The Phoenix and the Tortoise

The Phoenix and the Tortoise

The Phoenix and the Tortoise

The Phoenix and the Tortoise

Excerpt

WEBS of misery spread in the brain,
In the dry spring in the soft heat.
Dirty cotton bolls of cloud hang
At the sky’s edge; vague yellow stratus
Glimmer behind them. It is storming
Somewhere far out in the ocean.
All night vast rollers exploded
Offshore; now the sea has subsided
To a massive, uneasy torpor.
Fragments of its inexhaustible
Life litter the shingle, sea hares,
Broken starfish, a dead octopus,
And everywhere, swarming like ants,
Innumerable hermit crabs,
Hungry and efficient as maggots.

This is the not the first time this shingle
Has been here. These cobbles are washed
From ancient conglomerate beds,
Beaches of the Franciscan series,
The immense layer cake of grey strata
That hangs without top or bottom
In the geological past
Of the California Coast Ranges.
There are no fossils in them. Their
Dates are disputed—thousands of feet,
Thousands and thousands of years, of bays,
Tidemarshes, estuaries, beaches,
Where time flowed eventless as silt.
Further along the beach the stones
Change; the cliffs are yellow with black
Bands of lignite; and scattered amongst
The sand dollars in the storm’s refuse
Are fossil sand dollars the sea
Has washed from stone, as it has washed
These, newly dead, from life.

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