In the latest issue:

Botanic Macaroni

Steven Shapin

What made the Vikings tick?

Tom Shippey

In the Lab

Rupert Beale

Will there be a Brexit deal?

Anand Menon

Short Cuts: Under New Management

Rory Scothorne

Out-Tissoted

Bridget Alsdorf

Sarah Moss

Blake Morrison

Poem: ‘Country Music’

Ange Mlinko

On the Trail of Garibaldi

Tim Parks

Art Lessons

Peter Campbell

You’ll like it when you get there

Tom Crewe

Early Kermode

Stefan Collini

‘The Vanishing Half’

Joanna Biggs

At the Movies: ‘The Truth’

Michael Wood

The Suitcase: Part Two

Frances Stonor Saunders

Poem: ‘Siri U’

Jorie Graham

Diary: Getting into Esports

John Lanchester

RevelationRuth Padel
Close
Close

‘A ladder’, the master whispered, ‘of nucleic acid.’
This was the first we’d heard of it.
Rain nosed the glass; wind lashed the trees
outside. ‘Four hydrogen-bonded nucleotides
locking on like mating damselflies, but each
a different size, pulling the ladder’s sides
into a twist, like serpents on the sign
outside a chemist who for old time’s sake
gives lodging in his window to the alchemist’s
glass jars.’ He drew those twin snakes
looping up the wand
of God-Who-Escorts-Our-Morphia-Laden-Dead
to forest mist and shadowlands
where they belong, and brings them back
in dreams. ‘But one snake, the lagging strand,
is upside down.’ A squeak of chalk.
The pavilion, as I recall, was dark.
Rain pooled on the mesua floor.
‘We’re conflict from the start. One thread
runs easy. The other is fitful tickertape
on which genetic script, your soul’s barcode,
emerges opposite.’ What did we know?
We longed for a match, a cell phone, anything
that glowed. ‘As in a mirror, messages
are written here and must be read
backwards.’ We waited for the prayer
that never came. ‘Otherwise is built in.
Behold your molecule of heredity.
Two cosmic serpents, yes; but tail to head.’

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