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When anthropologists find my bones

in 50,000 years in a cave in southern

France—because that’s where all the

cool bones are discovered—I wonder if

my bones will be mixed with the now

100,000 year old antediluvian bones

of my ginger cousin species, Neanderthals,

which would explain my salt and paprika

complexion and complex lotion system

for dealing with the sky monster’s ball of fire

radiating my un-deer-hide-covered skin

as I sipped accidentally fermented berries

by our pack’s watering hole with Thag

who wouldn’t stop one-finger scratching

his deeply ridged scalp. Will my mostly intact

skeleton be found among the other, artfully

composed skeletons in a semicircle around

our hearth— not really different from a fall

night’s back patio firepit & raucous cocktails

with neighbors until Todd insists that it’s

the last one because he has an early flight

to Baltimore? At that hearth epicenter, will they

find my metatarsals just so, arched, petrified,

resting on a rock just so, feet in that sweet spot

just between too hot and too chilly, ideal &

permanent primordial toastiness? What’ll they

surmise when they find my tools, not too far

from my limestone recliner? A DeWalt 20-volt

Max XR Lithium Ion Brushless Drill that

was still useful once I killed the flashlight

and clearly had no plug to recharge the battery,

but monochromatic Thag still loved the bright

yellow and he was just the ape to use it to conk

a jackal or two on the noggin when the jackals

again got too close and clearly were asking

for a conking, we all nodded and grunted,

perhaps the first jury of his peers. Was our

group impressed with my three-inch pocketknife,

now well worn, but clearly it served its purpose

as a slicer, dicer, stabber, and you wouldn’t believe

how much it saved our almost pristinely preserved

teeth, all that wooly mammoth carcass gnawing

because Jane wanted a new winter coat and Billy

finally came of age enough to carry a sharp

spear—such a thin line between tool and weapon.

That little knife led to my longwinded

and likely terribly incomplete lectures about

extracting metals from that mountain over yonder,

and we’d have to invent a sextant and compass

and keel to sail south across the Mediterranean,

raiding African rare element mines (without

the atrocity of colonialism) if we had any

hope of powering on this iPhone again.

“How far we’ve come, Thag, but we have

millennia to make up for,” I open my palms

in my most courteous-nonthreatening-teacher manner,

straddling that thin line of explanation and being

condescending, “which means talking down to, Thag.”

Well excuuuuuuuuuuuse me. No, Thag, I don’t know

everything. In fact, the more I learn, the less I know.

But I do know that you and I won’t invent

the printing press, electricity, the internal

combustion engine, flight, or mass shooters.

Goddamn. Wait until I tell you about school

shooters. We won’t be the first or last with

hubris, privilege, imposter syndrome, anxiety,

depression, PTSD, hopelessness, bombasts

who teach with well-honed guilt and shame,

or an unwillingness to take a long, hard look at

our inhuman reflections in the tidal pool’s stillness.

But I do know this: when they discover our

femurs & skulls, marrows & flints, they’ll also

unearth our wall markings—clear evidence

that we did try to talk about those difficult

things none of us want to talk about—

if we can mention it, we can manage it—

and we did then genuinely try to take some

kind of responsibility, some kind of action,

leaving this great ball of dirt a little better off

than when we found it.



The one certainty in tiger tracks:

follow them long enough and you will

eventually arrive at a tiger,

unless the tiger arrives at you first.

Russian proverb, quoted from John Vaillant’s The Tiger (2010)

Did you know Amur Tigers can hear

the difference between an airplane engine

& the thwat-thwat-thwat of a landing helicopter

and have been known to leap from trees

to swat at the hunters before the chopper

struts even hit the forest floor? Did you

know this same tiger might even know

your scent, left behind on part of her boar kill,

when you only meant to take a hind shank,

just enough to stave off your stomach grumble,

but that was her hind shank, and now she’s

capable of tracking your Old Spice 10 kilometers,

first destroying the outhouse where she can

still smell her boar, even in your excrement,

and paw into your lean-to, transforming

the stuffing inside your mattress into

dandelion puff blown across the Russian

river valley, and she keeps stalking you,

not being as evasive as you need to be?

