From Stardust to Sapiens: A Stunning Serenade to Our Cosmic Origins and Our Ongoing Self-Creation
By Maria Popova
We were never promised any of it — this world of cottonwoods and clouds — when the Big Bang set the possible in motion. And yet here we are, atoms with consciousness, each of us a living improbability forged of chaos and dead stars. Children of chance, we have made ourselves into what we are — creatures who can see a universe of beauty in the feather of a bird and can turn a blind eye to each other’s suffering, creatures capable of the Benedictus and the bomb. Creatures who hope.
A generation after Maya Angelou held up a cosmic mirror to humanity with “A Brave and Startling Truth,” Pattiann Rogers — who writes with uncommon virtuosity about the intersection of the cosmic and the human, and whose poems have therefore been a frequent presence in The Universe in Verse — offers a poignant cosmogony of our self-creation in the stunning final poem of her book Flickering (public library).
HOMO SAPIENS: CREATING THEMSELVES
by Pattiann Rogers
Formed in the black-light center of a star-circling
galaxy; formed in whirlpool images of froth
and flume and fulcrum; in the center image of herring
circling like pieces of silver swirling fast, a shoaling
circle of deception; in the whirlpool perfume of sex
in the deepest curve of a lily’s soft corolla. Created
within the images of the creator’s creation.
Born with the same grimacing wrench of a tree-covered
cliff split wide suddenly by lightning and opened
to thundering clouds of hail and rain.
Cured in the summer sun as if in a potter’s oven,
polished like a stone rolled by a river, emboldened
by the image of the expanse beyond earth’s horizon,
inside and outside a circumference in the image
Given the image of starlight clusters steadily silent
above a hillside-silence of fallen snow… let there be sleep.
Inheriting from the earth’s scrambling minions,
images of thorn and bur, fang and claw, stealth,
deceit, poison, camouflage, blade, and blood…
let there be suffering, let there be survival.
Shaped by the image of the onset and unstoppable
devouring eclipse of the sun, the tempestuous, ecliptic
eating of the moon, the volcanic explosions of burning
rocks and fiery hail of ashes to death… let there be
terror and tears. Let there be pity.
Created in the image of fear inside a crawfish
skittering backward through a freshwater stream
with all eight appendages in perfect coordination,
both pincers held high, backing into safety beneath
a fallen leaf refuge… let there be home.
Made in the image of the moon, where else
would the name of ivory rock craters shine
except in our eyes… let there be language.
Displayed in the image of the rotting seed
on the same stem with the swelling blossom…
let there be hope.
Homo sapiens creating themselves after the manner
and image of the creator’s ongoing creation — slowly,
eventual, alert and imagined, composing, dissembling,
until the right chord sounds from one brave strum
of the right strings reverberating, fading away
like evening… let there be pathos, let there be
compassion, forbearance, forgiveness. Let there be
Of earth and sky, Homo sapiens creating themselves,
following the mode and model of the creator’s creation,
particle by particle, quest by quest, witness by witness,
even though the unknown far away and the unknown
nearby be seen and not seen… let there be goodwill
and accounting, let there be praise resounding.
Complement with astronomer-poet Rebecca Elson’s ode to dark matter and the mystery of being, “Let There Always Be Light,” non-speaking autistic poet Hannah Emerson’s astonishing “Center of the Universe,” and Jane Hirshfield’s “To Be a Person,” then revisit Pattiann Rogers’s harmonic of the human and cosmic perspectives, read by David Byrne and illustrated by Maira Kalman.
Published November 2, 2023