Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Prize-winning Quatrain for Darwin Day

The Darwin Steps on Bartolome, Galapagos Islands.

On February 12 I came across this tweet from scientist/musician Adrian J. Ebsary. I followed his link to the Darwin Day contest being held over at Glendon Mellow's blog "The Flying Trilobite."

International Darwin Day is "a global celebration of science and reason held on or around Feb. 12, the birthday anniversary of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin."

In honor of the day, Glendon posted his fabulous image Darwin Took Steps (re-posted here with permission):

© Glendon Mellow 2008. Creative Commons License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

He then challenged readers to write something -- anything -- about the image in a tweet-sized comment (140 or fewer characters). Deadline: 12:01 a.m. EST on the day after I'd seen Adrian's tweet.

I was very lucky to have climbed the actual steps (the image up top), back in 1984. I offered up the following:

Preconceptions dropped away / As he stood atop Bartolome. / For Darwin, a glimpse of nature's plan: / Ascent of stairs, Descent of Man.

I had some pretty tough competition. You can read all the contest entries here.

Yesterday Glendon announced my quatrain as the winner. I am thrilled at the honor, and look forward to seeing Darwin Took Steps up close and personal!

After my Galapagos trip I had penned this longer poem, which I consulted while composing the quatrain:

Climbing the Darwin Steps
(Bartolome, Galapagos Islands, July 1984)

As though we were
creatures submerged, who needed to get out
somewhere, surface
some way out of some fathomless
ocean, this is what it is like,
we knew, to evolve.
To pass some barrier to change
and thrive.
It is natural,
that we should have had to climb
as Darwin climbed.
To lift cameras and backpacks,
notebooks and vestigial preconceptions
up those torturous logs anchored by posts,
sunworn-white and designed for the footsteps
of giants.
To cover
what from a distance
looked like the bleached bones
of a snake's spine
coiling to the top of a volcanic cone.
So that once we reached the summit
we were, indeed, chemically altered,
unable to explain ourselves
as we gazed back through layers of time
under a sere, equatorial sun.

© 2003, Elissa Malcohn. Published in Anthology Twenty-One, Florida State Poets Association.
(The poem also appears in this entry.)

View from the summit of Bartolome. Click on the photo or on the permalink for an unobstructed image.

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