Everything in the universe in their own nature appears beautiful to me.
Those who fail at every usual thing
sometimes possess peculiarities that can
upend the expectations so impressed
to find, instead, the ivory-bill’s nest, or
undiscovered forms of pitcher-plant;
thank god John was such an inept merchant
and could not abide his father’s choice
to purchase slaves or farm in Florida.
His books were red with losses except those
in which he sketched the South. Each day he rose
early enough to track possums and birds
snakes, blooms, and leaves. Those words
flesh out his art. He’d bushwhack
for weeks, with a local guide and a pack—
never happier, those who knew him said
than when trekking through the beauty he
could find in every fungus, bird, and tree.
No judgment on the things the Lord hath made,
each to its purpose exact, each satisfied
with its place in the wilderness, each freed
to struggle or to thrive. John collected seeds
for his father and his patrons overseas
redeeming himself, through science and his art,
and in his father’s estimation, just a bit.
Enough to return home, to tend the garden
full of natives: biology’s surest patriot,
stubbornly quiet, who would not care if we forget
his name so long as those plants and animals remain,
strange and glorious in their vanishing terrain.
Ann E. Michael lives in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, slightly west of where the Lehigh River meets the Delaware. Her most recent collection of poems is Water-Rites. Her website is www.annemichael.com