Poetry Fiction 2008

Sketchbook

More

     Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1635

Because so often he has entered the body,
its torso, freshly sanitized, its legs and arteries,
the red curve on the under-chin executed so deftly
by the hangman’s rope; because he has entered
the forearm and cortex, the lobes and hidden
vortices, deeper, then deeper, until what remains—
shallow, undissected flesh—seems simple lines,
their one dimension shadowless;
and because he is tired and has been himself
a subject,

     Tulp crumples his page, then tries again
to sketch his caged orangutan. Placid, insouciant,
the animal slips its shallow glances upward,
downward, from the white-ruffed shape shaping it
to the lap and simple page, as the first lines quicken
and a ratted brow begins. There a nostril,
and there a shadowing, a depth that plumps
the cheek pouch, the finger’s wrinkled
vortices. Slumped at their separate walls, neither
meets the other’s eyes,

     although, equally, each
completes the circling gaze—man to beast to page
to man: two pelt-and-pipesmoke-scented curves,
dimensionless, mammalian. Tick by tick
the minutes pass, page by crumpled page.
Beyond the door, caws and yelps and the clack
of carriage wheels … and still they sit,
Tulp, the ape, content to see the shapes
they’ve known—or felt, or sensed, or turned within—
sloughed in husks across the straw.

Linda Bierds's volume of new and selected poems, Flight, will be published this fall. She teaches at the University of Washington.
Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Social Security: The Greatest Government Policy of All Time?

It's the most effective anti-poverty program in U.S. history. So why do some people hate it?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In