Literature 6-9-2008

What Light: This Week’s Poem: Steve Downing

Read "The Case for Intelligent Design" by Steve Downing, this week's winning poem selected by Marian Haddad.


The Case for Intelligent Design

What’s all the bahooey about Intelligent Design?
Besides the professional skeptics, who doubts it?
Garage-door-openers—random selection?
Rush Limbaugh—sheer good
         luck? Deer runs into your car at speed—bad luck?
Not likely.

And, let’s concede, intelligence does not need to
be nice to be credible.
To be intelligent, you only have to know a thing or two.
How to rub a couple of stones together to create
heavy water.
How to count backward by threes while having a colonoscopy.

Can you tell the clod who’s fallen in front of you
on the sidewalk to quit
         whining and get up, get out of the way?
That’s intelligence.
Charles Darwin would’ve stopped and asked the clod about his
         parents’ sense of balance—did any of his
         siblings have trouble staying
                   on their feet?—would he like a coffee?

Who designed this vale of tears? We can’t say.
Maybe it was Kurt Vonnegut. Maybe Guido Sarducci.
Whoever it was, should we be talking about it in
our schools
          and car-pools and public restrooms? —
We talk about faith circles, fornicating neighbors,
animals that
          eat their young, with no concern about
corrupting our kids or
                    becoming Western Europe’s joke-butts.

My friends: you may well hate how your new shower
curtain is off-gassing.
          This does not mean your uncle was a monkey.


The smartest sentence ever written is by Niels Bohr, a quantum physics theorist: “We are suspended in language.” Wish I’d said that. All my stuff is storytelling—poetry, mediation reports, grant proposals—everything. A limitation, but there it is. The writers I read (John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Joan Didion, Cormac McCarthy, others) are all terrific storytellers. I can’t even mimic them, so I do it this way. My favorite poet is Louis Jenkins. If I could write prose poems like his, I’d stop everything else and just pretend to be Louis, period.


Steve Downing has a B.A. from St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN and has been a teacher, house painter, salesperson, musician, theater technician, freelance writer, conflict resolution mediator, and, since 2001, Executive Director of MacRostie Art Center in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.