Darwin

D

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”
293
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