Monday, July 26, 2021

Agents, Spirits, Gods, and Things

A somewhat popular truism
That turns up in academic texts
As well as in the digital press

Holds that there are, or have been, people
Constituting whole communities
Whose worlds hold no inanimate things,

Only phenomena with spirits,
Wishes, morals, sensitivities
That may either be roused or appeased,

Harmed or salved, wronged or well-respected,
Agency in all aspects of life.
Other peoples, self-evidently,

Divide phenomena into lives,
Mere things without agency, themselves,
And the properly superhuman,

Such as divinities, gods, Our God.
They, too, however, are much concerned
With wishes and sensitivities,

With what it means to be respectful
And when, where who has privileges
According to those divinities,

What things may be treated as mere things,
When agents may be treated as things,
And when disregard means sacrilege.

Mingle all this with uncertainty,
And all those longings for belonging,
Your fears of punishment and exile,

Strained through syntactic symbol systems,
And you’ll come up with a recipe
For what, in English, is named Nature,

Rich mishmash in intersecting texts
Of agency, spirit, god, and thing.
Please, steal a few sentences and see—

Nature terrifies me. Nature is
Punishing the wrong world. Nature is
Unimaginably wide, mighty,

And various. Nature has desires
Of its own, a fluid, mimetic
Space. So powerful and so ashamed,

Woods which are still there because we were,
Removed from the day-to-day, sublime,
Mindful interludes of rippling grass,

A Venus flytrap slowly closing
In wildly beautiful ways, cleaner,
Recognizable noises, bird friends,

Exchanging oxygen and carbon
Dioxide with the agèd creatures,
Not so lovely if you’re a chicken,

Something sacred, as if some fragment
Insisted that we stop and look, life,
Joy, apologetic scorpions,

All this wasted space, nowhere to sit,
Years of work destroyed in a few hours,
Vertical rows of guanine crystals,

Of translucence and hence concealment,
The chimerical platypus, flames,
Though only some have liked or trusted

Vast portions that we cannot see, heads
Gravitate towards trees, good habitat,
Memories of past climates, warnings,

The way that nature often pleases
Normally solitary creatures,
Apologies for our unfounded

Prejudice, a total surrender,
After all the blood and slime and gore,
A journey of love that never ends. . . .

And all blooms from one small garden plot!
Possibly, whatever the world is,
Whatever forms of agency nest

Latent as wishes in gravity,
Whatever spirits or gods may be,
Nature’s one compressed code for human.

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