[As part of the latest interdisciplinary proposal]
Sarah accompanies the botanist who loves most to talk about birds but is paid only to talk about the plants they eat and pollinate, though, the botanist insists, the bird must not ever be seen as separate from the plants it frequents and scatters and seeds. He says the names of things she, too, sees, and he lists the Latin taxonomies, some of which she knows, the origins of some of which she, too, finds interesting.
His voice quiets, briefly, as though there is something innate, essential, about the language of naming, but Sarah has gone down this rabbit hole before. She is, to the best of her knowledge, the only Sarah in her family’s not particularly long, not particularly sad history. Her mother suggested the name after seeing an actress in a movie, and her father approved after seeing the same actress in another.
The botanist now slows and points to Sarah’s small steps, comparing them to the irregular flapping leap of some large, rare, nearly flightless bird, and when she does not perk at his use of the word metaphor, he asks if he is boring her. She thinks about the dual meaning of the word bore and how lovely and ingenious most human language is, so many words meaning so many things at any one time, and how sad and naïve and ultimately fruitless (unpollinated) the process of taxonomy is, trying to narrow down a thing to one long set of indisputable indicators.
What kind of explication de texte would the botanist write, she wonders, this man who is an authority on some small number of native prairie grasses, which he loves because they are what he calls aboriginal to the land. She wants to but does not ask if he knows the true origin of that phrase—ab original, ab origine: from the beginning, from the creation of the world, unchanged and (therefore) unevolved.
She wants to ask if his love for the aboriginal means secretly that the botanist is no scientist at all, but a man who, like her, believes that some things just are, have always been, may always be. Some things have no other root than what secures them into their dark, dark ground.
Brendan Todt has been published in Pithead Chapel, Necessary Fiction, Reed Magazine, and The Ekphrastic Review, where he was nominated for Best of the Net. His work has appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, and he won the 2021 Juxtaprose Poetry prize. Brendan teaches creative writing at Morningside University and coaches the 2014 Boys for Interstate Soccer Club. He lives in Sioux City, Iowa.