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Rebecca Lehmann

Natural History

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, November 25, 2015.
About this Poem 

“When I wrote this poem, I was thinking about the opening command from Genesis (Let there be light), and about science, and the relationship of both of those things to everyday life. The poem uses light as a trope to telescope forward through time, beginning with the big bang, and ending with Tina, a girl I used to know who was really good at handsprings, and a children’s sleepover party where a flashlight serves as a proxy sun. I initially wrote this poem backwards, but in revision flipped it around.”
Rebecca Lehmann

Natural History

Rebecca Lehmann

Tell me the world. Here comes light, unspoken.
Light hooks a claw on the horizon, pulls itself
into view. Here comes water, saline,
scattering single-celled organisms.
Land is a puppet. It climbs hydrothermal vents like stairs.
Lava congeals. Land rises. Here comes land,
hand-springing out of water. Wind is a comma,
pausing the day. At night, wind kicks its legs.
What about multi-celled life? What about invertebrates
and vertebrates? Tell me evolution.
Tell me old growth forests. Tell me a rainbow.
Tell me blue-tailed skinks. Here comes science,
explaining eyeballs. Look, here come the stars.
Here comes a commuter train, hopping the rails
and crashing into an empty sidewalk
at 2:30 in the morning. Here come sparklers.
Use them to trace letters of light in the darkness.
Here comes someone’s childhood cat. Here comes a paper
about George Washington, complete with colored
pencil illustrations of his many sets of false teeth.
Tell me bourgeois glass lanterns strung from a live oak.
Tell me a graveyard bigger than its town.
Please understand I mean no harm. Hold the phone.
Here comes Tina, hand-springing across the backyard.
Here comes a tent. Wind boxes its nylon sides,
scaring the children, their sleeping bags unfurled
and arranged like daisy petals. Tell me a flashlight.

Copyright © 2015 by Rebecca Lehmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 25, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2015 by Rebecca Lehmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 25, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Joy Harjo

Classic Books of American Poetry

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James Wright, Academy Fellowship recipient, at a poetry reading at the Donnell Library Center, New York City, 1972