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Thinking of Darwin

ISSUE:  Winter 1977

Were it not for that photograph,
disaster in its final stages,
matchbox houses coming down,
rubble of streets, uprooted trees,
lives we somehow could not envision,
removed from us and not our own,
on distant coasts the fall of night,

we might never have thought of Darwin,
remembered what we had forgotten,
nothing but desert at our backs,
somewhere the light gone grey, gone green,
the very texture of the air
evoking strangeness in us, distance,
deepwater harbor on the rim
of an island whose aspirations,
despite itself, assume proportions
hemispheric, continental,
set adrift in uncharted waters

where a wind from the Timor Sea
smacks of Celebes, of Java,
celebrates archipelagoes
for which no names have been devised,
where rain runs green, and rocks dream gold,
where every morning, on our tongues,
we taste the raging of the dust
gathering at abandoned stations
and know, or come to know, the life,
the littoral on which we wait,
though not yet clearly its true name,
not precisely its purpose with us;

where, naked, night to night, inventing
names for our nakedness, we lie
suspended under the Equator
between the wastes of self and weather,
trying to learn ourselves, our names,
what to make of this emptiness,
this sense of absence which afflicts us,
forgetting what we must remember,

the great Australian coast spun out
beyond our scrutiny in shales,
corals, limestones, salt scrub, sand,
discovery at every turn
and, this far south, no turning back,
latitudes of impossible
dimensions bleaching the horizon,
mapping what will not quite stay mapped,
nothing but desert at our backs,
nothing but darkness to advance on,
night on the routes that enter strangeness
more dangerously, in the evening,
than we can bring ourselves to say,
darkness and an interior
for which, of course, there is no name
except, unmapped, unknown, ourselves.


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