The Fate of the Soothsayers
an argument for Lynn, a dancer
When I tell you my feet are wide and arched
because as a child I climbed over rocks
in the High Desert, you guffaw in disbelief; think
I’m being silly. But, obviously, you’ve never heard
of Lamarck, or that function begets form.
Some species adapt within the space
of one generation. Think of me
as the hundredth monkey, who one day looked
in a mirror at mother’s urging (“See the monkey?”)
and was changed forever.
Think of my feet as the place where genetics and environment
met and agreed to a compromise. Look, I’m not saying I could become
a giraffe, I’m just saying that I could eat with my feet
if I needed to, like the armless man in the Chicago cafeteria
where my father worked during the Depression.
Did I ever tell you my father was a
and my mother a pearl? My father was earth; my mother water.
My sister: she’s a flower. And I? I’m the one with simian feet and the fate
of being disbelieved by a dancer, whose own feet, transfigured
by years of pointe work, prove my point.
At the age of nine, I nearly hanged myself.
I learned to tie a hangman’s noose to try to shock
the neighbors. On a tall latticework in front of
the local laundromat, I tied the loose end of the rope
to the bottom rung, threw the noose over the top, and
climbed over. Lodging my heels in the space between
two slats, I placed my head carefully through the noose,
closed my eyes, and struck a dead cowboy’s dangle. No one
noticed, so I pretended to thrash and gasp with my tongue
hanging out ― still no attention. Then my feet slipped,
I couldn’t breathe, my eyes bulged, and I thrashed in panic
until, with brute luck, I turned and jammed my toes between
the slats. I climbed back up, lifted off the noose, and went home,
with rope burns on my neck. That’s the day I discovered poetry.
Morning buoys me, tumescent light
laving my eyes into lidless
wakefulness. Language fidgets
for the day it doesn’t have to work
so hard to reveal the mysteries that play
through us, teasing out the infinitesimal
calculus of mortality.
I try to remember where I learned all these words, but
the only image I have in mind is a scene from the age
My parents, sister and I are in a motel room
in Cathedral City, California. It’s the middle of the night,
and we’ve just discovered flying ants in our beds. Our
parents jump up and start batting the sheets with their shoes.
A bare light bulb illuminates them. When they get through,
I say, “It serves you right!” They erupt into laughter, and we
all go back to bed, quite pleased with ourselves.
Lying here, I realize I project
my home-movie images onto a world
of other home-movie projectionists. I see
in the figures flickering past that I am borne
like a shadow upon waves of light into unbidden awakenings.
And I remember that even flying ants lose their wings.