Characteristics of Life

A bloom of moon jellyfish in the ocean © / Alex Hyde / WWF-Canon

Characteristics of Life

By Camille Dungy

Ask me if I speak for the snail and I will tell you

I speak for the snail.

speak of underneathedness

and the welcome of mosses,

of life that springs up,

little lives that pull back and wait for a moment.

I speak for the damselfly, water skeet, mollusk,

the caterpillar, the beetle, the spider, the ant.

I speak

from the time before spinelessness was frowned upon.

Ask me if I speak for the moon jelly. I will tell you

one thing today and another tomorrow

and I will be as consistent as anything alive

on this earth.

I move as the currents move, with the breezes.

What part of your nature drives you? You, in your cubicle

ought to understand me. I filter and filter and filter all day.

Ask me if I speak for the nautilus and I will be silent

as the nautilus shell on a shelf. I can be beautiful

and useless if that's all you know to ask of me.

Ask me what I know of longing and I will speak of distances

between meadows of night-blooming flowers.

I will speak

the impossible hope of the firefly.

You with the candle

burning and only one chair at your table must understand

such wordless desire.

To say it is mindless is missing the point.