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Tuesday, April 12, 2022


by Annie Cowell

“Twenty-two years after a pair of notebooks filled with Charles Darwin’s early musings went missing from the Cambridge University Library, they were anonymously returned in good condition last month along with a note to the elated librarian: ‘Happy Easter.’” —The New York Times, April 5, 2022. Photo: One of the returned notebooks included Charles Darwin’s famous “tree of life” drawing, which maps out how related species could diverge from a common ancestor. Credit: Cambridge University Library via The New York Times

It wasn’t just the fatty bloom of ancient leather
(although my fingers itched to touch it),
but more the lignin laden bibliosmia
which wafts from the wrinkled patina.
Vanilla essence of Darwin.
What lay inside mattered less to me
than the shadow of the procreator,
of the man whose mind gave Life to the Tree.
An aura which goes beyond the scientific,
of ink-stained fingers lacing 
his beard with brown and grey before 
penning those spindly branches. 
Two decades, I have been their guardian.
Whilst they were presumed missing
mislaid, misfiled, misplaced,
I have inhaled Darwin; stared at the covers
through half-closed eyes,
felt his ghostly hands on mine. 
It is only when he whispers
the books are overdue,
that I know I must return them.
The librarian looks a jolly sort so 
I choose a pink gift bag
and leave them with a note,
happy to have played a part 
in the mystery
of the Origins of Life.

Author’s Note: This poem was inspired by the return of Darwin’s notebooks to Cambridge University. I wanted to imagine what had motivated both the taking and the returning of them.

Annie Cowell is a former teacher living in Cyprus. She has poems forthcoming in a number of publications. @AnnieCowell3