We would call him

By Joan Mazza

a workaholic. Socializing made him sicker,
increased his bouts of vomiting. He preferred
to write letters. At least 7000 in his lifetime—
long letters explaining his thinking, carefully
expressing his feelings, back and forth
in correspondence for years with other scientists
and his wife. Later, with his grown children.

Returned from the Galapagos, he sent
his collected reptiles and plants to experts,
asked for help in classification. He took
the slightest comment as criticism that he
should study a species in depth, learn
classification. Eight years on barnacles
seemed enough. Thorough, thoughtful,

he wrote and wrote, asked for specimens
to see varieties in forms, how isolation
with natural selection created new species.
Not immutable, as people believed. “It’s like
confessing a murder,” he wrote to Hooker.

Twenty years refining his thinking, examining,
walking and vomiting, hanging back till
competition forced publication. He thought
his 500-page Origin of Species was an Abstract,
incomplete.

When we know the details, we would call him
devoted to his work, family, wife, a man
endlessly curious about anatomy, geology,
behavior, variations in populations. He would have
embraced today’s genetics, a man who worked
at home, played with his children,
never wanted to travel again.

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Categories: Issue 5, Poetry | Leave a comment

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