Transcendentalism

The professor stabbed his chest with his hands curled like forks
before coughing up the question
that had dogged him since he first read Emerson:
Why am I “I”? Like musk oxen we hunkered
while his lecture drifted against us like snow.
If we could, we would have turned our backs into the wind.

I felt bad about his class’s being such a snoozefest, though peaceful too,
a quiet little interlude from everyone outside
rooting up the corpse of literature
for being too Caucasian. There was a simple answer
to my own question (how come no one loved me,
stomping on the pedals of my little bicycle):

I was insufferable. So, too, was Emerson I bet,
though I liked If the red slayer think he slays
the professor drew a giant eyeball to depict the Over-soul.
Then he read a chapter from his own book:
naptime.
He didn’t care if our heads tipped forward on their stalks.

When spring came, he even threw us a picnic in his yard
where dogwood bloomed despite a few last
dirty bergs of snow. He was a wounded animal
being chased across the tundra by those wolves,
the postmodernists. At any moment
you expected to see blood come dripping through his clothes.

And I am I who never understood his question,
though he let me climb to take a seat
aboard the wooden scow he’d been building in the shade
of thirty-odd years. How I ever rowed it
from his yard, into my life—remains a mystery.
The work is hard because the eyeball’s heavy, riding in the bow.

Lucia Perillo, “Transcendentalism” from Inseminating the Elephant. Copyright © 2009 by Lucia Perillo. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.
Source: Inseminating the Elephant (Copper Canyon Press, 2009)
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