494 Readings

A Problem of Taxonomy

In the low dusk
swallows swoop
from their bearded nests in the eaves.
The evening primroses are in bloom,
fragile vining flowers, and with them
the children have given themselves Hitler mustaches
yellow with pollen, are out by the mailbox
doubled over in laughter at the goodness
of their good idea. Soon everyone will be indoors,
scratching at chigger bites and elbowing each other
out of the way for the bathroom.
Here we have a problem
with taxonomy, I tell the kids. Only postmen
have facial hair like that anymore, I tell them. Credulous,
they go for a walk with me. I point out
the swaybacked barn where a mountain lion hissed at me
from the hayloft, the farm where a certain 4-H’er
had a sheep which gave birth
to two-headed progeny. Like the forked tongue of the snake,
the split body of a bifurcated carrot,
all classed together in the 19th century wunderkammer,
again we encounter problems
of taxonomy.
The next night
everyone is setting off Black Cats
in the abandoned motor home,
dislodging roosting chickens perched low and fat
in the branches of a nearby tree. Towards
home I lure them, tell them the one
about my grandmother with the armful of sparklers
back before fire had been discovered,
and this was also when there wasn’t a fourth of July
and we all used the irregular Gregorian calendar
which skipped days.
She lit a Green Genie sparkler which flared
up lucent, only out flew an emerald spark
that caught the corner of a bedsheet snapping in the breeze
inched, ignited, outwards
like a map of westward expansion and ran, clothesline
twine its fuse, until the whole line was eaten up with flames
smoldering into the dusk. Out howled
the volunteer fire department
and pumped water from the pond, but
too late:
Our clothes were burned up,
ashes, char, and sackcloth,
and our bedsheets too. That winter we each slept inside
a cougar to stay warm, or sometimes just a goat
though cougars were warmer. A cougar, the kids wanted
to know, disbelieving the whole thing.
Behind me, the old motor home is engulfed
in flame, and the children mutter among themselves
twirling the tips of their moustaches
which have grown verdant and luxurious
over time.
Posted 11/27/12
Previously published in Harpur Palate 7.2 (Spring 2008).
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