The Anthropic Cosmological Principle
Maybe the new theory is true, and the odds
For intelligent life beyond our planet
Are as slim as they were here,
And the only voices ever to reach us
From beyond will be our children’s,
Our earth in a thousand years the mother of colonies
On planets never before inhabited.
Long after the sun swells in its final flare
To consume our world, they’ll remember us
Just as immigrants here remember the old country in stories.
The Earth will sound to them like a garden,
More land of myth than of history,
Its green valleys and blue skies incredible,
The way its grasses climbed the hills untended,
The way its birds alighted in groves nobody planted
To trill phrases nobody taught them.
A house like this one, on a street like mine,
Will be a house from a dim, heroic age
When their own fate was decided. Just as I stay up late
To study a narrative of the Civil War
And marvel how close we came to spoiling their chances,
Their galactic cities bombed into fictions, their farms,
Schools, churches, opera houses, and union halls
Sponged from the blackboard with the crowds
Cheering on the dock on Regatta Day.
Are they real or not? That’s the question
That has them worried. Are they waiting on a road
Reachable from the starting point of today?
Impossible to imagine how remote I’d feel
After rummaging in a trunk all afternoon,
Searching for proof that I paid my taxes,
If I found a letter proving I was never born.
That the mother who might have been mine
Ran off on her wedding day and was never heard from,
That I’m only my would-be father’s fantasy
As he lies in his empty house on his deathbed
Dreaming of the life he might have lived.
Today I seem to be real as I stop for groceries.
I may be moody returning to the empty house
I promised myself to fill, but not so lonely
If I think of the distant, stellar observers.
What voices deeper than reason and will
I’ve failed to hear isn’t so hard a question
As why I’ve been fated to decide their destiny.
And what’s my strategy for the day, they wonder,
To prompt them to practice songs of joy,
Carl Dennis was born in 1939 in St. Louis, Missouri. He earned a BA from the University of Minnesota and a PhD from the University of California-Berkeley. He has taught at the State University of New York-Buffalo since 1966, where he is both a professor of English and writer in residence. Dennis has published numerous books of poetry, including House of My Own (1974), The Outskirts of Troy (1988), Meetings with Time (1992), Practical Gods (2001), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, and Callings (2010).
…Using a plain spoken, even conversational style, Dennis’s work stands out for its consistent ability to shape everyday speech patterns into a “casually regular” pentameter line… Or as Martin Pops, a colleague at Buffalo, put it: “Carl speaks the same language as we do. The only difference is, he speaks it better.”