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by J. T. Barbarese

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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 New Science (1989) and of a translation of Euripides's Children of Heracles (1999).

All material copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
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