To the eyes of the man of imagination,
Nature is imagination itself.
— William Blake, in a letter
Who needs half a million unpronounceable forms of life
Half a world away? Ah, you do, they say,
And enumerate the ways:
Glues, dyes, inks,
Peanuts, melons, tea,
Golf balls, paint, and gum,
Mung beans, lemons, rice,
And a fourth of all the medicines you take,
And a fifth of all the oxygen you breathe,
And countless life-prolonging secrets their wild cousins know
to tell the Iowa corn and the garden tomato.
And if that’s not enough, think of rubber—
and where we’d all be, rattling down the Interstate
on wooden wheels.
And that’s only the stuff we know how to use,
And that’s only the half-million species we know how to name.
And in the time it took to tell you this
Five thousand acres more are gone.
And by the time that this year’s kindergarten class
is thirty-five, most of what is now alive —
But wait. What if — What if this deluge of mind-boggling
statistical connectedness were, true as it is,
only the least of it? What if the real necessity
were of another kind, the connection
not with what you consume, or do, but who you are?
With your own imagination, the necessity there
of places that have not been cleared to till,
of the luxury of all that buzzing in the deep,
of a glimpse of feather or translucent insect wing
a color that’s so new it tells you light and sound
are, indeed, just matters of degree, and makes your vision hum
And makes you think the universe could hum
in something like the wild, teeming equilibrium
of the rain forest.
In The Scheme of Things, David Robert Books, 2015.
Published originally in The Sun