You can’t shake who you are, laying there

thinking that thinking about too much

of the past fuels depression, and thinking

too much of the future, anxiety. Depression

& anxiety: one’s hunting you; the other

already has you mounted on her wall

in the study. What if the thwat-thwat-thwat

decides it’s your turn next? Do we all gotta

take our turn in the barrel? This has nothing

to do with William Blake’s innocence. It has

to do with perspective, with realizing that if

a tiger could talk, like most travelers from

an antique land, we wouldn’t understand

her language. Heck, we barely understand

each other’s. And man’s artificial kingdoms—

all of them—will eventually fall, time the great

nullifier of supposedly impermeable borders,

and yet Sharpie-carrying politicians still disguise

themselves as authoritative cartographers.

And so, in 1909 Estonian Jakob von Ueküll

used biology to explain human behavior and

society’s structure, likely thought-up at 3am:

Umwelt coexists with Umgebung. Umgebung is

the objective environment around us: the shops

and cart vendors and fire hydrants and potholes

and lampposts along the sidewalks we all

share. But but but, this objective environment

is really only theoretical, right? Because while

place might seem objective & well-mapped

and glass and steel and concrete, because we

all have different umwelt, our experiences

of the “real” world, the umgebung, are actually

all very different. You still with me? You dig?

So if the umgebung is the concrete world,

the umwelt is the different colored soap bubbles

surrounding each of us, each biological creature,

each sealed in our own tinted bubble floating

through the world. So, her umwelt is rose-colored

like her spectacles, and his is gray because

he’s never happy unless he’s unhappy,

and another’s surrounding soap bubble

is yellow because he’s either cowardly or

too cheery—never a middle ground. Anyway,

like a model of spray-painted Styrofoam atoms

forming molecules for a grade school science fair

project, we all bumble down the sidewalk

in our own luminous or dingy umwelts.

Umwelts through the umgebung. A mother

& puppy through the suburb, “While she might

be keenly aware of a sale sign in the window,

a policeman coming toward her, or a broken

bottle in her path,” the puppy she’s walking,

in his own, faintly fuchsia bubble, “would focus

on the gust of cooked meat emanating from

a restaurant’s exhaust fan, the urine on

the fire hydrant, and doughnut crumbs

next to the broken bottle.” These two

are in the same umgebung, but their different

umwelt give them vastly different experiences

of it. These two parallel universes share

commonalities: both puppy and woman

need to be careful crossing the road, both

notice another approaching dog, both perceive

the cop, but given their different umwelten,

they notice, perceive, attend to the environment

for different reasons, even if those soap bubbles

sometimes overlap. He’s hungry. She’s not.

Stomachs growl or don’t. Thin blue line means

nothing to a dachshund. You know what’s

also cool? We can step into each other’s

bubbles—human or animal—and our familiar

is abracadabra presto-change-o transformed:

we can see the world as another sees it.

Biology—from potato bugs to crows to wild

boars to hunters and prey—inspires…

if we uncork our minds, make our umwelt

bubbles permeable at 3am, or in our afternoon

strolls through town, urban forest, a reverse

rainstorm of multicolored helium balloons,

ascending and bumping and merging and

maybe, just maybe, we find understanding…

because we’ll no longer be prisoners of our

subjective bubbles. Successful hunting is

an act of terminal empathy. Successful

empathy, an act of relentless imagination.



Inspired by Amor Towles’ The Lincoln Highway (2021)

He looks like the sort of fella who’s wearing

overalls even when he’s not wearing overalls.

And he looks like an astronomer gazing into

the distance, even if he’s just trying to remember

my name. She looks like she’s just caught up on

the laundry even though a family’s laundry

is never complete because life is a constant battle

with dirt, unless you live outside, and in that case,

you’re not really dirty unless your fingers are

actively hoeing the flower bed. Don’t let her

delicate flower demeanor fool you. And her?

