September 22, 2021 Courtney Napier


Russian poet Joseph Brodsky says, “Evolution is not a species’/ adjustment to a new environment but one’s memories’/ triumph over reality…” As you read his poem below, meditate on whether the many connotations of “triumph” and the impact of our evolution on our collective earthly home.

By Joseph Brodsky

Constancy is an evolution of one’s living quarters into
a thought: a continuation of a parallelogram or a rectangle
by means—as Clausewitz would have put it—
of the voice and, ultimately, the gray matter.

Ah, shrunken to the size of a brain-cell parlor
with a lampshade, an armoire in the “Slavic
Glory” fashion, four studded chairs, a sofa,
a bed, a bedside table with
little medicine bottles left there standing like
a kremlin or, better yet, manhattan.
To die, to abandon a family, to go away for good,
to change hemispheres, to let new ovals
be painted into the square—the more
volubly will the gray cell insist
on its actual measurements, demanding
daily sacrifice from the new locale,
from the furniture, from the silhouette in a yellow
dress; in the end—from your very self.
A spider revels in shading especially the fifth corner.
Evolution is not a species’
adjustment to a new environment but one’s memories’
triumph over reality, the ichthyosaurus pining
for the amoeba, the slack vertebrae of a train
thundering in the darkness, past
the mussel shells, tightly shut for the night, with their
spineless, soggy, pearl-shrouding contents.

Joseph Brodsky, “Constancy” from Collected Poems in English, 1972-1999. Copyright © 2000 by the Estate of Joseph Brodsky.  Reprinted by The Poetry Foundation
Source: Collected Poems in English, 1972-1999 (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2000)

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