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.