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 seedpearled 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 passé composé 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.