"Twenty-First Century Exhibit"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Nov. 27 2007 7:42 AM

"Twenty-First Century Exhibit"

Listen  to Tomás Q. Morin read this poem.


At the Museum of Natural History,
three guards in blue eyed us while the fourth,

shorter than the others, traced our bodies
with a wand. Satisfied, they returned our keys,

coffee, eyeglasses, and marched us into the exhibit
crafted to look like an office purged of its desks,

its loping workers, the maze of gray-board cubicles.  
In the center of the room, a water cooler

stood patiently. In vain, we tried to explicate
the intent: "A metaphor for the modern personality,"

said a man with cockroach eyebrows. "No,
it's the perfect marriage of form and content,"

uttered a woman in a beret. Just then, the artist,
who had been hidden among us, crossed the rope

and knelt at the cooler, his lips working the spigot
while the rest of us stared, tongues too dumb

to say anything as the water hiccuped and disappeared. 
He gleefully pointed at his rounded belly,

and then waddled to a door without a doorknob
marked with the universal triangle for toilet. 

His work begun, he signaled to an unseen hand
to soften the lamps above us to a kinder orange

so he could more easily study us, his creation,
so he could attempt to learn what can't be learned,

like why I hate tuna salad garnished with pickle,
how my father wore it on his sleeve—pink-green

like his heart—the day he busted my nose
for spitting and then again for crying about it.

How could anyone ever know this by looking? 
Still, he persisted with the examination

and turned us over in his mind, prizing our flaws
because they conferred character,

even as his own body began to betray him,
the sharp pain in his groin growing sharper. 

And if it had been one of us across the rope,
on the rack for art, how long would we have waited

to shout finito! or genius! once our bladders
had swelled like accordions and we were dancing

our own version of the dervish he was madly spinning? 
Bored with ordinary agony, we slouched

toward the tribal wail, the old altar and rot displays
of the twentieth-century wing now under renovation. 

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