Tuesday Poem: An Argument Against Cynicism

Illustration image despardes.com

What surprises me more than a new
millipede species was discovered this week
in Los Angeles County is that anyone cares
enough about millipedes to look for them. Entomologists
may be the last true heroes. They may be
a species unto themselves, one they have overlooked
in their zeal to turn from the mirror
toward the dirt. The Illacme socal
has four hundred eighty-six legs, a toothy head,
the L.A. Times says, and the greenish translucence
of a glow-in-the-dark toy. It weaves through the soil
as elegantly as an embroiderer’s needle. The reporter
must have labored over these phrases, felt enough
joy in prose to fuel her a few more days
in her reviled profession. A survey this year said half
of Americans think all journalists are liars. To them I offer
Corinne Purtill, who surely spent hours listening
to entomologists so she could tell us something approaching
the true nature of millipedes—not insects
but arthropods, more like lobsters than beetles,
vile-tasting to birds, garbagemen
of the forest, eaters of dead leaves they transform
into food for what grows—and of entomologists
themselves. How one named Paul Marek drove
on Christmas to Whiting Ranch to find specimens
which he gently scooped into plastic vials
with a bit of soil, then tucked into his carry-on
for the trip back to his lab. Attention
is the highest form of love. And I love entomologists
for the attention they pay to the smallest among us, and journalists
for the attention they pay to the ones who pay attention
to the spectrum of beauty and terror, our discoveries
and petty political battles and vicious crimes and acts
of unearned mercy and weddings and burials
in the somehow still teeming earth.

By Jen DeGregorio
from Rattle #84, Summer 2024

Jen DeGregorio: “I woke up one morning last July and sat down hoping to write a poem. I had just gotten back into a regular poetry-writing practice after a long hiatus and was fearful that my creative well had gone dry. While pre-poem internet surfing, I somehow happened upon the news about the millipede discovery, and this poem poured out of me in about an hour (though I’ve been studying and writing poetry seriously for twenty years, so I’m no savant). The care with which the journalist had written about this millipede species and the entomologists studying it struck me as so touching; I felt overwhelmed by feeling for the journalist and the entomologists, doing what I’ll call God’s work (though I’m not sure what I mean by God). So much is heartbreaking in our world, but reading this story lifted my spirit: The Earth is still full of mystery, and there are good, curious people out there who wish to help us unravel it. Journalists—often maligned—are heroes to me. Entomologists are heroes. Anyone who is committed to nurturing this world—including through study, through the sharing of knowledge—is a hero. But such heroes, these quieter ones, often go unsung. Let poetry sing their praise.” (web)

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