Versed in Science. Some questions pathologist Michael Lieberman can't answer in the lab

Another project -- a collection of Holocaust poems, tentatively titled As a Matter of Fact -- cuts closer to the bone, though the subject is at some remove from Lieberman's own life. He didn't suffer the direct effects of the Holocaust, nor is he aware of any family members who did. What interests him isn't the past, precisely, but its echoes in the present, the way they affect him as a human being and a Jew. He seems surprised by the work's spiritual overtones. Ask his public self whether he believes in God, and he'll reply that he's an agnostic. Examine his poetry, and a different answer emerges.

At his Baylor office, down the hall from his lab, Lieberman discusses his poetry enthusiastically. The talk emanates from somewhere between his public self and his poetic self. He's warm and charming and funny, but maintains a socially acceptable distance from a recent acquaintance. There's none of the transgressive intimacy of his poetry, no uncomfortable talk of plunging cocks or evil or death's altogether too close approach; emotions remain decently in check. Windows let in the afternoon light, and the papers heaped on the couch are a grant proposal, not poems. The world seems sensible and organized, a place that will reveal itself to science one small objective answer at a time. The bookshelves hold scientific texts, not poetry, and that seems right. Lieberman's poems belong to darkness and privacy, to the hard, yearning questions too embarrassing for daylight, too large for the lab.

Lieberman: Cells in the daylight, souls in the dark.
Deron Neblett
Lieberman: Cells in the daylight, souls in the dark.

E-mail Lisa Gray at

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