Issue 5

David Wagoner
Three poems

The Oldest Human Structure
          --in Olduvai Gorge

Is a circle of broken stones,
and no one can say for sure
this is the groundwork
          of the first family shelter
          where they huddled close to each other
          night after night in hunger
and the naked fear of hunters
or whether hunters themselves
shouted and danced here
          and feasted once or more
          before moving away
          to another stony circle
and another and then dying
and being born again
before dying again. Yet each
          of these stones is light enough
          to be lifted, to be carried
          by two hands and put down
heavily by one human,
maybe some frightened dreamer
who didn’t know why he’d dreamed
          of putting these shapes together
          there in a strange new order
          that would endure forever.

An Introduction to Taxidermy

The Latin roots of your craft
mean simply Rearrangements
of Skin
, so the optimum posture
of your game animal
          should be to recreate
          what nerves (now missing) knew
          that we can only suppose:
          how muscle and bones and sinews
(now mostly gone) can change
the shape of a living creature
in an instant. Your customer
and all his later admirers
          should believe those glassy eyes
          staring at them are focused
          on a choice about to be made
          in the wild to swivel backwards
and disappear through high grass
and shadows, to still be alive
and turned by light and leaves
and you to a resurrection
          poised now behind glass.
          Your aim should be the hunter’s:
          to be unnoticeable,
          to be forgotten about.

Two Lessons in the Manly Art of Self-defense

Lesson Two is to stand as tall
as you hoped you’d be someday.
It’s what good MC’s do
to their shaky selves backstage
before they go striding out
impersonally in person
in charge of you and yours
and all forthcoming events.

You do this standing still
in what you’re certain must be
the safest place on earth
and yours alone. You stare
steadily, directly,
narrowly right between
the eyes of this odd Someone
or Other who thinks he has
your number in his fist.

And Lesson One is to take
an antihistamine
beforehand to control
your allergies to flowers.