Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Praying for a Nerve Cell, or: Born 102 Years Ago Day Before Yesterday


A.R. Ammons

Honor a going thing, goldfinch, corporation, tree,
          morality: any working order,
       animate or inanimate: it
has managed directed balance,
          the incoming and outgoing energies are working right,
       some energy left to the mechanism,
some ash, enough energy held
          to maintain the order in repair,
       assure further consumption of entropy,
expending energy to strengthen order:
          honor the persisting reactor,
       the container of change, the moderator: the yellow
bird flashes black wing-bars
          in the new-leaving wild cherry bushes by the bay,
       startles the hawk with beauty,
flitting to a branch where
          flash vanishes into stillness,
       hawk addled by the sudden loss of sight:
honor the chemistries, platelets, hemoglobin kinetics,
          the light-sensitive iris, the enzymic intricacies
       of control,
the gastric transformations, seed
          dissolved to acrid liquors, synthesized into
       chirp, vitreous humor, knowledge,
blood compulsion, instinct: honor the
          unique genes,
       molecules that reproduce themselves, divide into
sets, the nucleic grain transmitted
          in slow change through ages of rising and falling form,
       some cells set aside for the special work, mind
or perception rising into orders of courtship,
          territorial rights, mind rising
       from the physical chemistries
to guarantee that genes will be exchanged, male
          and female met, the satisfactions cloaking a deeper
       racial satisfaction:
heat kept by a feathered skin:
          the living alembic, body heat maintained (bunsen
       burner under the flask)
so the chemistries can proceed, reaction rates
          interdependent, self-adjusting, with optimum
       efficiency—the vessel firm, the flame
staying: isolated, contained reactions! the precise and
          necessary worked out of random, reproducible,
       the handiwork redeemed from chance, while the
goldfinch, unconscious of the billion operations
          that stay its form, flashes, chirping (not a
       great songster) in the bay cherry bushes wild of leaf. 


Born Feb 18th, 1926. By the time I remembered it was the 19th, by time I felt like posting the 20th.
High Egoslavian Holy Day, this the standard Archie Ammons post: h/t self-portrait and interview with Ammons. Here's a profile of Ammons by David Lehman. His 1993 book length Garbage is quite possibly the single volume of poetry I've read most often: ask me and if I like you I will buy you a copy. Below, Garbage, part 3. If I played My Sillyass Des.... 
Book offer still stands.

Also too, György Kurtág born 92 years ago yesterday.

Click Ammons tag for more poems.



When you consider the radiance, that it does not withhold
itself but pours its abundance without selection into every
nook and cranny not overhung or hidden; when you consider

that birds' bones make no awful noise against the light but
lie low in the light as in a high testimony; when you consider
the radiance, that it will look into the guiltiest

swervings of the weaving heart and bear itself upon them,
not flinching into disguise or darkening; when you consider
the abundance of such resource as illuminates the glow-blue

bodies and gold-skeined wings of flies swarming the dumped
guts of a natural slaughter or the coil of shit and in no
way winces from its storms of generosity; when you consider

that air or vacuum, snow or shale, squid or wolf, rose or lichen,
each is accepted into as much light as it will take, then the
heart moves roomier, the man stands and looks about, the

leaf does not increase itself above the grass, and the dark
work of the deepest cells is of a tune with May bushes
and fear lit by the breadth of such calmly turns to praise.


I know if I find you I will have to leave the earth
and go on out
     over the sea marshes and the brant in bays
and over the hills of tall hickory
and over the crater lakes and canyons
and on up through the spheres of diminishing air
past the blackset noctilucent clouds
           where one wants to stop and look
way past all the light diffusions and bombardments
up farther than the loss of sight
    into the unseasonal undifferentiated empty stark
And I know if I find you I will have to stay with the earth
inspecting with thin tools and ground eyes
trusting the microvilli sporangia and simplest
and praying for a nerve cell
with all the soul of my chemical reactions
and going right on down where the eye sees only traces
You are everywhere partial and entire
You are on the inside of everything and on the outside
I walk down the path down the hill where the sweetgum
has begun to ooze spring sap at the cut
and I see how the bark cracks and winds like no other bark
chasmal to my ant-soul running up and down
and if I find you I must go out deep into your
    far resolutions

and if I find you I must stay here with the separate leaves


  1. ammons' 'hymn' is panentheism, innit, amirite? so it seems to me, at least, and, as i said here two years ago, i still haven't pursued my desire to read william james's essay on the metaphysical viewpoint of pioneering experimental psychophysiologist gustav fechner - when missus charley reminds me of the intentions i have expressed and not yet actualized, i try to wiggle away from the shame by saying jokingly, 'i stick with my story' - she is used to me by now, and yet still puts up with me - of all miracles, as fechner said, the greatest is that anything exists at all - but her continuing to endure associating with me is a bit surprising, i think

    in any case, in the relevant book by william james - 'a pluralistic universe' - we find the following passage in the chapter on fechner, in which james reports fechner's speculation on how plant consciousness may perhaps flourish even without nerve cells:

    His earliest book was a vision of what the inner life of plants may be like. He called it 'Nanna.' In the development of animals the nervous system is the central fact. Plants develop centrifugally, spread their organs abroad. For that reason people suppose that they can have no consciousness, for they lack the unity which the central nervous system provides. But the plant's consciousness may be of another type, being connected with other structures. Violins and pianos give out sounds because they have strings. Does it follow that nothing but strings can give out sound? How then about flutes and organ-pipes? Of course their sounds are of a different quality, and so may the consciousness of plants be of a quality correlated exclusively with the kind of organization that they possess. Nutrition, respiration, propagation take place in them without nerves. In us these functions are conscious only in unusual states, normally their consciousness is eclipsed by that which goes with the brain. No such eclipse occurs in plants, and their lower consciousness may therefore be all the more lively. With nothing to do but to drink the light and air with their leaves, to let their cells proliferate, to feel their rootlets draw the sap, is it conceivable that they should not consciously suffer if water, light, and air are suddenly withdrawn? or that when the flowering and fertilization which are the culmination of their life take place, they should not feel their own existence more intensely and enjoy something like what we call pleasure in ourselves? Does the water-lily, rocking in her triple bath of water, air, and light, relish in no wise her own beauty? When the plant in our room turns to the light, closes her blossoms in the dark, responds to our watering or pruning by increase of size or change of shape and bloom, who has the right to say she does not feel, or that she plays a purely passive part? Truly plants can foresee nothing, neither the scythe of the mower, nor the hand extended to pluck their flowers. They can neither run away nor cry out. But this only proves how different their modes of feeling life must be from those of animals that live by eyes and ears and locomotive organs, it does not prove that they have no mode of feeling life at all.

  2. ammons writes

    I walk down the path down the hill where the sweetgum
    has begun to ooze spring sap at the cut

    and this reminds me that i was recently reading about how peanut milk is made -


    the informative thing for me in reading this was the filtering out of the "peanut meal" - the remaining particulates - i then realized that the same thing must happen in making almond milk - it is not just ground almonds mixed with water - see also


    as will rogers said, everybody's ignorant, only on different subjects

  3. posted in these comments two years ago - the beginning of donella meadows' book thinking in systems - a primer - which seems to me relevant to ammons' work