I don’t think of E.L. Trouvelot every day. But often, cages in the forest behind his house in Massachusetts, masses of gypsy moth eggs.
It was the late nineteenth century, Trouvelot wanted to create a silk industry near Boston. But the larvae escaped, caterpillars winding across the grass, around the trees they would defoliate, kill. Attached to a tree, the female gypsy moth looks regal, folded fuzzy cloak of black hieroglyphs, milk-white fur cap.
& yet Trouvelot—wings now fluttering gutting oak, hardwoods (eventually moving across the entire Eastern United States, causing hundreds of millions in damages every year, one of the most destructive insects)—Trouvelot went on his way, to France, where he drew images of comets, shooting stars.
I know little of him except his fantastic failure—the ever increasing, never ending cost of his one mistake. (Did the caterpillars tunnel under the dirt into the air? Did they eat through their cages, wriggle through?)—& his reinvention in another country as an artist of the night sky.
But he must have been so hated, reviled. In a film, another man believes gypsy moths are eating his heart. As someone, myself, who has done so many things wrong, Trouvelot is a relief.
Boarding an ocean liner in Boston, a couple of weeks on waves & strangers asking who are you what do you do? Someone to be remembered forever for his failure sailed forward, began drawing, became known for his 7,000 astronomical drawings.
He was invited to join the staff of the Harvard Observatory, to use the U.S. Naval Observatory’s refractor. He discovered veils on the sun. A man might have pitched himself overboard. A man might give up. Trouvelot looked up, & today, I can see Jupiter in 1882, in one of his fifteen pastel images, so close it is an egg I can hold in my hands. Its red eye/black pupil sees me, keeps me company. The clouds of Jupiter sideways trees, as if knocked down, resting. An out of focus fogginess in the lower half gives the impression that I just need to blink, sharpen my view, & mysteries will appear.
Kelle Groom is the author of I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl (Simon & Schuster), a Barnes & Noble Discover selection and New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, and four poetry collections, most recently Spill. An NEA Fellow in Prose and 2020 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellow in Nonfiction, Groom’s work appears in AGNI, American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry, The New Yorker, New York Times, Ploughshares, Poetry, and The Southeast Review as a finalist in the World’s Best Short-Short Story Contest. Groom’s memoir-in-essays, How to Live, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press in Fall 2023. She is a Nonfiction Editor at AGNI, poetry and nonfiction faculty for the low-residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada University, Lake Tahoe, and director of communications and foundation relations at Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.