I believe the useless is useful, like the way the caged toucan cranes its neck to the side on the lookout for predators, though the exotic bird is perfectly safe from attack, even if its species, like many birds, is at some risk from its grounded observers. Or like the egret dive-bombing perilously close to a collision with our rented car as we hum along Route 1 hundreds of miles south of our home, as this bird, though relatively common, flirts, like the road itself, with extinction in south Florida.
Our vacation includes a visit to a rainbow eucalyptus, whose pulp is as useless in its botanic garden as the show of colorful Cuchily glasswork that surrounds it.
Soon my partner and I will be back at our desks, doing all the useful things we do, not laughing at another tourist site at the capuchin, a monkey whose brain is second in relation to its body weight only to humans. There, we won’t take any note of the useless patch of blue sky breaking through the clouds.
But away from such industriousness, I believe the unquarried limestone in the Everglades, idle beneath water long before any canoes or airboats jetted through the saw grass that plays footsy with it, also has its use. The limestone filters the water that seeps through and supplies south Florida’s tourists, like us, snowbirds and year-round and lifelong residents, our guide informs us. There, immobile for years, the limestone has served as a cemetery for shells tired of globetrotting, and served as a final resting place, though the water continually baptizes it, as though it remained some newborn.
What use is any of that rock to the alligator finally sliding into the water after hours of sunbathing, wasting day after day perfectly still, saying nothing, one of its children as uselessly resting a chin on its scaly back? Yet, we’d followed their example, joining these and other idle sun worshippers on the sand for hours, on the lookout for industrious gulls, prancing between us on the hunt for scraps, as uninterested in us as the shore to the sound of its wings suddenly flapping.
All these useless recollections remind me of how a former co-worker once riddled me with questions about why poetry interested me. Her main point seemed to be, why bother with something so useless? I gave her a copy of Marianne Moore’s “Poetry,” which states, “Hands that can grasp, eyes that can dilate, hair that can rise if it must, these things are important not because a high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are useful.”
And yet the older I become, the more I am interested in hands that can’t grasp, eyes that can’t dilate and all that is as useless as music, art, memory and our drive one weekend in south Florida staring out the window at an egret on its perilous vacation from preserves, flying low and against traffic.
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