Another poem by Billy Collins

September 6, 2006

…Thank you, , for pulling it out and sending it along!

The First Geniuses (Billy Collins)

It is so early almost nothing has happened. Agriculture is an unplanted seed. Music and the felt hat are thousands of years away. The sail and the astrolabe, not even specks on the horizon. The window and scissors: inconceivable.

But even now, before the orchestra of history has had time to warm up, the first geniuses have found one another and gathered into a thoughtful group. Gaunt, tall and bearded, as you might expect, They stand outlined against a landscape of smoking volcanoes

or move along the shores of lakes, still leaden and unnamed, or sit on high bare cliffs looking like early arrivals at a party the earth is about to throw now that the dinosaurs have finally cleared the room.

They have yet to discover fire, much less invent the wheel, so they wander a world mostly dark and motionless wondering what to do with their wisdom like young girls wonder what to do with their hair.

Once in a while someone will make a pronouncement about the movement of the stars, the density of silence, or the strange behavior of water in winter, but there is no alphabet, not a drop of ink on earth, so the words disappear into the deep green forests like flocks of small, startled birds.

Eventually one of them will come up with the compass or draw the first number in sand with a stick, and he will let out a shout like Archimedes in his tub and curious animals will look up from their grazing.

Later the water screw and the catapult will appear; the nail, the speedometer and the bow tie will follow. But until then they can only pace the world gravely, knowing nothing but the thrumming of their minds, not the whereabouts of north or the notion of zero, not even how to sharpen a stone to a deadly point.