Today a Religious Naturalism email list sent the poem The Enigma We Answer by Living (reprinted at the bottom of this post) by Alison Hawthorne Deming , which was featured on the Panhala website.
What does nature compel you to do?
My father was compelled to chase butterflies, moths, and other insects. As a child, I saw him in the yard, hunting them down with his white net on a pole. I watched them die in his poison jar, fluttering their wings for the last time. I saw them arranged and labeled, a pin through each tiny body, and peered into their display cases at the university where he taught biological sciences.
I am compelled to create winged clothing, garments of leaves, crowns of berries and thorns, a temple of the cosmos, stories to tell, plantings of herbs, and gatherings of people. Some people are compelled to write poetry.
The Enigma We Answer by Living
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.
~ Alison Hawthorne Deming ~
(from the book Genius Loci)