At the Science Museum of Minnesota

This poem was written in the style of Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California” in response to an exercise calling for writing one in the style of a Walt Whitman poem. I didn’t have good results with that, but it brought to mind the Ginsberg poem, which addresses Whitman directly and in a style that echoes his. When I tried from that angle, this poem sprang to life.

At the Science Museum of Minnesota

(after Ginsberg)

I am thinking of you this afternoon, John Muir, as I walk

down Kellogg Boulevard half sun-blind.

In hope of escaping the rippled sidewalk mirages, I go into

the museum. Your ghost holds the double glass doors, takes my arm
in the foyer. My hard-heeled shoes crack on the polished floor like
March lake-ice, enormous in the hush.

You lead me to the Ancient Cultures Room. I watch you fondle

the potsherds, your hands passing through the glass-topped display drawers,
hear the rolling burr of you reading the signs aloud to me.

The oyster-shell halves are from a midden recently excavated,

the trash of ancient trade, leavings of a tribe a thousand miles
from the sea. The scrap of charred mammoth-tusk in a leather
pouch thinned to translucence by time was a hunter’s charm.

You shake your head, whisper in my right ear what the shaman

it belonged to is saying in your left. We go on, room to room
together, tasting the words for tools that hands no longer hold:
adze, awl, club, hide scraper.

The drum you run a blunt fingertip across murmurs to us. You

strike it with the flat of your palm. Behind us, a ghost-heron rises
shrieking. You patter your fingers over the drumhead a dozen times
and the room fills: Spirit-ravens and ghost-elk crowd around and
between us. My arm slips from your grasp and then they’re gone, and
you with them.

Grade-school tours swirl around me in a parti-colored eddying

stream as I look at displays of the things time erases. Is the hand
of God you saw on the mountains still on the titmice here, bridled,
crested, and stuffed?


(photo: Wikipedia)


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