by J. T. Barbarese

When he was young he used to spend the whole summer

in the abandoned slag heaps around the old mines

outside the city of Scranton. It would take him hours

to pick through the shale stacks, the sweat writing lines

in the dust on his face, and the old ball peen hammer

slung from his belt pinching his belly button.

Some days there was nothing to read but the signatures

of ice and erosion and tools. Then he'd find one,

a slate unnaturally filigreed with the fright masks

of a trilobite, ferns, the inferior commissures

of ancient clams. He would wrap them in moist newspaper

and carry them carefully home. Once his teacher asked

him to talk to the class about fossils.

Satan plants them to trick us,

he said. When I get home I smash them to pieces.

J. T. Barbarese teaches English at Rutgers University. He is the author of (1989) and of a translation of Euripides's (1999).

All material copyright © 2000 . All rights reserved.