HISTORY OF THE EARTH AS SHAPESHIFTER

To someone, the world has always been flat, singular and severe,

with an edge leading to the abyss.

Depending on where you begin, the earth was also geometrical: 

cone filled with air, three- and four-sided pyramids, cubes

complexifying with even more sterile facets. Starting at other points,

you find sphere, oval, egg, spheres and ovals 

within eggs. Spiral of vine and root, protogod of wires. 

Instead of sphere, a half-shell, shape of rainbow, 

and when seen from the side, a planet 

floating on water, but held up by the air 

trapped underneath. Sometimes matter vanished

and the world became an octave in a series; 

other times, note in the cosmic scale. Don’t forget the plane 

surrounded by mountain walls, heavens resting in the peaks.

For centuries the earth floated instead, island 

on a sea, the sun rising, falling then swimming

back to the east. Instead of island unifying the earth and sky,

the great tree, its name synonymous with truth. Not to forget the disc, 

its upper side the habitable world, pillars beneath 

responsible for the running of rivers, the rising and setting of sun.

During other centuries our world also stood still, one square

layered atop another square, grid that had to interlock 

in perfection with the circles of the moon and stars 

or monsters would enter the gaps and cracks. 

 

The biggest apocalypse was round. Thinkers redrew the earth, 

locked it into the form of a perfect sphere, a proof.

In reaction, the universe turned rectangle

with lid shut, a philosophers’ swarm box, their dark vision

preferable to the tawdry, impossible globe

covered with people who stick to dirt like flies.

Pear, heart, tomato, egg, turnip, gourd, onion, 

pond and rose; to break free, all the roundness accumulated 

in a bowl, bursting into wild seeds and rain.

But always, back to the flat: water spilling off the edge

of the planet, the fires of hell otherwise circling there.

Then all the other shapes of the earth started to go missing: 

visions of worlds recorded in books like butterflies, 

all except the chosen one burning.

 

But the earth is wily. It resists

by becoming muddy and windy, by going to the edge

of the flat world and making it curve, connect

in defiance of geometries. Oblate and imperfect,

the planet can be happy for a millennia

of wandering from geoid to spheroid shapes

and back again. It will outwait our wars. 

And after we are done, seeds will break open

into stalks, thorns, spotted leaves of so many colors,

unmistakeable as eyes. They will attract the sight

of all survivors, and the world will move into their retinas,

the many cones in conversation with the first forms.

 

Michael Walsh, 2019