Sometimes the world, or your life, seems so confusing that you need a call to order -- such as a clear account of world history to remind you how you got here. In his new book, First Course in Turbulence (Univ. of Pittsburgh), Dean Young seems to be making such a gesture. The reader should be aware that the drawing on the cover of the book looks like one of those brilliant doodles of Paul Klee's:
The first people came out of the lake
and their god was the raven. Craving
over the mitochondrial plain. The second people
came out of the volcano and their god,
the shark, ate the raven so the first people
turned orange and died. Song gone, dance
done. No one is sure where the third people
came from but they didn't last long.
Somehow they learned to turn themselves
into toads to frighten their enemies
but the toads couldn't pronounce the spells
to turn themselves back into people
and to this day you'll still hear them trying.
This is where your Wagner got his ideas.
Then the shark god gave birth to the coyote
and the whistling ant who mated with a cloud
and gave birth to a hawk and they all
battled and intermarried so the second people
invented the drum as a way of participating.
It was the drumming that brought forth
the fourth people who thought it was important
to always be elsewhere, searching for
some purple root, some flashy feather
for the hat's brim so most of them
were squashed by trucks when they wandered
onto the interstate at night. By then
the second people were pretty sick of
each other and they dreamed of mating
with fish, with lightning in puzzling
contortions, woke up, and to their credit,
wrote everything down. They would gather
in their condominiums, sharing descriptions
and disagreeing about the use of color and
whether a shovel could symbolize fear of intimacy.
But then it rained and the earth was covered
with water which was bad but not as bad
as when it gets covered with fire which
everyone knows is going to happen next.
Everywhere you look was once a sea and
in the sea grew gigantic serpents and
in their bellies precious stones and
inside the stones the eggs of another people
and inside the people, well you get the idea.
Nothing is ever finished and nothing ever
perishes completely, there is always some
residue. Sometimes, in the dust, a cape clasp.
Sometimes, a rat. Everywhere are carved trees,
burled nameplates, initialed cliffs but
the earth, like a fox in a trap, is never done
gnawing itself just as the gods are never done
bickering and swallowing each other, jealous
of our beauty and ability to die.
No claim lasts.
Flags flapping in breeze become breeze.
Eyesight turns into starlight.
And this is how you've come to be
struggling with cellophane, smashing
the ham sandwich within. Human, sometimes
a stone washed up covered with clues. Sometimes
a tree gets knocked over by wind and inside
is a flint
but how can you know what to ask or answer
when you don't even know who you are.
"Tribe" is from "First Course in Turbulence" by Dean Young, (c)1999. Reprinted by permission of the Univ. of Pittsburgh Press.