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silhouette of flock of birds in a tree

Poem: We Know How It Works

Jennifer Wallace

  • Don Ruhl

    What a wonderful way of saying that science will never become our God, for God gave us science and science will never take away God.

We know how it works. The world is no longer mysterious.

Could it be as the poet said?

Flip the switch, the light goes on.
Take the wolves away, the elk eat all the willows.

Yes, the world can be explained.

Someone swallowed the pills.
Someone slept with someone who was not his wife.
One person drew a picture of a bridge, 100 people
climbed the girders with their hammers.

We know what he means and we don’t know.

How do the cranes find their way home?
Where does a song go after it enters an ear?

The Indian Ocean warms, sand blows in Africa
and the Caribbean stops breathing.
We know it’s a matter of one degree
but why don’t we stop our burning?

The foghorn reminds us...that, even after the perilous crossing,

The self is no mystery. The mystery is
that there is something for us to stand on.

Who understands? Who stands under?
The invisible weight of all that.

We know the number of the gene
but not the day the strand will break.


with thanks to Richard Siken and George Oppen


silhouette of flock of birds in a tree artwork by Philippa Jones
Contributed By

Jennifer Wallace teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art and is a poetry editor at The Cortland Review and a founding editor of Toadlily Press. Her fourth poetry collection, The Want Fire, was published by Passager Books in 2015. “We Know How It Works,” first published here, is included in her fifth book, Almost Entirely (Paraclete Press, 2017).