Janet Norman Knox
Reading Leaves Experiment

[Description] Her habitat is a mound of oak leaves
deep in a cave. The cave has one hundred mouths
singing the fates. Let's do the math—that equals cacophony.

[Prediction] The heap is where she sleeps—a nightly nesting like a gorilla.
Or, do the leaves leave her

drunk like a eucalypty koala, or maybe
provide trace minerals like the panda
in a slothful bamboo chew? I am skeptical.

[Methods] I sit silently for—let's not count—hours,
bones stiffen like Fossey jotting notes in a bound

book. My eyes become accustomed
to the dark. I wait for the sibyl to emerge
from one passage out of a hundred. Let's do the math—one percent.

Her kind is not active, prone
to hibernation attributed to a leaf diet or close air.

[Background] Previous studies indicate the Cumaean Sibyl reads between the veins
of oak palms like a wizened gypsy. The leaves tell

when arranged in fractal
equations on cool Italian lime-

stone. Leaves like hands to be called on, patient
like Jane, inherently Good-
all, signs of intelligence.

[Control] Sshh, the sybil approaches out of the dromos, stalagmatic
from a dripping corridor. Mesmerized in Mesozoic rock,

our collective pen poised above write-in-the-rain paper.
We have waited hundreds of hours

[Observations] in this decimal place.
She, too, holds a writing instrument. Yes, we suspected
her tool use and now, clear evidence. We document

the scritch of quill on dry foliole.
She lays the leaf near the entrance to the cave, adjusts
its position with her toe. Not right, she edits it to a far corner.

The sybil disappears as a wind
picks up, whirls leaves. They settle, dishevel, making order out of random.

It was said that Apollo granted her one wish. She gathered a handful
of sand and asked to live for as many years as the grains she held. A rough estimate
has her living for a thousand.

[Conclusion] The hardest part, the part that tests
the naturalist is not the dank stone, not the lack

of light or oxygen.
It's the noise. Each mouth of the cave, one hundred at last count
has a voice. The whispers of the sibyl can be heard for

ever. Let's do the math. That's about
a hundred times aeons times scads of ricochets
compounding annually comes to tons of fate,
and this stuff is heavy,  in choral din.

We are deafened by foresights that are, we have to say,
getting old with every rebound. We have background

scatter, sound and leaves.
My write-in-the-rain bleeds.

Now that we are deaf, we hear
the singing of elephants and maybe we will listen now,
resounding through rock,

hundreds of miles, telling of the coming of drought or hunters.