The Knee and “Intelligent Design”

July 22, 2010

Lateral meniscus located between femur (above)...
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I had knee surgery a couple of years ago; a minor clean-up of my medial meniscus.

When the doctor finished this fairly routine arthroscopic procedure, he said to me, “You’ll be back to playing a fool and not acting your age in a few weeks.”

He was right.   I was traipsing all over India in a few weeks and back to playing basketball again within a couple of months.

One night during my recuperation, I started thinking about the knee.

It’s a very flawed design, full of serious structural problems.  Almost I want to say the knee is a botched job.

Anyway, a poem started to form in my head and I did something uncharacteristic: I wrote it down.   Usually, I work on poems in my head for a while before putting them down on paper.

Then I did something else that was atypical: I included it in a batch of poems sent to the American Poetry Review, one of the most prestigious poetry publications in the country, which happens to be published here in Philadelphia.

Ordinarily, I wait for several drafts before sending my new poems anywhere, a process that can take months or even years.

A few months later, however, the poem was accepted by APR and it was published in that summer (July/August 2008 issue).  Perhaps I shouldn’t worry my poems so much and just let them be.  Truth be told, this one just seemed right. (I did tinker with it in a minor way before it appeared in APR and again after it was published, mostly some grammatical stuff with which I wasn’t happy.  I just can’t help myself…)

Here is my poem, “Intelligent Design”:

The knee is proof:

there’s no such thing

as “intelligent design.”

If there were, the knee

would be much improved,

rather than in need

of replacement.

The doctor tells me

they are doing

wonderful things

with technology these days,

have improved the joint

and bond—

Amazing, really, they

can take a sheep’s tendon

and attach it there and here

or remove ligaments

from one part of the body,

secure it by drilling holes

and plugging them up,

stretching until taut

with tension superior

to the original.

The new designs

are so much better

(“my better is better

than your better”)

it seems obvious

the Creator

took off the afternoon,

went to play a round

of golf with Beelzebub,

perhaps a foursome with

Methuselah and Lucifer,

left the joint between

thigh bone and shin

to an intern.

Isn’t it obvious?

I mean, 2 million years

of evolution haven’t

improved the knee one wit.

Nothing intelligent about it.

–Scott Edward Anderson, American Poetry Review, July/August 2008

Here is an Mp3 of my reading the poem at Kelly Writers House in September 2008: Scott Edward Anderson’s “Intelligent Design”

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7 Responses to “The Knee and “Intelligent Design””

  1. gregoryo Says:

    Hehe nice poem. I don’t know that natural selection has been applied to the human race in the sense of physical aspects for the past few thousand years. We have all sorts of complicated reasons contributing to whether a person breeds. Heck, in recent times you don’t even need a working penis for the continuation of your genes.

    I wonder how well, throughout history, knees stood up to more consistent use e.g. labouring jobs or walking among the crops and to market. They receive quite a different treatment in the more diverse and erratic lifestyles we now lead, going from desk jockey to weekend sports nut and back again.

    Disclosure: Yep, I’m a Christian. I don’t think that fundamentalist, apologist, conservative, or even Intelligent-Design-fanatic are terms which apply to me, but I do believe in a God who created, loves, died and rose again for us.


  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ScottEdward Anderson, Alastair Cook. Alastair Cook said: RT @greenskeptic: My poem "Intelligent Design," from my poetry blog: http://bit.ly/cuqd5T #poetry […]

  3. greenskeptic Says:

    Of course, I was having a bit of fun with the term “intelligent design.”

    I suspect you are correct that our “more diverse and erratic lifestyles” contribute to the joint’s troubles.

    Thanks for your comment — and for reading!

  4. gregoryo Says:

    Hey thanks for taking my comment in an even more friendly spirit than it was offered. You’ve prompted me to read more of your older posts & website – a rewarding half hour with Le Tour on TV in the background. I must admit that you’re not the blogger to whom I thought I was responding! Cool to read your poems and insights.

  5. mckra1g Says:

    I find it to be a whimsical poem – as elastic and flexible as the joint for which it is named.

    The cadence is a bit playful, and the “neener neener” jab in the middle is a bit of a rebuke to the Designer? Or is it a rueful cranky interjection borne of being a couch-bound patient?

    I like this piece. Thanks for sharing. Best, M.

  6. @mckra1g Says:

    I find it to be a whimsical poem – as elastic and flexible as the joint for which it is named.

    The cadence is a bit playful, and the “neener neener” jab in the middle is a bit of a rebuke to the Designer? Or is it a cranky interjection borne of being a couch-bound patient?

    I like this piece. Thanks for sharing. Best, M.


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