For months Darwin had been keen to go ashore. . . . The town
was barren, and the hilly countryside teemed with horses, cattle
and bandits. . . . but he managed to find a pair of guides. . . . and on
9 May they galloped off. . . .—Darwin, by Adrian Desmond and James Moore
He felt that small death—of the émigré leaning from what had been astride the strange embankment, anticipation turning its key in him lifting the eyes above the bulwark of the sea's collapse on every plank of his sleep. His thoughts caught in the curve of reflection—far from ladies distressed by the establishment of peonies in their gardens, parlour scents of cake and cobbler's wax, every examination for term through through. No longer an old hen scratching in one corner of a thousand- acre wood. He could look beyond a harbour's embrace, sense the sea's deepening blue as porpoises rose like glittering notes above the sea's din. Every step an arrival. As the seals at night sang, bellowing like cattle slipping beyond the embankment of home—no soprano ever ascended a rarer note. His body still a tipsy raft, taking steps, [End Page 49] keeping the gravity of ropes and railings close as letters home, of curious Crustaceans, fungus, and fireflies flitting amongst the hedges, flowers springing from the darkness of stems, the clutter of trips inland, his pockets rattling with pillboxes, a genus that feeds on feathers, and spiders so solitary they swallow their own. No longer a life living in the wings, curtained by shadows. A switch was flicked. He became the stranger bearing a pocket of wondrous matches, a compass pointing home, a beard among the clean-shaven. Stepping ashore at last knowing if your view is limited, many objects possess beauty. Even Maldonado with its dusty streets and great square, bordered by hills of unblinking green, grassy plains of cattle grazing, a few brilliant birds and cacti, their shadows in the midday sun like pieces of cut black paper along the road where yesterday the gaudy scarlet of a traveler lay, his throat cut—and that too he would write home about.
Brent Pallas lives and works in New York City as an illustrator and craft/home project designer for magazines. His poetry has appeared in the Southern Review, 2RV, Beloit Poetry Journal, Poetry, Gettysburg Review, the New England Review and other journals.