Philip Henry Gosse

“Philip Henry Gosse – Aquarium”
Cyanotype on rag paper, 18″ X 24″
Amber MacGregor ©2020

Henry (by Astrid van der Pol)

Philip Henry Gosse wrote field guides to beaches and tide pools. His vivid illustrations of jelly fish and anemones, along with his invention of the seaweed aquarium and the first public aquarium in London in 1853, drew people to the beaches. Though Gosse was deeply religious, he trusted Darwin’s Origin of Species because he observed similar patterns in marine biology. In Omphalos, Gosse argued God created the world in medias res. If Adam had a belly-button but no mother, God could put fossils into rock.

You are a rare bird fluttering, wing
after wing glimpsed, gone.
The dark suit, the tunic,
the firmly parted, oiled hair
and chin strap beard disguise
your posture, which says,
I’d like to fly. A scientist of bird
temperaments — fierce, fearless,
mischievous, shy — and bird actions,
their work and cries and songs,
you were born into zoology
and painting. There you are
in Kew Gardens, holding hands
with your wife, walking
through irises and tulips.
Train-taker, beach-visitor,
worrier, provider, quirky
medicine zealot, I glimpse you
like the flickering head
of a chestnut-bellied cuckoo
only to lose sight of you.
Omphalos creator, you stop time.
Metaphor binds broken
bits of our lives, like spider threads
in a hummingbird’s nest.
But when we really miss
what’s lost, when we are in
a middle space — liminal,
anthropologists call it —
be vigilant; metaphor can trick us.
Omphalos is startling,
a belly-button theory: fossils
without anemones,
bird-like prints without
amphibians shifting.