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ISSUE:  Summer 1995

(after the PBS series)

At the far end of an upstairs wing, and scarier
for the way the long hall darkened toward its midpoint,
just where the ribcage rounded overhead
and the neckbones began their climb. Of course he couldn’t
come alive; but if he did? On the high walls
strange waters, limber palms, filled out his world,
and the huge haunches, gray and thick as Sinclair
motor oil, crunched them down. Surfacing through time,
more bones, and dioramas. By the exit,
a sabertooth has trapped itself
chasing a glyptodont into a tar-pit.

And Como Bluff, “Graveyard of the Dinosaurs”— Highway 30 still two-lane—whose gloomy profile,
more than the sign, made me drag my parents into
a wind-silvered, raw-board shack, to buy ribbed bits of
something wilder, even, than being there, on that road. I missed it, this year, on 1-80; now the TV
confirms it, and the two scientists who fought over it,
the one who died first bequeathing his skull
to a museum, just to prove his brain was bigger.

We thought their brains were too small; that’s why they died—
and depending too much on the extra one, in the tail.
Now it’s not so clear. Between their age
and the start of ours, there’s a thin layer of marl—
the same in a dozen countries—with glass
in it, and outer-space minerals, and metal droplets
thinning like the crest-ring from a splash in milk;
which made them start looking for the great rock that’s
shown here wheeling in from space, rough and so brilliant
it dissolves to a ray of dots, a computer-map.
Then the globe shawls itself in fire.

Strange, in ten years to have learned a way of doom
we’d never thought of, when we thought of everything—
plague, nuclear winter, the Son come in His Glory.
And always out there… One dazzled over western
Colorado, a few years back, then swung up, missing
earth and the headlines.
And hardly less
scary, the millions of years that didn’t need us,
our kind of mind. The huge herds of
Triceratops, like bison, roaming the endless plains,
that wouldn’t, of course, be Triceratops
for sixty million more years. Shall we say, they had Buddha-nature?
Did the rock, whirling from space, have Buddha-nature?

Why do we smile, then, to know such things existed,
ran gracefully, even, over the face of the planet,
its new face we’ll never see? With the first flowers
upon it, to scatter their quick alphabet
before the slow teeth, used to palms.
If the rock wheels on us from beyond the night,
what I’d wish for is that something, somewhere,
half-guess your lineaments and find them lovable,
as I find the animator’s duckbills, lifting
their placid heads to watch the big thing lowering
bright, then darker, behind the bands of cloud.


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