Could We Have Been Walking

A letter to Charles Darwin on the occasion of Dr. Hooker's discovery of maize on the moraine, with reference to The Origin of Species, Chapter XI: Geographical Distribution, Dispersal during the Glacial period.

And could we have been walking
      when the wind bulled up strong out of a humid south
            and the haze of the summer buried beneath it
The Living's swaying,
      as if a dream, passing transformed through a placenta,
            was to be shared by mother and child—
Both of them waiting for their own logic to explain them,
And both of them witnessing: beetles, contests of urges, the black
      skimmer skimming, or
            mornings, and Monarchs,
And maize on the moraine?

Here, we shall say, a great glacier tilled and fit this bank
      to stand in front of a Great River and say "Nay . . . "—
Nay, here, we shall, in our catalogic way, intone
The legend ways of Indians dunking fish 'neath rows
      of the hardier species of this high-handed Grass
            that hold out on weapons-testing ranges
                  or go on green as far north as Duluth.
But as does the grebe build a float and sheathe her chicks in
      reed, as we are told was done ago for human ones in Babylon,
So, too, does calmly ply its trade this maize upon this humpbacked ship of
      a moraine, a
      Sunlit sort of stuff, singular to my mind, here, and
Hazed over,
Relicted and holding on, holding on like the last few hairs on a
      balding man's head, for the hell of it,
            and the joy of it,
Holding fast and standing in the bow with weight and line and calling out numbers,
      be they those of years or those of lesser races passing,
            riding, as if on one of its own dammed-River's steamers
                  this plunked-flat-down barge
                        of a terminal moraine.
"River, ho! Mark Twain: High Water! Thou shalt not pass, but puddle
      and provide water for all that I would Grow."

You'll use the green fringe to prove a theory, I'm thinking,
I'm sure you're thinking,
Of how Old grabs, hugs in hard, and then is sprinkled with the New—
But we are walking, always
We can set our feet on "Go" and so, to see, walk further, in
      that same catalogic way, away from dinner's trash or the ulcerous quarry
            and any number of
                  brick-factoried towns—Go!
We have, we think, no cause to wonder about how Bekin's Storage and the London Lyceum, say,
      finally sat so fat and squat in their present Theres; they are dreary
            bits of our output we'd prefer to ignore,
And so, too, from Macy's, from
      the Haddam Neck nuclear reactor,
            and stoplights, and Cuyahoga River fires—
We move
      toward pondering how this heady weed stayed put without once so wondering—
This: maize on the moraine.

I mentioned
We are roomed in a Womb
      where nourishment passes through to us in the form of summers seen,
            cicadas heard,
                  and shafts of starlings flung from trees at dusk—
A bit of food for our jailed souls at this Interface of Matter and Spirit:
      we're given Sight—spirit-Light through Matter-eye—
            or the smell of the earth beneath our steaming feet,
And asked no Rent other than what we believe, contrive, or discover
      is ours to pay.

A bit of Wonder is in order, I'm thinking;
      now this peachfuzzed clot of glacier-grit—
Undeniably Here, and flinging forth its Green to Take It, Whatever Comes,
With us able to walk to or fro and wonder;
Us witnessing the contest of our own urges: whether to worship any
      sudden bit of Now and so love Here, we think, forever; or whether to
            build more of our own Past into storage, and promptly forget; or whether to

That we could have always been walking, children
      looking for our That Place To Have Loved, our
      freed to ever go
Wondering what, in God's Heaven, we Sighters—tourists—once having taken such a
Were ever meant to do.

Copyright © 1978, 2005 by David Newkirk ( All rights reserved.