The Enigma We Answer By Living

Isn’t that a stunning panorama? It was taken by a friend Saturday afternoon at the west end of the ranch when the sky was especially beautiful. I happen to be in the picture too. I’m a barely visible form on the bluff at the right, suspended in a state of wonder, but I like the small visual evidence of my presence.

It’s an image that seemed worthy of sharing, and I thought I’d use it to accompany this poem I love by Alison Hawthorne Deming. Deming is a widely published and highly acclaimed American poet born and raised in Connecticut who now divides her time between Tucson, Arizona and New Brunswick, Canada. Her most recent book is Zoologies: On Animals and The Human Spirit.  I appreciate so many of her reflections, such as this one:

“Animals are the core of what we are as creatures, sharing a biological world and inhabiting our inner lives, though in most days they feel peripheral–an ankle embrace from a cat or the thrill of spotting a fox trotting across the urban campus in Denver…”

And, “It is beautiful to think that trees have consciousness, can feel their wood thicken, and, as the sun migrates south, how the limbs redirect their reaching, effortless and slow, their movement visible only in the form.”

Or this, “What it takes to dazzle us, all of us masters of dazzle, all of us here together at the top of the world, is a night without neon or mercury lamps.”

Anyway, here’s the poem I wanted to share…because ultimately, aren’t we all just trying to tell stories against the vanishing?

The Enigma We Answer by Living
by Alison Hawthorne Deming

Einstein didn’t speak as a child
waiting till a sentence formed and
emerged full-blown from his head.

I do the thing, he later wrote, which
nature drives me to do. Does a fish
know the water in which he swims?

This came up in conversation
with a man I met by chance,
friend of a friend of a friend,

who passed through town carrying
three specimen boxes of insects
he’d collected in the Grand Canyon—

one for mosquitoes, one for honeybees,
one for butterflies and skippers,
each lined up in a row, pinned and labeled,

tiny morphologic differences
revealing how adaptation
happened over time. The deeper down

he hiked, the older the rock
and the younger
the strategy for living in that place.

And in my dining room the universe
found its way into this man
bent on cataloguing each innovation,

though he knows it will all disappear—
the labels, the skippers, the canyon.
We agreed then, the old friends and the new,

that it’s wrong to think people are a thing apart
from the whole, as if we’d sprung
from an idea out in space, rather than emerging

from the sequenced larval mess of creation
that binds us with the others,
all playing the endgame of a beautiful planet

that’s made us want to name
each thing and try to tell
its story against the vanishing.

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