In school it had been important to learn
by Dean Young
the names of battleships, diseases, museums,
kings, the internal scheme of the squid
which is called taxonomy but outside, in the fields,
it seemed most important to know the names
of sex organs: vulva, Mount Olympus,
anadromous pod and that was called soccer practice.
Beside me in Earth Science sat Debbie
until she was killed by a Volkswagen
so the rest of the year I did the experiments
alone. Say crack my fingers backwards, she whispered
while I tried to organize plastic seashells.
The earth had folded into itself many times.
Ann, Jill, Brenda, Elizabeth. Kinesis,
the golgi apparatus, the ellipsis. Give up,
go to bed, dream. Then to wake up twenty years later
after a party knowing you behaved perfectly
shamefully, the brain is threatened sea life,
astronomers predict discs of dust hold clues
to the birth of the universe and then to make tea
and telephone apologies. What was her name,
the one by the door? Expostulations of orange juice.
Purple clouds. Twice I jumped from an airplane
to forget a beautiful woman who was sleeping
with some guy instead of me who made guitars
from scratch. Handprints on an aquarium,
tissue paper. Irregular envelopes. To begin,
each player selected a game piece. She was
beautiful and drunk but not as drunk
as her dress which kept hailing cabs
even at the party. Beneath the clothing
is the skin and beneath the skin, viscera, bones
but beneath that there is just the skin
of the other side so clearly something
is unaccounted for. Green river,
lobelia, lightbulb shaped like a flame,
a chair shaped like a shoe. The last time
I landed, I forgot all I learned
throwing myself from a practice flight of stairs.
It drove me crazy, the way she smiled
at strangers and I could never be
a stranger. A thousand feet above the earth,
hanging from a handkerchief.