Cells are programmed to do lots of things... including to die. Below is a tribute to apoptosis, the technical term for self-directed cell death.


Every day, bits of me

Are dying.

I don’t mean figuratively – like lost

Dreams, or hopes, or ideals –

This is not the scenario of a broken winged bird that cannot fly.

Rather, bits of me, quite literally, are dying. Constantly.

Have died every second of every day. 

Will keep dying. On purpose. As planned. For the good of the whole.


Every cell in my body

has a death switch

a big red button, or rather, a miniscule receptor

just waiting for the signal

to kill itself.


When the signal comes, whether before breakfast or after a bath, in the middle of a good movie or under a star-filled sky,

my cell is ready.


My cell already holds all of the components of self warfare.

Fifteen types of enzymes on pause, just waiting to do what they were created for.

And when it’s time, they leap to attention

soldiers on the front lines.

Some, like cytochrome C, are first used in life

Until the switch is flipped, and they become agents of death:

Chopping up DNA

Tearing apart organelles

Fragmenting bits of life

No mercy, no pause, no second guessing.


My chosen cell shrinks and blebs, its parts packaged neatly

In vesicles then left for the scavengers

Which engulf and digest, leaving

No trace behind.


The signal to die can come from a neighbor

Or from inside the cell itself:

If a cell’s DNA is damaged beyond repair, or its proteins have misfolded so much, too much,

Then the cell gives


the signal.


Don’t cry over the death switch for it is

vital to life.

Diseased cells, infected cells, damaged cells,

Cells at the end of their functional life spans –

It would do no good for any of these to let go and simply deteriorate,

Leaking their bits of life all around:

Caustic digestive enzymes

Myriad strange particles.

Anyway, cell death has made me who I am: Without it, my fingers would still be webbed together

Flippers not hands.


Strangely, the death switch is most like a brake.

When the cell is living, the death switch is halting the process of dying.

Which means death is the default.


To be or not to be?

Each cell in my body must ask itself this question every day.

If the answer is not to be, then the work of apoptosis

Or falling off

Or death


And life