Poems for discussion

From February’s Poetry & Coffee discussion on “Love & Other Euphemisms”:

(Discussion is welcome in the comments.)

Lyell’s Hypothesis Again


An Attempt to Explain the Former
Changes of the Earth’s Surface by
Causes Now in Operation
        —subtitle of Lyell: Principles of Geology

The mountain road ends here,
Broken away in the chasm where
The bridge washed out years ago.
The first scarlet larkspur glitters
In the first patch of April
Morning sunlight. The engorged creek
Roars and rustles like a military
Ball. Here by the waterfall,
Insuperable life, flushed
With the equinox, sentient
And sentimental, falls away
To the sea and death. The tissue
Of sympathy and agony
That binds the flesh in its Nessus’ shirt;
The clotted cobweb of unself
And self; sheds itself and flecks
The sun’s bed with darts of blossom
Like flagellant blood above
The water bursting in the vibrant
Air. This ego, bound by personal
Tragedy and the vast
Impersonal vindictiveness
Of the ruined and ruiningworld,
Pauses in this immortality,
As passionate, as apathetic,
As the lava flow that burned here once;
And stopped here; and said, ‘This far
And no further.’ And spoke thereafter
In the simple diction of stone.

Naked in the warm April air,
We lie under the redwoods,
In the sunny lee of a cliff.
As you kneel above me I see
Tiny red marks on your flanks
Like bites, where the redwood cones
Have pressed into your flesh.
You can find just the same marks
In the lignite in the cliff
Over our heads. Sequoia
Langsdorfii before the ice,
And sempervirens afterwards,
There is little difference,
Except for all those years.

Here in the sweet, moribund
Fetor of spring flowers, washed,
Flotsam and jetsam together,
Cool and naked together,
Under this tree for a moment,
We have escaped the bitterness
Of love, and love lost, and love
Betrayed. And what might have been,
And what might be, fall equally
Away with what is, and leave
Only these ideograms
Printed on the immortal
Hydrocarbons of flesh and stone.


  1. First of all, I really like the idea of discussing poems through here! Yes.

    & now to the poem: maybe some would not find this poem sexy. i do. the geological changes that are happening constantly..slowly and quickly..(all in the first stanza)..it’s all buzzing with life and death and sex.

    the comparisons being made between earth and human flesh are stunning. tiny red marks on her skin caused by redwood cones are likened to the marks found on the slab of ligmite that’s above them.

    i love this:

    As passionate, as apathetic,
    As the lava flow that burned here once;
    And stopped here; and said, ‘This far
    And no further.’ And spoke thereafter
    In the simple diction of stone.

    he’s not only celebrating life and love..but definitely language. language in all things.


  2. It’s me, Valerie. Wowsers, what a poem! I learned at least 3 new words and a concept of evolution and a few mythological references.

    I agree with you that there is a life force pushing through all of it – the poem, the physical world, and the erotic world – with language driving all of it.

    So, this “hypothesis.” Am I correct in that it’s a concept that there are uniform processes of change constantly at work? So, the title. “Lyell’s Hypothesis Again.” Uniform processes of change AGAIN. Sort of an oxymoron, no? This intrigues me. What do YOU think about this?

    I agree with you, Crystal, about the lava flow. “This far / And no further.” What is it about those lines that are so impactful? I can imagine lava. I see how it behaves. As if it has said exactly this. What is that magic stopping point? Why there? What are the conditions under which it finally stops destroying everything in its path? (This is sounded suspiciously like my romantic history, now…) Maybe it’s meant to. Passionate, yet uncaring about what it destroys. So, what do you think “And spoke thereafter / In the simple direction of stone” means? Because lava, cooled, becomes stone.

    I absolutely love the last stanza. It takes in EVERYTHING. Leaves nothing out. Embraces it all. All as part of life. The sweet, the fetor, love, lost love, love betrayed, what didn’t happen, what might happen, the living, the dead – ALL of life. And then equals it all out with “what IS.” And then reduces it to molecular structures (“these ideograms”), the “immortal / Hydrocarbons” (matter is neither created nor destroyed). Is this what love does, too? Or sex? Or both?



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