Selected Poetry: 1974-
THE ATHEIST IN THE FOXHOLE
a novel by
Paul Seifert, M.D.
JOYCE & COMPANY
CopyrightÓ 2000 by Paul Seifert, M.D.
First published in American in 2000 by
Joyce & Company, Publisher
274 Skyline Drive
Petoskey, MI 49770
"There are no atheists in the foxholes."
Chaplain William Thomas Cummings
"In the universe suddenly restored to its silence,
the myriad wondering little voices of the earth rise up."
THE MYTH OF SYSYPHUS
Matron X stood languidly in a small kitchen before a stove peering absentmindedly into the gurgling mass of sustenance that was steaming on one of the burners. Nonchalantly, she shifted her weight from side to side. Her gaze seemed to reach far beyond the jostling flesh and vegetation into the depths of her middle-class daydreams.
Within an engulfing explosion of red corpuscles and plasma, an ovum began another phase of the existential trajectory of a human being.
Matron X reached down to the right lower quadrant of her abdomen. She began to unconsciously massage the area. For an instant, her placid face contorted in the vague awareness of pain.
The odyssey begun, the ovum was swept past the beckoning arms of Fallopian fimbria into the oviduct where the writhing pulsations of cilia propelled it gently toward the distant uterus.
Patron X sat alone, his mind intent upon the events of his world. The autonomic sector of his nervous system was directing the processes of digestion. The date was January 26, l940. The time was 7:30 P.M.
As Matron X entered the room, molecular globules of organic extracts wafting through the air along convection currents impinged upon olfactory hairs projecting into the mucous layer lining the inner surface of Patron X's nasal cavity. He experienced the transient awareness of the scent of perfume. The feminine allurements of Matron X left him no doubt of her intentions. He grinned at her as she approached.
At 8:33 P.M., Patron and Matron X were making love. As he clung to her sweating body, the torso of Patron X suddenly stiffened, followed by a series of diminishing spasms. Matron X sensed a gush of semen deeply within her body.
At 8:40 P.M., Patron X reflected momentarily on the progressively diminishing respiratory excursions of his thorax as he lay drowsily contented.
At 8:46 P.M., Patron and Matron X were asleep.
As a small globule of viscous material lying in the posterior fornix of Matron X's vagina reached 37 degrees centigrade, 350,000,000 tiny beasts within that globule sprang to life, each soon to conclude the final phase of its furious and incessant, but blindly purposeless, activity. Within 70 minutes, one and only one of these creatures would have been propelled--not by its own fervent effort--but by the muscular walls of Matron X's reproductive tract to the vicinity of the ovum where it would succeed where so many others would fail. 350,000,000 tiny beings were swimming vigorously at the rate of 1.5 to 3.0 millimeters per minute. Each would complete its unconscious existence in 24 to 48 hours. Some would swim in the wrong direction. Many others would by-pass the ovum by a micrometer or two. A few would peck their heads flat against the ovum's restricting membrane without success. Thousands would become sidetracked, a few would rush head-long up the shaft of a pubic hair, while still others--despite the most aggressive behavior--would drain out of Matron X's body by gravity to perish ingloriously in the sheets.
At 9:44 P.M., spermatozoan number 237,592,349 penetrated the ovum that was floating listlessly in Matron X's oviduct and a human being was conceived. Because spermatozoan number 237,592,349 carried a small mass of DNA known as a Y chromosome, this human being would become a male, and would become known in its world as Adam X. If Matron X's ovum had been penetrated instead by spermatozoan number 237,592,348--which carried a larger mass of DNA known as an X chromosome--the child would have become a female and would never have become Adam X.
In the early hours of the evening on January 26, 1940, the existence of Adam X was foisted upon him. He was totally oblivious to the incipience of this existence. He had not asked for it. He had had no control over the time and place in which it had occurred. He had been unable to select these responsible strangers. Had he known the consequences of the initiation of this existence, Adam X might have been indignant. He might have tried to raise a feeble hand to stop the play before the curtain lifted. But the days of indignation were cloaked far off in a meaningless future. At 9:50 P.M. on January 26, 1940, Adam X was not concerned with these things. He was only a fertilized egg, a fertilized egg 0.14 millimeters in diameter with 46 chromosomes. In 40 weeks, he would become a human being. Adam X was a fertilized egg, hard at work at being born.
Had inexplicable unknown motive forces of the universe somehow, and possibly for some reason, required this particular arrangement of atoms in time and space that would become Adam X?
He was a fertilized egg, a human to be, lying in an oviduct at 10:50 P.M. on January 26, l940, imprisoned for an unknown span of time within an ever more inclusive cascade of arbitrarily restricted segments of space. Someday, he would become disconcerted by the comfort generated among his peers by this arbitrary, taken-for-granted, frame of reference in the midst of nowhere.
Adam X was. He was because one of the 200 ova his mother would produce in her life-time had been fertilized by one of the 200,000,000,000 spermatozoans his father would produce in his life-time, assuming both of his parents reached the mean expected life span predicted by the actuarial scales in vogue at the time of their births.
Adam X could not have escaped his existence. Any one of a myriad of circumstances might have prevented his existence, but the only fact of any consequence to him was that none of them had occurred, and that he was.
Not only had the cellular intercourse of ovum and spermatozoan that had taken place one hour and six minutes earlier initiated the existence of Adam X, that intercourse had also imposed significant limitations on that existence.
Because of the genetic information residing in the double stranded helical DNA of paternal and maternal chromosomes that had united to become Adam X, certain indisputable statements about him could now be made. Adam X would never be six feet tall. He would have five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot. His adult physiognomy would be mesomorphic. He would have green eyes and would not be colorblind. He would not be achondroplastic, phenylketonuric, or a congenital cretin. He would not die in his youth of muscular dystropy or of cystic fibrosis. Compared with the hundreds of his cohorts who had also been conceived in the dark recesses of the earth on January 26, l940--in fact--Adam X had been dealt a far better than average hand in the genetic scrambling of finite possibilities he had just undergone.
Looming up on the very horizon of his life, however, was the specter of his environment. Adam X would require considerable nurturing if his genetic potential was to be fully realized. In the large contingent of individuals conceived with Adam X on January 26, l940, for example, he who had been given the greatest genetic gift of all would die of starvation in a rice paddy on the second day of his life.
Adam X was to be far more fortunate. That enigmatic and complex interaction of heredity and environment would swing the balance inexorably in his favor. But despite his good fortune, Adam X would cry out indignantly one day of conditioning and of the oppressive chains of human bondage.
But on January 26, l940, at 11:39 P.M., Adam X was not thinking of any of these things. He was floating in his mother's oviduct. He had been handed his ticket. The only information of certainty on that ticket was the date of embarkation. The stops along the way had not yet been written in. Neither had the final destination. The name of the transportation company was there, but it was written in a language no human being had ever deciphered.