Bent Tree, Straight Shadow

April 18, 2011

The skeletal Mr. Bloch flunked me in physics.
He gathered some courage and told me I’d never tried.
What if I had?
                        I’d still have been mystified.
Something has always gone wrong between me and numbers.
The thing that stopped me dead in my tracks, for instance,
on the northside slope of Checkerberry Knoll,
at three o’clock today, in January,

Vermont, 2008—the thing I saw
would all add up for one whose mind’s behavior
was different from mine,
                        but I stood still in wonder
while the scurfy trunk of a half-dead sugar maple
got struck somehow by the unobstructed sun
and showed a shadow straight as string on the snow.
I couldn’t make it make sense. Bent tree, straight shadow.

Would some equation explain it? Maybe, but not
my thinking, which flew off anyway but straight.
To Bloch, as it happened:
                        Blackboard-chalked cheap suit,
oversized and wrinkled like animal skin.
Haywire hair. An expression between pure rage
and pain as our pack of brutish adolescents—
all in a circle, dreaming up jibes so sharp

we’d dream they drew blood—jeered the hopeless teacher.
None of us wanted to grow up Mr. Bloch.
Neither did Bloch,
                        I’d bet. So if  when you talk
of the young you grow lyric, you’ve never known a child
or never been one. It takes a lifetime, it seems,
to have a heart, to make certain things add up. 
I wondered whether the man still strode this earth.

Cold snow chirped underfoot as I strode along
in search of more legible signs. Dark blood and hair
and frozen dung  
                        said the deer gave the neck just there.
It was easy to figure:  the pack of coyotes circling,
the kill, the parts all dragged downhill and up.
When I arrived, there was nothing else remaining
besides that blood, the shitballs, the scattered hairclumps.

The backbone, the hooves,
                        the very hide—all missing.