She’s always about to gossip even when there’s

little truth to anything she repeats. And he looks

constipated, even when he’s not, and she looks

like she smells like lilac in her purple V-neck,

but I’d recommend an ample social distance.

Her, over there, on the other hand, she looks

like she’s about to orgasm even if a good-oh-god

orgasm is not in her near future. Honey, never

be ashamed of buying the battery value pack.

And him? He looks like a city slicker, even

though his slickness undermines his slickness.

And he looks like he’s thinking even when—

and she’s about to fall asleep even though sleep

entirely eludes her after 3am. And he’s going

to ask to borrow a tool, even if he is one. He looks

like he’s going to ask for a favor, even if he isn’t,

and sure he’ll pay you back Tuesday for what you

surrender today, but just as there’s an endless cycle

of Tuesdays, so too, if you’re not careful, is endless

surrender. Kindness is more often manipulated

than rewarded. Her lips are moving as if she’s

praying, even though she’s not believed since

the eighth grade. He’s scheming. She’s plotting.

They are adding up what you owe, even if

you’ve been careful to owe no one anything.

No is enough. No doesn’t need explanation.

You owe them no rationale. And he looked

confident in what he knew, but his loudness

was ample evidence that he was nothing more

than a large, hollow vessel capable of a lot of

noise. A small pebble echoing down an open,

empty manhole. The milk crate looked like

furniture, even when it wasn’t trying to be.

The tree was just trying to be a tree. I’m still

wonderstruck that early explorers looked at

the untamed forests of the new world, trees

of Nova Scotia, Maine, the Carolinas, and

the Alaskan archipelago, and did not see—

did not see—the people, the animals, oxygen

and mossy plant balance, but looked upon

the natural flying buttresses and imagined

those needled and leafed columns for a future

world-colonizing navy. And so he looked like

he was constantly sucking lemons, even during

the South’s deep freeze. His chin-first demeanor

disguising the fact of his glass jaw. And him?

Well, he’s always tilted on his tiptoes, seeking

the future, even if his gripes anchor him

to the past. She’s a princess. He’s just been

hurt. They’ve just been diagnosed even when

the diagnosis is constantly changing. Science

most looks like science when it’s uncertain.

To the Nth degree for maturity and being learned.

Which holds true for grammar, too. We cling

to it because of its promise of certainty,

but heck even that evolves for the better,

eventually—just ask he/him she/her they/them

zie/zim. And so, her appreciative eyes looked like

she was slicing onions, even when there were

no onions near. I said no onions near. No onions

nor allergens near, and why can’t you realize

your desire not to look vulnerable makes you look

more vulnerable? Resting bitch face doesn’t make

me think you’re at all rested or aggressive,

so much as hurt and not getting the therapy

you need. Why can’t you just articulate that

you want to be left alone? Your desire to hoard

power, your desire to turn everything into

a crusade makes no one want to crusade

with you, no one want to confide in you,

everyone want to strip you of those small things

you take pride in that not even your own mother

is proud of. And he looks as if he’s eating hot wings

but he’s really just speaking in public. And he,

well he’s staring at a fishing bobber, waiting…

waiting… waiting… waiting… even though

he’s in the middle of a metropolis. She’s guns

and concrete and steel even though she’s really

daisies and soil and horses. The idea you thought

was a grape gumdrop was really black licorice.

The milk on your Captain Crunch spoiled.

The neighbor not neighborly even slightly.

What happened to returning a wave? I let you

merge in front of me in traffic, I expect a

peace sign instead of a bird instead of apathy.

That wine label and price tag is little indication

of the headache you’ll have in the morning.

And there’s a coffin-maker masquerading

as a carpenter. An ambulance as a hearse.

