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(In Darwin’s Galapagos)

A ghost volcanic blast

unlocks the surface of a whitecapped

dolphin sea. Two hundred necklaced islets

rise in time-lapsed spree

uplifted by a molten platform

on the ocean floor – erupt, go dark,

collapse upon themselves; acquire

green mantles and new bursts of seeds

appear to die then leap to life again,

repeated resurrections born of

warm spring rains.

Sailing due east in geologic time

they make perhaps an inch a year

towards trenched submersion while new

cones rear up behind them

emblems of an earth alive.

Those first ashore -- a churchly mission

bearing crosses -- thought surely they had

entered hell: sheer lava cliffs, dark

glistening spews, crevasse-cut flats

crawling with dragons,

crimson crabs, huge

blue-gaze tortoises that tractored

sandy trails. They had keen sight

for faith but none for miracles.

Slate-colored lizards that sneezed salt

to cleanse their blood; tall dandelion trees

that sent trapped water down to shade below;

balloon-necked birds with razor bills

that floated near their cowls – all blindly

or with motions meant to exorcise

flew by. Blinkered by unexamined choice

they saw masked evil in bright birds

that lighted on one’s hand -- malevolence

in flowers turned yellow, adapted to

the menu of the Islands’ bee.

Between the fumaroles, a differently

invested eye might just have glimpsed

the symphony of rise and fall

embodied in these views –

in finches custom-tailored

to their missions in such

merciless terrain or tufa cauldrons

simmering with life, all dancing

to a metronome whose ticks

dwarf human minds. Still under orthodox attack –

reflexive horror at a streaming

which admits no charity and shows

a face more like remorseless

storm surge than accustomed gods –

that vision rests on step-wise method

shaken free of rote. Conditional

as turtle eggs or seal pups

we reprise his browned

laconic notes.

First published in What Rough Beast (July 5, 2019)

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