Creation I
by Jane Downing


Creation (II)

If Charles Darwin had travelled the region
on the Air Marshall Islands plane
instead of the Royal Navy's HMS Beagle
he would perhaps have posited
some far different theory of atoll formation
and the creation of the Marshall Isles

It would not have been the slow and stealthy growth of which he wrote:
coral polyps clinging tenaciously to their volcanic host
ascendant sun-worshippers recolonizing ever higher
as the volcano slipped into the deep
Thus the limpid lagoon fringed with a circle of coral polyp reefs:
thus the atoll forming over millennia

picture postcard perfect

From the air amidst the throb of the engine
Darwin could have seen it a different way:
formation from up there and not from below the level of the sea
This Marshall Islands is a string of atoll jewels
looking for all the curious world as if great gobs

of earth & mud & rock
had been flung from above like more substantial chicken feed:
a drop, a dash, a sprinkle, a scatter
a globule plonking splat alone
a last dribble...
Yes. Exactly like that.

So listen to what the old people said
for the creation story under the stars and palms
was the story of Letao not Darwin
of the trickster god not the scientist:
Letao who left his father’s sky kingdom
determined like any son to build himself a home of his own

a basket full of earth on his arm

Happily down he flew over awesome stretches of landless ocean
once to the south to chose a place
doubling back north to find--but how?--

a hundred islets where there had been none
Digging deep into his basket he discovered its want of earth
and then the cause: a hole in his basket!
the escape for a drop, a dash, a sprinkle, a scatter...
He threw the basket away in disgust
There it is now--the island that is Kili

So we see Letao’s two chains of atolls
Ratak where the sun rises; Ralik where it sets
Named as one by a later passer-by
another whiteman in a ship
Labelled on the map:

The Marshall Islands


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Dirk H.R. Spennemann, Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.

© Jane Downing 2001
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