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Learning Natural Instincts

ISSUE:  Autumn 1993

Giraffes munched leaves from the tops of trees
  on a plain in Africa
and eagles wheeled about a mountain nest
while my penis stiffened in that seventh-grade
Ann Harding’s nipples, dark, beneath the white
Karen Awlen’s thighs so white while hippos
  wallowed in mud
and I could only think of the last row in
  the Cohoes Theater
where I would sit on Sunday with Sherri,
my fingers twirling her long, red hair,
offering her jujube fruits and buttered
  popcorn for a kiss,
sliding my hand down her shoulder, brushing
  her breast,
her white body leaning into mine until
  Sister called me up to the front
to tell how the bat found its way in the dark,
how turtles knew when and where to lay their eggs,
Sister, who made me stand despite my instant
despite the lump in my pants my penis made,
my mind racing for answers as the others pointed
  and laughed,
sonar, instinct, just plain dumb luck
  blurting out of my mouth,
trying to think of cats flattened on the road,
of Margaret, my classmate, whose bones shone
  through her cancerous skin
when she rose every morning to throw up
into the black bucket of sawdust, but
knowing even then nothing would help,
not rosary beads nor prayers nor the sign
of the cross Sister made over my head,
knowing I was going to hell as she sent me back
  to my seat,
following the path God had cut in my brain,
following the tunnel God had dug in my heart.


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