Poem in the Arms of Tyrannosaurus Rex
I was a boy when the dinosaurs
dragged their dead-weight tails
through the museums of knowledge:
so suffocating their mass, the marvel of it was they lived at all.
But by the time I got to university, they had evolved:
those tails rose from the mud and stuck straight out like yardarms,
and they did a yardarm’s work;
the old monsters leapt up and raced, sleek Olympians.
Out with the Frankensteinian shuffle and moan,
in with hotfooting it after a jeep and roaring
like three tenors into an oil drum.
And now that I am the age of my students’ fathers,
the terrible lizards have clothed themselves in brilliant feathers –
them and all their descendants who hatch from the symbols of birth
and grow, singing, into the symbols of freedom.
Everything changes, even extinction.
But through it all, a constant – the tiny arms of Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Everybody loves those arms,
part puzzle, part mystery, part joke –
hands that reach neither mouth nor prey,
ridiculous limbs that interrupt the symmetry
of an otherwise streamlined aesthetic,
like the penis of a naked man in profile.
Someday, check out the skeleton of a whale.
There are leg bones there, tucked in the flesh
like bits of shrapnel no one bothered to remove,
a fact you know but never use in conversation.
What if those Tyrannosaurus arms never showed,
but stayed, creased upon themselves,
remembering the time when the rest of the body wasn’t
so pure and efficient that it could strike with a neck like a bullwhip,
crush and pound with trip-hammer legs,
and lay open a Triceratops with its jackknife jaws alone?
What if, inside that chest,
the Tyrant King folded his secret hands in vestigial prayer?
What would we have to laugh at then?
How else could we make the terrifying monarch of life
into a caricature of us,
who have lived so briefly
where he reigned so long?
from On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood (Wolsak and Wynn, 2016), Richard Harrison 2016, used by permission of the author and the publisher