If You See Something • Jillian Weise
I have a crush on you. I have no experience with barnacles, fossils, or apes. I’m not a naturalist. I’m not even an atheist. My hobbies include eavesdropping, stealing, and legislating the words. I like to watch trutv and read your diaries. You didn’t write anything dirty in them so there’s no reason to be embarrassed. The red diary is my favorite. On the back you wrote, “RANGE OF SHARKS: Nothing for Any Purpose.” And that one isn’t about sharks at all. It contains epochs, volcanoes, quartz, and those big ideas of yours. I bet you wrote the shark business because you were afraid someone would put you under house arrest (like Galileo) or on the stake (like Basil the Physician). “Profoundly deep: a great fault or rather many faults,” reads one entry. I like to pretend you were defining how “deep” someone is based on how many mistakes he makes. “Try on globe” is another gem. In a few days, I will board a plane and try on Patagonia. Your old stomping ground. I hope to see the cave where you dug up the bones of the giant sloth and I hope to stay far away from those underground critters that shriek. I hope we cross paths.
I have to tell you: I’ve always been suspicious of science because it wants to explain everything. It wants to make the unknown known, the mysterious unmysterious, and now really, where’s the fun in that?
But there is something very likeable about you indeed. The long white beard makes you look like Santa or a wizard. Either way, well done. I can’t find any photos of you aboard the ship so I don’t know if you had the beard then or if it was a look you cultivated over the years. The main reason I like you is that you dared to ask the toddler question, “Where did I come from?” Instead of accepting the answer—a stork a mom a womb—you took the question onboard the ship and back to The Sand Walk where you thought on it for several more decades. Curiosity and persistence are attractive. Nowadays, if someone refutes your answer, that person is considered a right-wing fundamentalist clodpoll. Pretty much. I know it’s absurd, you probably want us to prove you wrong, or at least try, but we are a little more than smitten with you. This might be why we don’t talk about how sick you were.
How sick were you? You are known for traveling the world and for your theories; you are not known for the seven-year day-by-day blow of your deteriorating health. We don’t remember you for your fits, coughing, depression, headaches, boils, wheezing, back pain, vomiting, and excessive flatulence. I mention them because it’s important, I think, when I have a crush on somebody, to know the type of body that I have the crush on. It might come as a surprise—I hesitate to write it because I don’t want to make you sad—that your theories got whacked-out in the twentieth century and many who suffered similar ailments as you were killed for it. You do look awfully sad in the photos.
Don’t be sad. Hey, this is a big year for you. It’s your 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of Origin of Species. There is a countdown online (www.darwinday.org) along with eighty-five events in seventeen countries. The city of Darwin, Australia will host an Ozzie Darwin Pow Wow while London will host a three-course lunch replete with a debate between Thomas Huxley and the Bishop of Oxford. The San Francisco Atheists are throwing an Evolutionpalooza and the New York Ethical Societies are throwing a Family Festival. They are building a replica of the Beagle and sending it around the world. They are minting coins with you and the ape in gold. Some of the events—summits, lectures, talks, congresses, symposiums, panel discussions—sound like snoozers, but no doubt they will be debating you and with you, God, and with God, the universe. The same questions continue to kick up a lot of dust: What is life? Where did we come from?
Jillian Weise’s books include The Book of Goodbyes (BOA Editions), for which she received the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets; and the novel The Colony (Soft Skull Press). She teaches at Clemson University.
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