it will sit, half its stuffing

spilling out and beginning to disintegrate, too, until the


move in, hundreds of tiny living moons

and how they work)

to eliminate a substance from the body.

In a medical context,

half-life may also describe the time

it takes for the blood plasma concentration

of a substance to halve

its steady-state

(or, when it comes to fathers, the time it takes

for the children to begin to drink, which can vary, really,


on their age and roles in the family, birth order, that sort of thing).

The relationship between the biological          (and emotional)

and plasma half-lives of a substance

can be complex depending                             (on the daughter or son in question, or)

on the substance in question,

due to factors including accumulation

in tissues                                                          (and photo albums, and horseback riding,

and how much sex the daughter has

to compensate, and how much acid the son drops,

which can depend on a variety of factors

such as how far it is to the orchard on her bike

and whether or not the barn has yet burned down

and how much she’s had to drink

and whether it was water or whiskey

and whether his friends were into mushrooms

or moonshine

and for example, the biological

(daughter) (I mean)

half-life of water in a human

is about 7 to 14 days                                       (or, in memory, 7 to 14 years,

or, in cell memory, 7 to 14 decades,

or, in genetic capability, 7 to 14 millenia),


it can be altered by behavior.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol

will reduce (so many families) (I mean) the biological half-life of water in the body

and, for example,

the removal of alcohol through oxidation       (which is not the same as collecting fossils, but has

some things in common, such as a daughter

who spends a lot of time at the river

and throws a lot of rocks through windows

of glass and water).

The removal of alcohol through oxidation

in the liver from the human body is limited.

Also the rate-limiting steps for one substance

may be in common with other substances      (for example the removal of the daughter

from the property, or the removal of the father

from the property, or the removal of the son

and his guns and his cars from the property

or the removal of property

from the family).

Note that methanol is very toxic

and causes blindness and death.                     (Note that an alcoholic

is very toxic

causes blindness

in the mother of his children

causes love and devotion and questioning

in his adult children

causes sentences and paragraphs

and worry

in his adult children.)

A person who has ingested ethylene glycol (or antifreeze, or other sweet toxic things)

can be treated in the same way. Half-life is also relative to the subjective metabolic rate of the

individual in question.

Especially if the individual in question

is an individual in question

of questions

is an individual subjective to the half rate

of the brain

the half rate of memory

where his mother is a sweet sweet

toxic memory,

and a uterus is a walled ocean

of transport

into another continent

where all laws of half lives

remain constant


Maya Jewell Zeller’s Yesterday, the Bees, will be out in October 2015 from Floating Bridge Press. She is also the author of the book Rust Fish (Lost Horse Press, 2011) and recipient of awards from Crab Orchard Review, Sycamore Review, New Ohio Review, and elsewhere. Her poetry and essays appear/are forthcoming in recent issues of Pleiades, Bellingham Review, Tahoma Literary Review, and High Desert Journal. Maya lives in Spokane with her husband and two small children. Selected by Yasmin Belkhyr.

Image © Kerb via Flickr Creative Commons.