When every squirrel looks like a potential pet,

cuddly or not. When every virus has the power

to kill you, even if it doesn’t. Someone ready

to explain to, speak for, or think about,

even when decidedly unwanted. He looks like

he’s always going to mansplain, even if he’s

the furthest thing from manhood. And that

looks handcrafted, even if it’s one in a thousand

from today’s glowing forge. Bubbles. Fine art.

Economy. Humility undercutting humility.

And dust to dust. That looks like a theory

without an ounce of practice. And his forehead

is an architectural ornament, akin to the gleam

from the Chrysler Building, even if he’s never

set foot in Manhattan. From a cave to a wigwam

to an opulent railroad car to a space shuttle.

Art Deco disguised as timeless. Concern for

others sold as socialism. One shelter needn’t

look like another shelter. Her speech carries

the cut of an axe even when she’s trying to soothe.

Intervention. Invention. Insurrection. And he looks

like he’s suffering an indignity when he doesn’t

know the meaning of suffering. He smells like

a civilized man, especially when he’s trying to

masque savagery. The type that would sleep

with everyone even if he’s yet to love anyone.

Including himself. Sweating. Lusting. Undressing

with eyes even though he just has an astigmatism.

Guilty when not. And her lips are always parted,

as if she’s about to sing, even if she’s tone deaf.

And he always has an idea, even if he can never

find the words to articulate said idea. What first

looked like a metaphor trying a little too hard

not to be a metaphor suddenly dropped its guise,

and left standing there was truth. At least one

incarnation of it. And so, when I’m gone, don’t

let them put makeup on me so others say, “Oh,

he looks so natural,” when—clearly—natural

is dead. But do know happiness as the goal

rarely works, nor does comparison for the sake

of comparison. And one of my biggest moments

of enlightenment came when I wasn’t seeking it.

It’s when I realized I’m not competing with you—

not competing with you, not competing with you.

A relief even when I wasn’t looking for relief.



For Kenneth Arnold and Carl Sagan

Yes, I understand it flew like a saucer sounds virtually

like flying saucer, but it soared like a blimp isn’t like

soaring blimps, especially if the antecedent of it is plane

and thus it becomes the plane flew like a blimp

instead of flying blimps, and when in the hell

did all these blimps get here? Moths to flames,

guitar solos to Led Zeppelin. Running over the hills

and faraway isn’t akin to hilly running in the same

way it grew like a weed is not the same as growing

weed or it sprouted like a bean is not the same

as sprouting beans because we all agree green beans

are overrated, even if they are one of the three sisters,

because becaused like a because isn’t necessarily one

of the best clauses, nor one of the wonderful things

he does because because because because of its

antecedent antecedented just all screwed up,

just as concrete is not the same as concreting

antecedents. And now we’ve a nice foundation

to build upon. Kenneth Arnold told one newsman

that it flew like a saucer, but never actually said it was

a flying saucer, and there were nine of them, not one,

and if aliens have been visiting us for the duration

of the planet’s existence, why then did alien sightings

only begin after 1947, when flying saucers first flew

near Mount Rainier and up until that point in time

all those little green men were mostly a version

of The Blessed Virgin Mary herself—sign-of-the-cross—

or some fire-breathing-floating-invisible-incorporeal

dragon in my garage hoax because you can’t disprove

that I have a fire-breathing-floating-invisible-incorporeal

dragon in my garage. Headless horseman not unlike

horsing headless, but a telltale heart is not equal to

a heartening tale. You’d think apparitions & visitations

would at least have the decency to visit a mammal

with more institutional memory than we possess.

Because who’s going to believe this with their own

eyes as wide as aliens, even if we’ve never eyed

aliens, the apostles never apostatized, or blanked

it like a blank, not blanking blank? The absence

of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, the cause

of effect isn’t always the effect of a cause, and

being bamboozled once or for years doesn’t

equate to a perpetually bamboozled being,

so long as you don’t waste that mistake.

This is to say, you may overestimate prayer’s