“but sex is what makes us human!”
in 1916 a French officer in his twenties writes his
doctoral dissertation under
heavy mortar fire.
he sends it by mail, a page
at a time, to his wife.
a week before he’s to step up to the podium and
defend his work rather than hiscountry
he is killed in action.
even as the bullets rip
through him he still wishes he could have become a professor
in French literature and
the university awards him a posthumous Ph.D.
a woman breaks down in tears on the phone because
a week is not enough time to
get over a breakup.
her sister drives an hour across town,
comes up the front steps with
a gallon of ice cream and somebeer
and together they eat moose tracks and marathon
she’s late for work but her car isn’t
starting and even through her coat and hat she’s cold.
she knows she can’t be late again because she’s missed
one time too many already because her
father’s nurse was sick with the flu and someone
needed to help him bathe.
the clock ticks past fifteen after and she hits
the wheel like it’s a heavy bag as though that will help
steps on the gas like the car will go
and wonders how she will pay rent
and how she will feed her father.
it takes three people to hold the predator down because
even with the cover over his head
a bleeding eye and shattered wing
he is trying to hurt them.
none of them have seen this bird before in their lives but
they bandage his wing and head and give him a painkiller and
put him in a warm place to sleep and heal because
it is right.
at first he is paralyzed and cannot
fly but soon he is taking steps
and then fluttering, and then soaring, and
six months later he is whole and healed and hunting.
once he is gone they never see him again
which means they’ve done their jobs right.
in 1969 a girl watches grey-and-white footage on her parents’ tiny
can’t quite believe that what she is seeing is not a movie set but
the men on the screen look a little like
aliens with bulbous heads and no faces and fat
but they are still men.
her mother puffs on a cigarette behind her and declares that
this is progress
even if it was just a small step.
the girl grows up to be not an astronaut but a secretary
and her boss calls her ‘sweetheart’.
but sex is
a boy is taught that real men don’t cry so
when his best friend dies from a self-inflicted
gunshot wound, he locks himself
in the shower every day and sobs under scalding
water until it runs cold
so nobody will see him grieving
so nobody will see that tears are just love that
has no place left to go.
he learns to dull love rather than suppress its expression and
soon the owner of the liquor store knows him by name.
three DUIs, two evictions, and twelve steps later,
he is feeding people at a homeless shelter,
and telling them it’s all right to cry.
the broken man tells the comedian
that he didn’t mean to step in front of the car but the rain
made it hard to see.
he seems okay but his leg
the comedian clutches a grubby receipt with the driver’s
plate number scrawled on the back
in pink pen, stands out in the rain so the broken man
can have his umbrella,
and gives him the comedy routine that ruined his career
so the man doesn’t think about the pain in his leg.
once he’s out of the hospital, the fixed man sends him a thank-you card
with kittens on it.
what makes us human
yawning is contagious,
and there is a species of bird whose young we call “pufflings”.
melodic collections of sound, spaced by silence,
can move us to tears.
the tallest building in the world is
two-thousand seven-hundred and seventeen feet tall.
in less than eighty years we went from our first powered flight
to touching the moon,
and in one-hundred from the first phone call
to instantaneous connection between thinking machines of our own
we make pies out of tree organs
and let cow’s milk ferment until it hardens and then
we put them together, because apple pie with cheddar cheese is
what makes us human is
fossils of anatomically modern humans are
thousand years old .
we have had
of those years, longer
the steps we
take are part of
one of the
most energy-efficient gaits the
kingdom has ever seen.
the concepts of love
invented the language to convey them.
rocks, then metal, to convince other people
hold the same idea of those things as we do
we are two
hundred millennia of love and disappointment and
mercy and kindness
but sex is what makes us human.