Friday, September 26, 2008

Poetry Friday: Curiosity (Bovine and Otherwise)

In honor of Poetry Friday, I am going to post two poems: one by Hayden Carruth which might be sentimental but which I'm in the mood for, because I'm going to Vermont next week and the moon will be moving from a Harvest to a Hunter's. I'm also posting a recent poem of my own about curiosity. Its generative source is William R. Corliss's fascinating "Science Frontiers" newsletter. You can read Corliss's observations online, too. Definitely spend some time there - the site is full of poetry disguising as weird science.


The moon was like a full cup tonight,
too heavy, and sank in the mist
soon after dark, leaving for light

faint stars and the silver leaves
of milkweed beside the road,
gleaming before my car.

Yet I like driving at night
in summer and in Vermont:
the brown road through the mist

of mountain-dark, among farms
so quiet, and the roadside willows
opening out where I saw

the cows. Always a shock
to remember them there, those
great breathings close in the dark.

I stopped, and took my flashlight
to the pasture fence. They turned
to me where they lay, sad

and beautiful faces in the dark,
and I counted them–forty
near and far in the pasture,

turning to me, sad and beautiful
like girls very long ago
who were innocent, and sad

because they were innocent,
and beautiful because they were
sad. I switched off my light.

But I did not want to go,
not yet, nor knew what to do
if I should stay, for how

in that great darkness could I explain
anything, anything at all.
I stood by the fence. And then

very gently it began to rain.

Hayden Carruth

As we get closer to the presidential election, I wonder more and more about people who are not curious, who don't ask questions, who don't seek answers and are completely comfortable with that. Is curiosity a blessing or a curse? Does being un-curious mean you are more content? Of course, I think the answer to that question is "Only if you are bovine."

Come to think of it, even cows are curious, as seen in the photo above. Poets, cows and scientists: we like to investigate what our gaze falls upon. Poets might actually have more in common with cows than scientists in terms of our ability to tolerate a lack of answers ("For how / in that great darkness could I explain / anything, anything at all....") But to exist without curiosity, as some people seem able and willing to do? Unimaginable.

Natural Curiosity

We are eager to understand
the behavior of chickens,
constantly crossing the road now
as they once crossed the Pacific
from Chile to Tonga to Samoa.
Who knows how?

To find out, some say
we must follow the path
of the sweet potato
or the bottle gourd.
Others say look for DNA.

Even more say good lord
why fuss.
But they are not us.

Or, for example, cosmology.
What's up and out there,
what are the chances
for rarer prepositions
or propositions?
The alignment of certain
elements of the universe,
quasar polarizations,
hot and cold spots, a lot
of spiral galaxies spiraling or not
on their axes of rotation,
filaments lining up single file
to converge upon the earth?

To counter discombobulation,
compile two lists.
Across the top of the first
write People Who Wonder.
Across the other,
People Who Are Certain.
Add your name
to the shortest one.
Run to poll the nervous man
behind the green curtain.
Consider which candidate
to vote for in the next election.

Then consider the fundamental
trembling of electrons.


Julie Larios

Poetry Friday this week is being hosted by Tricia over at The Miss Rumphius Effect .


  1. Definitely sentimental in a nice way!

    I love the second poem - I've often thought of the incurious as merely bovine, and that's clearly a mistake! I'm adding my name to the list of People Who Wonder -- with the addition of "And who probably won't be satisfied with the answers they receive."

    Happy curiosity.

  2. Thanks, TadMack - I love your subtitle for the People Who Wonder list!

  3. Julie, enjoy Vermont! I went to Middlebury and miss the state greatly especially at this time of year.

    Thanks for the link to the newsletter, and for both of the poems. I think if there's one thing I'm trying to teach my kids, it's to preserve and deepen that natural curiosity we're all born with. I tend to be certain about a fair amount (!), but I like to think there's at least an equal amount of wonder. The poem is terrific, and a good reminder especially now.

    And it wasn't til I got to your website that I placed your name. I was on the Cybils poetry panel two years ago and your "Yellow Elephant" has remained one of my son's favorite books of poems. We are definitely fans of your work!

  4. Thanks, Becky. I think it's teachers like you who help most - not necessarily teaching the subject (though that, too) but nurturing the kids' intellectual curiosity. That's the key. I'm CERTAIN of it :-) (my short list of things I'm sure of!)