Robert Wrigley’s Poem “Human Knowledge”

typewriter american poetry review

Human Knowledge by Robert Wrigley, courtesy of The American Journal of Poetry

Human Knowledge

About the only thing I thought I knew
was that nothing I would 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; 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 Cub Scout merit badge
building a bird house 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-7 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 perfect.
In cold air a nipple horripilates
and rises, the sun came up and up and up,
a star that would bake the eggs
in a Cub 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-7 chord
at least eight places on the neck of a guitar.
A stabled horse’s frog degrades, a wild horse’s
becomes a callous, smooth as leather.
Stars are invisible in rainy weather,
something any fool knows, of course.

ROBERT WRIGLEY will publish a new book of poems, My Other Country (with Penguin) in April, 2017.  He is Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at the University of Idaho.


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