Natural History

By Rae Armantrout b. 1947 Rae Armantrout

Discomfort marks the boundary.

One early symptom was the boundary.

The invention of hunger.   
I could use energy.

To serve.

Elaborate systems in the service of   
far-fetched demands.

The great termite mounds serve   
as air-conditioners.

Temperature within must never vary   
more than 2 degrees.


Which came first
the need or the system?

System player.   
Scheme of Things.

The body considered as a functional unit.   
“My system craves calcium.”

An organized set of doctrines.

A network formed for the purpose of ...   

“All I want is you.”


was narrowing their options to one,   
the next development.

Soldiers have elongate heads and massive mandibles.   
Squirtgun heads are found among fiercer species.   
Since soldiers cannot feed themselves, each requires   
a troupe of attendants.


Her demands had become more elaborate.

He must be blindfolded,
   (Must break off his own wings)   
wear this corset laced tight
   (seal up the nuptial cell)
to attain his heart’s desire.

Move only as she permits
   (Mate the bloated queen each season)   
or be hung from the rafters.
How did he get here?


Poor baby,
I heard your hammer.

The invention of pounding.

“As soon as it became important   
that free energy be channeled.”

Once you cared to be   
set off
from the surrounding medium.

This order has been preferred
since improvement was discovered.

The moment one intends to grow   
at the expense.

When teeth emerge

Demand for special treatment   
was an early symptom

Rae Armantrout, “Natural History” from Veil: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2001 by Rae Armantrout. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Veil: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2001)

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Poet Rae Armantrout b. 1947


SCHOOL / PERIOD Language Poetry

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Rae  Armantrout


Rae Armantrout, one of the founding members of the West Coast group of Language poets, stands apart from other Language poets in her lyrical voice and her commitment to the interior and the domestic. Her short-lined poems are often concerned with dismantling conventions of memory, pop culture, science, and mothering, and these unsparing interrogations are often streaked with wit. “You can hold the various elements of my poems in . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics


SCHOOL / PERIOD Language Poetry

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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