The Age of the Possible

To live wonder-smitten with reality is the gladdest way to live. But with our creaturely capacity for wonder comes a responsibility to it — the recognition that reality is not a singularity but a plane. Each time we presume to have seen the whole, the plane tilts ever so slightly to reveal new vistas of truth and new horizons of mystery, staggering us with the sudden sense that we had been looking at only a fragment, framed by our parochial point of view. The history of our species is the history of learning and forgetting and relearning this elemental truth. These were the thoughts swimming through my point of mind while composing the poem I contributed to the 40th anniversary issue of the oasis of wonder that is Orion Magazine — a poem distilling in its handful of stanzas what The Universe in Verse has been inviting and celebrating all these years: the poetry of perspective. Art by TK for Orion Magazine Accompanying the poem in the magazine is a breathtaking watercolor interpretation by artist and immigrant rights activist TK, born in Vietnam and based in Philadelphia — my own first home in America as a young immigrant — who somehow summons, without ever having known it, the working title of the poem: “Octopus Blues.” THE AGE OF THE POSSIBLEby Maria Popova There,at the bottom of being,where the water that makes    this planet a world        is the color of spacetime the octopus — with her body-shaped mindand her eight-arm embrace    of alien realities,with her colorblind vision    sightful of polarized lightand her perpetually awestruck    lidless eye —         can see shades of blue we cannot conceive. Call it god    if you mustlean on the homelyto fathom the holiness    of the fathomless whole.     And meanwhile,up here,    we swim amid particleswe cannot perceive    folded into dimensionswe cannot imagine to tell stories about    what is real and    what is possible,and what it means to be. A blink of time agowe thought the octopus    impossible,we thought this blue world    lifeless        below three hundred fathomsuntil in 1898 —    an epoch after Bach    scribbled in the margin        of a composition            “Everything that is possible is real” —we plunged our prosthetic eye    deep into the blueand found a universe of life. There,the octopus,    godless and possible,                        lives. Are any of her three hearts breaking        for usand our impossible blues?

The Age of the Possible

To live wonder-smitten with reality is the gladdest way to live. But with our creaturely capacity for wonder comes a responsibility to it — the recognition that reality is not a singularity but a plane. Each time we presume to have seen the whole, the plane tilts ever so slightly to reveal new vistas of truth and new horizons of mystery, staggering us with the sudden sense that we had been looking at only a fragment, framed by our parochial point of view. The history of our species is the history of learning and forgetting and relearning this elemental truth.

These were the thoughts swimming through my point of mind while composing the poem I contributed to the 40th anniversary issue of the oasis of wonder that is Orion Magazine — a poem distilling in its handful of stanzas what The Universe in Verse has been inviting and celebrating all these years: the poetry of perspective.

Art by TK for Orion Magazine

Accompanying the poem in the magazine is a breathtaking watercolor interpretation by artist and immigrant rights activist TK, born in Vietnam and based in Philadelphia — my own first home in America as a young immigrant — who somehow summons, without ever having known it, the working title of the poem: “Octopus Blues.”

THE AGE OF THE POSSIBLE
by Maria Popova

There,
at the bottom of being,
where the water that makes
    this planet a world
        is the color of spacetime

the octopus —

with her body-shaped mind
and her eight-arm embrace
    of alien realities,
with her colorblind vision
    sightful of polarized light
and her perpetually awestruck
    lidless eye —

        can see

shades of blue we cannot conceive.

Call it god
    if you must
lean on the homely
to fathom the holiness
    of the fathomless whole.

    And meanwhile,
up here,
    we swim amid particles
we cannot perceive
    folded into dimensions
we cannot imagine

to tell stories about
    what is real and
    what is possible,
and what it means to be.

A blink of time ago
we thought the octopus
    impossible,
we thought this blue world
    lifeless
        below three hundred fathoms
until in 1898 —
    an epoch after Bach
    scribbled in the margin
        of a composition
            “Everything that is possible is real” —
we plunged our prosthetic eye
    deep into the blue
and found a universe of life.

There,
the octopus,
    godless and possible,
                        lives.

Are any of her three hearts breaking
        for us
and our impossible blues?