In praise of zero
by Joe Hyam
During the funeral service a bird flew
into the glass door of the chapel with a thud
and, having interrupted the eulogy,
also departed this life.
To monitor the flight of birds
in consideration of what is received
(for which we should be truly thankful),
to count and name their variations,
their prey and predators,
is reason enough to be on Earth.
Numbers are the one certain thing:
and of numbers, The One is superior
to all others, excepting “The Zero,
in which lies a great and sacred mystery”.
Inside The Zero is the ache
of things longing to be alive:
the eager whisper of beak and claw
within the breaking shell.
Small waves creep up the expectant shore,
nudge and smack the rocks where sea bass
soon will nose the swaying wrack,
and overhead gulls shout “mine, mine”
to the spreading territories of the sea.
In holes in the wet sand, razor clams
wait for the water to cover them
to emerge in safety and learn what’s up,
unless red billed oyster catchers, ankle-deep,
come first to hook them out; or comes a man
to squirt salt water with a plastic bottle
into the holes to make the molluscs think
that the tide has risen, and captures his lunch.
Of the 8.7 million species of living things
deemed to be on Earth (viruses excluded
and incidental extinctions), these few are data
to be tabulated, the answers to questions
and the questions themselves, as the pinhead
whereon they swarm and multiply
vanishes into absence, into the absence,
the absolute absence of zero.
Joe Hyam lives in Tunbridge Wells, Kent where he grows vegetables and writes poetry. His blog, Now’s the Time, records the pleasures and surprises of existence in a particular place in troubled times.