Collect and Classify, by Joan Mazza

for Richard Fortey


At 80 degrees North, where wind blows without ceasing,
two men try to sleep in a tent, spend half their hours
chipping rocks in a tower of time, reading the diary of order,
geologic narrative in stone. Extinct graptolites are their Rosetta
Stone, memorized litany of planktonic species and ages.

Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian

The sun snuggles the horizon, casts long shadows, makes
them tall, thin in thick layers of anoraks and mukluks, as pair
after pair of gloves tatter on sharp rocks. It takes a special
breed of men (always men) to seek such isolation amid
layered histories, hoping to discover, name new species,

large animals, as yet unknown. To be the first to see
their fossilized remains pressed together, hidden until
chance meets the glance of a hammer’s blow. Excited
as children on a shore with buckets collecting shells
and sorting them by shape and color.

They could be singing the same song—
Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous
to arctic foxes and silent polar bears.
Of what can be discovered on this Earth,
there is no end.


About “Collect and Classify”: I’ve been writing a poem a day for nearly four years. That means that each day I have to come up with a subject to write about and craft into something like a poem, all the while trying to vary form and method so I’m not redundant or boring myself. I write about what’s in foreground, which is often what I’m reading, in addition to my usual obsessions. Richard Fortey’s book Life charmed me with its information and presentation— worthy of a poem.

Joan Mazza has worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, seminar leader, and has been a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self (Penguin/Putnam), her poetry has appeared in Rattle, Whitefish Review, Off the Coast, Kestrel, Slipstream, American Journal of Nursing, The MacGuffin, Mezzo Cammin, Buddhist Poetry Review, and The Nation. She ran away from the hurricanes of South Florida to be surprised by the earthquakes and tornadoes of rural central Virginia, where she writes poetry and does fabric and paper art.

Joan 25Dec2012


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