Human Knowledge

About the only thing I thought I knew
was that nothing I’d ever know would do
any good. Sunrise, say, or that the part
of the horse’s hoof that most resembles
a human palm is called the frog;
certain chords on the guitar of no mercantile use;
the abstruse circuitry of an envelope
quatrain; even the meaning of horripilation.
 
Sometimes on a flatland mound the ancients had made,
I took heart in the pointlessness of stars
and lay there until my teeth chattered.
I earned my last Boy Scout merit badge
building a birdhouse out of license plates
manufactured by felons in the big house.
No more paramilitary organizations for me,
I said, ten years before I was drafted.
 
I had skills. Sure-footedness and slick
fielding. Eventually I would learn to unhook
a bra one-handed, practicing on my friend,
his sister's worn over his T-shirt (I took
my turns too). One Easter Sunday I hid
through the church service among the pipes
of the organ and still did not have faith,
although my ears rang until Monday.
 
I began to know that little worth knowing
was knowable and faith was delusion.
I began to believe I believed in believing
nothing I was supposed to believe in,
except the stars, which, like me,
were not significant, except for their light,
meaning I loved them for their pointlessness.
I believed I owned them somehow.
 
A C major 7th chord was beautiful and almost rare.
The horse I loved foundered and had to be
put down. The middle rhyme in an envelope
quatrain was not imprisoned if it was right.
In cold air a nipple horripilates
and rises, the sun comes up and up and up,
a star that bakes the eggs
in a Boy Scout license plate birdhouse.
 
God was in music and music was God.
A drill sergeant seized me by my dog tag
chain and threatened to beat me
to a pile of bloody guts for the peace sign
I’d chiseled in the first of my two tags,
the one he said they’d leave in my mouth
before they zipped the body bag closed.
Yet one more thing I’d come to know.
 
He also said that Uncle Sam owned my ass,
no more true than my ownership
of the stars. I can play a C major 7th chord
in five or six places on the neck of a guitar.
A stabled horse’s frog degrades; a wild horse’s
becomes a callus, smooth as leather.
Stars are invisible in rainy weather,
something any fool knows, of course.
 

Robert Wrigley, "Human Knowledge" from Box.  Copyright © 2017 by Robert Wrigley.  Used by permission of Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Source: Box (Penguin Random House, 2017)
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