To Darwin in Chile, 1835


You will learn to look on every city as Venice,
stone lofted for a while as sun-draped statue before
the tide grinds it to sand. Viewed through the telescopic

glass of geology, mountains collapse to seabeds,
reptiles leave to return as hummingbirds, scallop shells
arise in their brittle white gowns to haunt hilltops banked

over the bones of whales. Yet now, alift with earthquake,
floating on dry land is new to you: “Earth, the emblem
of all that is solid, moves beneath our feet, a crust

over a fluid.” You are a skater on wafer-
thin ice, or a ship skidding over a cross-ripple.
The cathedral’s portal, tilted seawards, is a prow

of arched oak scudding over bobbing rubble. So much
for founding a church on a rock, you think, when keystones
founder, crack, split, fragment. Even the hand-picked Peter

broke in a single night, cock-crow finding him marooned
in a wreckage of denial. Yet if you could call
together all the coloured crystals of the east wall’s

stained glass window — most benign form of rock, stone’s thinnest shadow,
now shattered to stardust — you would see your life’s and this moment’s discoveries lightly prefigured

in the image of another storm-tossed man whose feet
tested earth’s rocky sediment and found it seafoam,
walking on water as you do now, as we all do.

John Reibetanz has written seven books of poetry.

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