Be unafraid, for I will leave my image
and come with you.

— from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, translated by Charles Martin

 

The white-footed mouse is a pure and innocent beast,
Till an infectious deer tick nymph clamps its jaws on for a feast.
The young tick sucks up blood, swelling in time,
And squirts in nasty spirochetes – the cause of Lyme.

Gorged to the max, the tick drops out of sight,
And the mouse - now a carrier - passes on the parasites.
A vector in his nest and in his wild, leafy habitat,
He spreads Lyme to other ticks and mice – simple as that.


When the ticks morph to adults, they feast in hordes on deer,
But that feeding frenzy doesn’t happen till later in the year.
Meanwhile, ticks — young and old, no matter the season —
Bite and infect humans and our pets. The ticks are the reason

This Lyme plague is upon us and shows no signs of abating.
It’s a pubic health mega-dilemma. Now experts are debating
A radical plan — it’s quite elegant and potent:
Populate the island with gene-altered rodents.

If White Foot were immune to a tick’s first attack,
This damnable Lyme plague would fizzle and never come back.
The disease would be snuffed out in mice before it began.
Can this happen safely? MIT professors say it can.

In fact, they’re breeding White Feet exactly the same
As our cute, frisky natives. (Yes, they share the same name.)
The only difference is: these new mice are replete
With designer gene immunity against the vile spirochetes.

The plan: ship several thousand over, and let them mate with local mice.
Soon all our little White Feet will share the protective gene splice.
The mice and ticks will live on but won’t give humans or pets the disease.
High fives and kudos, MIT dudes! Do a Q.E.D. end zone dance, if you please!

“Not so fast!” some cautious islanders warn, “Who can tell what’s in store
When these thousands of Frankenmice invade our virgin shores?
They could breed environmental chaos! It could be a horrendous mistake!
Gene splicing? Messing with Nature? A risk only off-islanders would take!”

Yes, it’s a public health quandary – this specter of a therapeutic stroke
That challenges the trust of suffering, yet skeptical, local folks.
“Lo! A modern Mighty Mouse, you say! Will he come and save the day?
Or is he Mephistopheles? Fess up! Who can predict what price we’ll pay?”

The imagination balks. Our fears are strong but vague.
And yet all Vineyarders agree: We’ve got to lift this plague!
This new science splices genes on the chemical chopping block
With quasi-divine precision, inspiring awe and shock.

Humbled by their mastery and a strategy slick and expedient,
Dare we trust such scientists who toy with life’s core ingredients?
Can we embrace a plan with no historical precedents,
And hope these Mighty Mice will heal us with no negative consequence?

The prospect gnaws our souls, makes us dig deep for clarity.
Need quasi-divine help to cure an epidemic? Actually, it’s not an utter rarity.
In fact, ancient Rome once was gripped by a plague so rank
The citizenry called up to heaven — the corpse-tainted Roman air stank.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Romans had to row to Greece
To beg Asclepius, God of Healing, to get their pestilence to cease.
The great god shocked them all — Behold! — by morphing to a giant,
crested snake.

Hissing horrendously, he slithered up onto the Roman galley that would take
Him over the dark blue waves to the mouth of the Tiber River,
Then quickly on up to Rome. Question: would this crested serpent god deliver?

Hail great Asclepius! When they reached their afflicted destination
The snake wiggled up onto the hills of Rome and cured the plague, no hesitation.

Or so writes the Roman poet Ovid in his treasury of mythic metaphors –
Where Gods change forms and ravish humans - there’s violence and sex galore!
But there’s not a jot of science in Ovid’s fifteen splendid chapters!
So what’s the take-home from Metamorphoses twenty centuries after?

For our Lyme problem I say we follow the Roman example:
Find an Asclepius equivalent — MIT has ample demi-god samples —
Then watch Asclepius change his form and make our medical triumph complete.
But don’t be surprised if he has long whiskers, cute ears and four tiny white feet.