Humanist Voices in Verse: A New Poem By Oriana Ivy

This week’s poem is by Oriana Ivy. She is the author of three prize-winning chapbooks, a widely published poet and translator. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, Best American Poetry, The Iowa Review, Nimrod, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, and many other magazines and anthologies. A former journalist and community college instructor, she leads an online poetry salon and writes a poetry and culture blog.

Darwin, Once Meant For the Clergy, Imagines His Sermon on Noah

Too late, dear brethren, too late to believe
there never was a rainbow before the Flood —
or that the ark, three hundred cubits long,
could contain millions of species.
As iron-dark clouds barred heaven,
did gorillas and polar bears parade
through a mud-brick Mesopotamian village?

Think of the snails and slugs
slithering for centuries . . .
I won’t belabor the ark’s
humble door versus a giraffe,
the whine of the two thousand
species of mosquito.

And our fabled forefather, when the Lord
shut the door of the ark,
was six hundred years old.
The less believable it is,
the more charming it is.

Listen how tenderly it is said, But the dove
found no rest for the sole of her foot . . .
then he put forth his hand, and took her,
and pulled her in unto him into the ark —

The new theologians tell us the myth
is not even Hebrew, but primeval:
purification of the world by water.
Purification by science
is another Deluge.

We know too much and not enough:
there have been many floods, many doves —
one family, along with some livestock,
may have taken shelter in a houseboat.
But then there’s no romance,
only another brutal story of survival.
Evolution is not crowned with a rainbow.

Brethren, I do not speak of Truth —
I offer evidence. I too carry
a heavy church in my heart.
The ship I sailed on for five years
was a kind of ark — I and Noah
on a long, crowded journey,
he with his salvaged animals,
I with my specimens in jars.

Brethren, behold the rainbow and rejoice
in the frail moment when the dove
alighted with a glistening olive leaf —
but how can we forget
the faces of the drowned —

Now the windows of heaven are shut;
all we have is stories.
Perhaps a future humankind
will make in their image
a more noble idea of god.
Today let us honor our father Noah,
drifting with the saved
seed of life toward Ararat.