Friday, September 17, 2010

`This Singular Honor'

“Almost everything I know is glad
to be born -- not only the desert orangetip,
on the twist flower or tansy, shaking
birth moisture from its wings, but also the naked
warbler nestling, head wavering toward sky,
and the honey possum, the pygmy possum,
blind, hairless thimbles of forward,
press and part.”

On the playground the girls are the naturalists.

“Almost everything I've seen pushes
toward the place of that state as if there were
no knowing any other -- the violent crack
and seed-propelling shot of the witch hazel pod,
the philosophy implicit in the inside out
seed-thrust of the wood sorrel. All hairy
saltcedar seeds are single-minded
in their grasping of wind and spinning
for luck toward birth by water.”

One of the girls hunts “roly polies,” what I grew up calling sow bugs, pill bugs and potato bugs, so many names for so singular and ancient a creature –Armadillidiidae. Fossils suggest they date from the Silurian period, early land-colonizers, and their resemblance to armored dinosaurs may account for their popularity among kids. That and their proclivity for the undersides of rocks and rotting logs.

“And I'm fairly shocked to consider
all the bludgeonings and batterings going on
continually, the head-rammings, wing-furors,
and beak-crackings fighting for release
inside gelatinous shells, leather shells,
calcium shells or rough, horny shells. Legs
and shoulders, knees and elbows flail likewise
against their womb walls everywhere, in pine
forest niches, seepage banks, and boggy
prairies, among savannah grasses, on woven
mats and perfumed linen sheets.”

Another girl has monitored the rust-colored sawdust on the rotting rails of a wooden fence since I told her it was the byproduct of carpenter ants eating dinner. She keeps a daily ant census and vows never to kill one.

“Mad zealots, every one, even before
beginning they are dark dust-congealings
of pure frenzy to come into light.”

Two girls tend a patch of wood fungus on the same fence, keeping it moist on dry days and peeling off the dry edges they judge ugly. All of these girls are five years old and quite devoted to their tasks. Others jump rope, climb the monkey bars or wander aimlessly, bumping into things. They go about their biophiliac business. The Armadillidiidae fancier broadened her interests on Thursday to include Opiliones – daddy longlegs, the non-spider arachnids, properly called harvestmen.

“Almost everything I know rages to be born,
the obsession founding itself explicitly
in the coming bone harps and ladders,
the heart-thrusts, vessels and voices
of all those speeding with clear and total
fury toward this singular honor.”

The author of the poem quoted in full above is Pattiann Rogers (Eating Bread and Honey, 1997). I liked its intelligent deployment of biological information, absence of nature mysticism, the lines “the philosophy implicit in the inside out / seed-thrust of the wood sorrel,” and its celebration of what we might call the universal birth-urge. Nature is fecund. I also like any reference to tansy, which always recalls John Clare:

“And where the marjoram once, and sage, and rue,
And balm, and mint, with curl'd-leaf parsley grew,
And double marigolds, and silver thyme,
And pumpkins 'neath the window climb;
And where I often, when a child, for hours
Tried through the pales to get the tempting flowers,
As lady's laces, everlasting peas,
True-love-lies-bleeding, with the hearts-at-ease,
And golden rods, and tansy running high,
That o'er the pale-tops smiled on passers-by.”

The girls on the playground, Rogers and Clare share this deep attraction to life, “this singular honor.”

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