Matt Dennison

The Various

When I was quite young, our neighbors’ daughter
was going to school to be a teacher and had learned
from her parents I spent many hours alone
in the woods. Eager to find out what questions
an eight-year-old boy might have regarding
the natural world, I was summoned to their house,
made to sit, offered a cookie and the opportunity
to ask any and all questions I might have
but I had none. I was the woods—the streams,
the river, the trees, the skulls, bones and fossils,
the earth breaking from tree roots exposed above
stream beds, all creatures under rock, in soil and air—
the soft-spined hellgrammite, the various suckers
and snails, catfish and bass and dinosaur gar
from another world—turtles snapping and boxed,
snakes of water and land, insects under bark
and on carcasses, the dried skins of discarded
fish in the weeds, hornets under downed limbs,
soils both sandy and clay-like, the slick clay itself
and snake grass and arrowheads and Civil War bullets
and rusty old beer cans so empty it hurt and bridges
of wood and concrete with bad words layered
and scraped into each and sand caves under trestles
where wild boys died for being wild boys and springs
from hillsides with water so cool and reaching my hand
into holes in the riverbank, praying for fight or shaking
hands with God at the tug of a fish and the struggle to
catch, to have and to hold small creatures and save them
in dark places, lift them in bright spaces and look into
their eyes to see if I could see myself staring back from heaven—
but I had no questions for the teacher-to-be and I did not care,
for I had small monsters in alcohol pill bottles, spread across
pinboards, staring from shelves, whispering from walls
and sleep talking in drawers who had already told me
everything I would ever need to know.