(Video link here.) When visual artist and poet Jen Bervin learned that researchers were experimenting with nano-printed medical sensors made of silk for patients monitoring serious health conditions, she wondered, If I were to have a silk sensor embedded under MY skin, what would I want it to say? She imagined that words the device carried could hold a great deal of meaning for the patient, mirroring the effect poetry has during difficult times.

Jan Bervin
Jan Bervin

Over several years, Bervin explored the themes of silk —its intricate patterns and global history—, healing and the body She created a series of microscopic silk poems that are being shown at Explode Every Day: An Inquiry into the Phenomena of Wonder, an international exhibition at MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA.

Jan Bervin
Jan Bervin

We find the story of Bervin’s exploration, and the poems, astonishing and deeply heartening. Here is the beginning of one:

It is said that silk filature began
in China under a mulberry tree
in a teacup resting
lightly in the slender hand
of the empress Hsi-ling Shi

A brin unfurls from the frisson tangle
and she reaches in
begins to reel
filament
from the soft envelope of the cocoon

That is how people like to tell it

You know
the Nigerian proverb
Until the lions have their own historians,
history will always be told by the hunters

If you don’t know it
why not?

Jan Bervin
Jan Bervin

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