Darwin

 

 

 

I

His holy
            slowly
                        mulled over
   matter
 
not all “delirium
            of delight”
                        as were the forests
   of Brazil
 
“Species are not
            (it is like confessing
                        a murder)
   immutable”
 
He was often becalmed
            in this Port Desire by illness
                        or rested from species
   at billiard table
 
As to Man
            “I believe Man…
                        in the same predicament
   with other animals”
 
 
II
Cordilleras to climb—Andean
            peaks “tossed about
                        like the crust
   of a broken pie”
 
Icy wind
            Higher, harder
                        Chileans advised eat onions
   for shortness of breath
 
Heavy on him:
            Andes miners carried up
                        great loads—not allowed
   to stop for breath
 
Fossil bones near Santa Fé
            Spider-bite-scauld
                        Fever
   Tended by an old woman
 
“Dear Susan…
            I am ravenous
                        for the sound
   of the pianoforte”
 
 
III
FitzRoy blinked—
            sea-shells on mountain tops!
                        The laws of change
   rode the seas
 
without the good captain
            who could not concede
                        land could rise from the sea
   until—before his eyes
 
earthquake—
            Talcahuana Bay drained out—
                        all-water wall
   up from the ocean
 
—six  seconds—
            demolished the town
                        The will of God?
   Let us pray
 
And now the Galápagos Islands—
            hideous black lava
                        The shore so hot
   it burned their feet
 
through their boots
            Reptile life
                        Melville here later
   said the chief sound was a hiss
 
A thousand turtle monsters
            drive together to the water
                        Blood-bright crabs hunt ticks
   on lizards’ backs
 
Flightless cormorants
            Cold-sea creatures—
                        penguins, seals
   here in tropical waters
 
Hell for FitzRoy
            but for Darwin Paradise Puzzle
                        with the jig-saw gists
   beginning to fit
 
 
IV
Years… balancing
            probabilities
                        I am ill, he said
   and books are slow work
 
Studied pigeons
            barnacles, earthworms
                        Extracted seeds
   from bird dung
 
Brought home Drosera—
            saw insects trapped
                        by its tentacles—the fact
   that a plant should secrete
 
an acid acutely akin
            to the digestive fluid
                        of an animal! Years
   till he published
 
He wrote Lyell: Don’t forget
            to send me the carcass
                        of your half-bred African cat
   should it die
 
 
V
I remember, he said
            those tropical nights at sea—
                        we sat and talked
   on the booms
 
Tierra del Fuego’s
            shining glaciers translucent
                        blue clear down
   (almost) to the indigo sea
 
(By the way Carlyle
            thought it most ridiculous
                        that anyone should care
   whether a glacier
 
moved a little quicker
            or a little slower
                        or moved at all)
   Darwin
 
sailed out
            of Good Success Bay
                        to carcass-
   conclusions—
 
the universe
            not built by brute force
                        but designed by laws
   The details left
 
to the working of chance
            “Let each man hope
                        and believe
   what he can”

 


Lorine Niedecker, "Darwin" from Collected Works, edited by Jenny Penberthy, Copyright © 2002 Regents of the University of California. Published by University of California Press. Audio courtesy of PennSound, an ongoing project of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania. PennSound is committed to producing new audio recordings and preserving existing audio archives.

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