learning about life

when Pete came home from medical school
that first, long summer break
mine was the only bed high enough to take
his anatomical study tool

it’s hard for a twelve year old to get to sleep
was a real-live skeleton underneath
all his skeleton ribs and skeleton teeth
the thought of him gave me the absolute creeps

so I hid a torch under the blankets
and when Pete was off down the pub
I took out the skull and propped him up
and shone a light in his sockets

I said out loud: this was somebody’s HEAD
as I balanced him on the neck of my knees
illuminating all his cavities
trying to imagine him alive instead

watching telly, smoking a fag
eating a bagel, wearing a hat
blowing Christmas tooters, smiling at a cat
but the skull just vacantly grinned at me back

it didn’t help he had brass catches left and right
shining at either temple
to make it really simple
to lift off the top and look inside

like all his dreams and ideas, his sense of style
were just stuff that got locked
in a fancy, bony kind of box
that he carried around for a while

my only experience of death till then
were all the lurid scenes I’d seen
on page and screen
that I acted out with my Action men

death was Eastwood sneering in suits
running down bad guys
then saying his goodbyes
with a sardonic flourish before he shoots

I tried to work up a sense of life’s mystery
the lived past, the lost futures
hidden in the ridges and knotty sutures
that like a god only I could see

but suddenly I heard scuffed keys in the door
heavy feet coming up the stairs
Pete’s drunken airwairs
so I put everything back as it was before

later as I lay there listening to him snoring
I thought about the skull
the strangeness of it all
and life’s great tragedy I’d been ignoring

but then again – maybe the whole thing wasn’t so bad
the skull I’d interrogated
had been willingly donated
and it was helping a drunken undergrad

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