Thinking like a leaf

I’ve been reading and admiring alphabet by Inger Christensen a lot lately. It’s one of the most beautiful works of art in any medium that I’ve ever experienced. I read the following passages from it today and was thinking about what it might mean to think like a leaf. Is it a thinking that is not thinking, not using language to be present in the world? Is thinking like leaves and light and grubs kind of like being in an incantatory state like the one evoked by the repetition of ‘think’ in this passage? If so, is this not-thinking, incantatory state enough to nullify all the violence in the world, all the violence of human action and language?

think; like a leaf on a tree
thinks; like shadow and light,
like shining bark thinks,
like the grubs beneath
the barkskin think, like lichen
on a stone and a bit of dry rot
think, like the squawroot thinks,
like the misty forest clearing
thinks, like the marshes think
where the rising of the rainbow
is reflected, think like a bit of
mud, a bit of raindrop
thinks, think like a mirror

I’m not sure I can answer the question I posed. Violence in all its forms is so much a part of this world that it feels naïve to think that pointing to all the beauty the world contains could ever change things. Elsewhere in alphabet, Christensen writes,

ensuring that all
can be turned into

nothing, we
lose the capacity to
think of nothing,
of not a thing
in the world as we

say, when we simply
are being, there’s
no more to

By ensuring that we can destroy everything, we lose the capacity to think of the indescribable, the ineffable (the nothing) in this world, and this capacity is essential to the presence and acceptance required to consider beauty something for which we could cut carbon emissions.

And yet, language can fail us. There can sometimes be nothing to say. It can sometimes feel pointless to go about the work of poetry when there are forces that can so easily destroy the object of poetry’s desire, all this beauty that exists, exists, exists. And sometimes we need a book like alphabet to remind us that the beauty of this world is worth writing for.


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