Poets for Science
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Darwin’s Conjecture

Darwin
was desperate
for proof
that animals wept.
It wasn’t enough
that houseflies hum
in the key of F
or that Dall sheep keep
lifelong their horns,
adding like trees
a ring each year.
Darwin wanted tears.

Being the only
species that weeps
was lonely,
thought Darwin,
dreaming
of manic animals.
No, it wasn’t enough
that honey bees
can count to four.
Darwin wanted more.

Or less.
Confess it—
the reason why
humans cry
is the mess
they fashion
in comparison to
the paradise
they can imagine.
Animals, if
they imagine,
must be less
distressed
by the severity
of the disparity.
Or maybe they have
less disparity.
Or less mess.

As to why
Darwin hoped
that animals cry
we can only guess—
which is a form
of imagining,
and could lead
to the emergence
of tears. Instead
let us hum
in the key of F
and count to four
or more.
Or less,
and know
the aurora borealis
as glimpsed through
the fretwork of
a construction crane
is a metaphor
for our brain
and also an analogy
for why we cry,
all the while—
like Darwin—
humming against
the immensity.

Originally published in The Threepenny Review, Summer 2017 issue, https://www.threepennyreview.com/darwins-conjecture/