Eve Names the Animals

I believe that learning identification helps a person to see the natural world around them in ways that were previously not possible. I have heard concerns voiced that it distracts from seeing bigger patterns and processes. For myself, one without the other is a web of nothing, but when it comes to recognizing trees and birds we have fallen seriously behind. Even those who spend lots of time in the water and the woods can probably name the generation of an iPhone from five feet away and may not know any bird calls. When a child comes up asking what something is, usually an interested adult is left with no answer. Still, as I learn more, there are moments when I try to remember what it was like to be in the forest without the distraction of… the trees. Pointing a finger and saying a name isn’t really knowing a thing. The same ancestors who could name every tree they passed could tell you even better what they were good for- burning, building, carving, and of course eating, each one with its own little specialties.

All that pre-amble isn’t really worthy of this poem by Susan Donnelly.

Eve Names the Animals 

To me, lion was the sun on a wing

over the garden. Dove,

a burrowing, blind creature.

I swear that man

never knew animals. Words,

he lined up according to size,

while elephants slipped flat-eyed

through water

and trout

hurtled from the underbrush, tusked

and ready for battle.

The name he gave me stuck

me to him. He did it to comfort me,

for not being first.

Mornings, while he slept,

I got away. Pickerel

hopped on the branches above me.

Only spider accompanied me,

nosing everywhere,

running up to lick my hand.

Poor finch. I suppose I was

woe to him-

the way he’d come looking for me,

not wanting either of us

to ever be alone

But to myself I was

palomino

raven

fox…

I strung words

by their stems and wore them

as garlands on my long walks.

The next day I’d find them withered.

I liked change.

Detail of Eve, from the right wing of the Ghent Altarpiece, 1432 (oil on panel) (see 472353, 472324)

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Filed under Plants, Poem

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