When Charles Darwin sat down, finally
to write his big book
he wondered, not
how it would end, but where
on the shelf
it would end up.
Lucky for him, over the eons
to be among the swiftest of the species,
able to connect dots and make great
between those works of fact
and other acts of imagination.
They’d know where his story slips in
best and fittest.
A first-year college student raises the sash
of his second-floor rented room and creeps
like a cat onto the shingled roof
of the porch below,
over which the orange moon
hangs, or is hung—
over which, on the open page
of his modern art text, a moo cow, a newly married
kissing couple, and a tree
jump, hang, or simply
drift. He is a bungalow boy, raised
on wide streets—and all the while
the world is multi-storied?
His heart jumps. And what’s
this fragrance, carried wafting through the leaves,
from which island?
In great faith and firm conviction the world
unfolding open wide and wider
a flower mouthing miracle of detail
that changes and remains the same
under the observing eye
of Mr. Darwin
who plods through time and sentence
and chart and drawing, wondering
who or what the object is
(at times) up and down at the dawn
of all things, in spiced delight,
the moon, the orange moon.
The smartest move I ever made was to marry
a librarian. They have the best, most select
stories. A first-year college student approaches the desk
and asks for a book his professor has assigned:
Orange and Spices.
Someone, the librarian thinks,
has been drifting dreaming sights and smells
of equatorial seas, while seated in class.
She politely repeats, Orange and Spices—
which class is that? Biology, the student replies.
And in the pause between one heart beat and the next
the librarian leaps
from the jungle where all is one
mass of leaf
and retrieves, selecting from the shelf,
you mean, she asks, The Origin of Species?
On the sixth day, Sir Charles Darwin
closes the book
on everything he saw and experienced
when he was so very young, all those years ago,
the boat, the islands. So serendipitous,
that he traveled at all. Creation is good. Fruit is good.
He peels another and picks a round, pony-hair
#4 brush, dips it in the water glass, and begins
his next painting.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.