A Young Poet’s Love Letter to Earth and to the Double Courage of Facing a Broken Reality While Refusing to Cease Cherishing This Astonishing World in Its Brokenness
In praise of anemone and dust and “the smallest possible once before once.”
By Maria Popova
UPDATE 2022: The poem is now an animated song by Toshi Reagon.
To make anything — a photograph, a theorem, a poem — is to toss a handful of wildflower seeds into the wind, knowing neither the type of soil they will land in, nor the location of the landscape, nor the type of flowers that will bloom. Sometimes, oftentimes, the seeds come abloom generations or civilizations later, in minds many disciplines or cultures or experiences apart. (For, lest we forget, all that survives of us are shoreless seeds and stardust.)
In the spring of 2018, shortly after Stephen Hawking returned his borrowed stardust to the cosmos, poet Marie Howe composed a poem inspired by his life’s work, a stunning poem about our cosmic inter-belonging, for the second Universe in Verse — the annual celebration of science through poetry I host at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn. She titled it “Singularity (after Stephen Hawking)” and premiered it before a rapt audience of a thousand people suspended in wonder. The bit-blown wind then carried it to thousands more online. It has since came alive anew in a consummate animated short film savored by tens of thousands more.
In the spring of 2020, Howe’s poem planted its seed in the fertile mind of the young Kentucky-born, Brooklyn-based poet Marissa Davis and came abloom in a stunning poem of her own, which she titled “Singularity (after Marie Howe)” and premiered in poem-a-day — the lifeline of a newsletter by the Academy of American Poets.
I was so taken with the sweep and splendor of Davis’s quiet cataclysm of a poem that I invited her to read it for The Marginalian, which she kindly did — a lovely voice that surprised and invigorated me with its audible youth, only amplifying the poem’s atmosphere of possibility and its wondrous, defiant commitment neither to look away from a broken reality nor to cease cherishing this astonishing world in its brokenness.
by Marissa Davis
(after Marie Howe)
in the wordless beginning
iguana & myrrh
magma & reef ghost moth
& the cordyceps tickling its nerves
& cedar & archipelago & anemone
dodo bird & cardinal waiting for its red
ocean salt & crude oil now black
muck now most naïve fumbling plankton
every egg clutched in the copycat soft
of me unwomaned unraced
unsexed as the ecstatic prokaryote
that would rage my uncle’s blood
or the bacterium that will widow
your eldest daughter’s eldest son
my uncle, her son our mammoth sun
& her uncountable siblings & dust mite & peat
apatosaurus & nile river
& maple green & nude & chill-blushed &
yeasty keratined bug-gutted i & you
spleen & femur seven-year refreshed
seven-year shedding & taking & being this dust
& my children & your children
& their children & the children
of the black bears & gladiolus & pink florida grapefruit
here not allied but the same perpetual breath
held fast to each other as each other’s own skin
cold-dormant & rotting & birthing & being born
in the olympus of the smallest
possible once before once
Relish more of Davis’s poetry in her chapbook My Name & Other Languages I Am Learning How to Speak and join me in supporting the life-giving work of the Academy of American Poets, offering stage and succor to young poets like Davis, then revisit the splendid seed that inspired this miraculous blossom.
Published July 5, 2020