Shuck and Jive

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Happy Darwinmas!

Tomorrow is Darwinmas when we commemorate the birth of Charles Darwin.

On this snowy Darwinmas Eve while you are gathered around the hearth, enjoy this poem by Emily Ballou from the perspective of Darwin's children.

The Names for Things

We are drifters three, through Down Woods
in spacious lengths unmeasured
by foot or time,
temporarily misplaced
in dim shadow, caves
of hazel, clay stuck to boots
in great running clumps.
Beyond the yelling distance.

There are names for things here.
We do not know them all.

Later, unbooting
on the back stairs, sucking whole oranges
beside the parlour’s marble fire
sweet conflations of orange
juice & licking flame.

When bees halo the lime trees
Papa is on his back
under his Panama hat
on the brown grass
telling long stories
about the names for things.

We remember everything.

Behind heavy curtains we heft the books
open them over the red-flowered floor.
We line up word against word against word:
editions, dictionaries, directories, maps,
trying to identify, to recognise,
classifying affinities
with him.

The clack of billiard balls
in the billiard room next door
sounds like heads to us,
round rolling skulls
sinking into the green felt pockets
where secret things are kept.

We huddle in the closet under the stairs
with the coats & mallets,
take turns reciting the names for things.
They will not remember us back.

After the last
ice puddles of the year are cracked
he will come & collect us
specimens in his cupped palm,
peer down ever gently & carry us
deep into the names for things.

He will find
the open purple faces,
the insect eyes of wild orchids among the junipers,
teach us the true meaning of holy.

–Emily Ballou


  1. The juxtaposition between Darwinmas and the piece on the Layman is a perfect illustration of why we need Darwinmas.

    Y'all are having too much fun.

  2. Great poem! I reposted it on my review blog.

    I'm so excited about the adult forum and service on Sunday!