I Remember Galileo by Gerald Stern
Originally published in The Red Coal (1981)
I remember Galileo describing the mind as a piece of paper blown around by the wind, and I loved the sight of it sticking to a tree or jumping into the back seat of a car, and for years I watched paper leap through my cities; but yesterday I saw the mind was a squirrel caught crossing Route 80 between the wheels of a giant truck, dancing back and forth like a thin leaf, or a frightened string, for only two seconds living on the white concrete before he got away, his life shortened by all that terror, his head jerking, his yellow teeth ground down to dust. It was the speed of the squirrel and his lowness to the ground, his great purpose and the alertness of his dancing, that showed me the difference between him and paper. Paper will do in theory, when there is time to sit back in a metal chair and study shadows; but for this life I need a squirrel, his clawed feet spread, his whole soul quivering, the hot wind rushing through his hair, the loud noise shaking him from head to tail. O philosophical mind, O mind of paper, I need a squirrel finishing his wild dash across the highway, rushing up his green ungoverned hillside.