Field Tech to a Naked Mole Rat

& "The Night Before the Summer Solstice"

Field Tech to a Naked Mole Rat

In this maze of rooms
a maze of tubes crisscrosses
the table in front of me.
I watch you scurry
through plexiglass and PVC,
your peached skin
creased and crinkled,
eyes nearly useless in the light.
It is late
and I am alone except
for you and your colony.
I take off my white coat,
lay my head on my arms.
Like you, I do not enjoy the lab.
Like you, I miss the xeric grasslands
of Ethiopia, green turned gold
in the wavering heat.
But it is late
and I should be thinking
of bigger things. You
hurry through connecting tubes
with room enough to turn around
and look at me. Nearly hairless,
your folds of skin vulnerable
in the light, your splayed hands
repulse me. You turn back, searching.
What are you looking for?
A way out, perhaps?
Or a way deeper in?
Oh fragile, hideous thing.
Is it too late
to ask you questions?
Cancer took my mother
before we could extract
your secrets, her face wrinkling
with premature age, hands
withered and rugose.
But still I keep looking, isolating
hearts and brains, slivers
of tissue sliced, pressed
between glass slides,
keeping you with me,
your wrinkled skin
so easy to cut
and pull back. Examine
me. Feel my hand
as I move you from one cage
to another. Our thin skin
feels the same.
But it is too late
for you. You will never again
see your homeland and I will lose you
in the sea of specimens
that lay open
on the table beneath my scalpel.


The Night Before the Summer Solstice

Outside mother’s house,

the live oak—older

and more grounded. The night

in its summer cloak, shrugged

half-off, so much light here

at the edge of the city. In my hand

an ammonite, spiraled shell

of some ancient organism

who never knew

its name.

I thumb the ridged surface,

the dark cavities of its body.

Language fails

at its own task.

I cannot comprehend

extinction, this entire species gone

so many millions of years,

cannot comprehend

the beauty of its emptiness.


A baby born, named Grace, given words. She reaches
out to touch her mother, to feel the warmth
of the body that housed her, but the atoms will not allow it.
Even as they appear to touch, they remain separate.

That is how language works.


From the current list of Crayola crayons:

gold—all names

for real things, things we can touch

or not touch.


At four, I ruined

mother’s fossil collection.

Colored in the grooves

of the ammonites—indigo, forest green,

bittersweet. My human mark

on this artifact of life—

but isn’t that always what we do?


We know in our bones we cannot trust names.
We know in our bones words are not enough.



my mother understands. This fossil an apology

though not required.

She forgave me decades ago

when my trespass was new.

I cannot forgive myself,

my back against the oak,

but somehow oak feels

broken, half-thought,

not thing-in-and-of-itself.

To touch its bark, to really know

its surface,

for this I would give much.

Words, half-thoughts—broken

meanings straining

over the void, separation

of the thing and its name.

The night a spiral, a catacomb

of ancient stars spinning

arcs through sky. Even

as I look, they could be dead,

burnt out millions of years ago. This too,

I cannot comprehend,

but see the shadows of their light

and think them real.


We have no language—no syntax and no lexicon


Night shifts and mother wakes,

comes outside, places her hand

against my back.

I gift her the ammonite and sob, wordless

at the dawn, at her forgiveness,

at the unspeakable immensity

of the world I cannot touch

which cannot touch me.

Katharina Kepler's Confession (1546-1622)

I laugh—oh the things I would have conjured / could I conjure: silicone Ohropax, flashlights, / popsicles, plastic diapers, tampons— / I was always on my period

You are nature

your heart pushes blood
like the moon
pulls the ocean
Fast-twitch, slow-twitch

What Animals Are Admitted To Paradise

Mountain goats have climbed their way hoof and tail apart to the tallest
peaks and leaped with lockets of an old man’s beard. They say the
goats that make the leap and survive, the ones that make it

across to land on the other cliff, get their shadows get turned into clouds.