A family recipe, a childhood memory, a Depression-era handout
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Who almost certainly did not call himself (or herself; I could not bring myself
To quite that level of examination of the deceased; gender identity is complex
Enough while you are alive, and moot afterward) northern, or short-tailed, or
Blarina brevicauda, or anything we would understand. Almost certainly he, or
She, spoke one or more languages of his or her own tribe and clan, and maybe
A trading jargon among the smaller predatory species, and a bit of their victims’
Vocabularies — speaking a little grasshopper or mouse would be advantageous,
You would think; enough to read signs. There are so many vocabularies, finally.
We don’t think about this. We are a self-absorbed species. I guess all creatures
Are self-interested, for understandable reasons, but maybe the whole evolution
Thing for us is to find a way past that, you know? Can it be that this ostensible
Dominion, as we called it, leaning on the authorless Book for moral legitimacy,
Was not about authority and power and control, and shepherding and corralling,
As it was about coming to grips with how much we don’t know? Like shrews:
You have to admit that for all the things we know about shrews, we don’t know
A thing, really. Their kings and visionaries, their sagas and nations, their spirits
Measured not by our sense of religion and prayer but by theirs. What a frontier!
And here lieth one, himself or herself an unknown country. The sucklings loved,
The songs sang, the stories told in the tunnels beneath the flowers, the sidewalk;
All of this and so much more utterly beyond my ken, and I thought I was subtle,
Foolish mammal that I am. But maybe this death is more than only terrific news
For the recycling crews in the grass; maybe it is an illuminating event. Isn’t that
Possible? And not just for me and you but for all of us? Ah, it’s so easy to sneer,
But how much more interesting to not; to ponder a world made billions of times
More dense, wild, riveting, astounding, webbed; a world like it might have been
Imagined once, beyond our own imagination; or is still being imagined, perhaps
By us. Couldn’t it be that the whole point isn’t dominion at all, but imagination?
A different version of this poem previously appeared on Orion magazine’s blog at www.orionmagazine.org.