Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Dr. Loomis sought to understand the skeletal structure of the human arm and hand.
Why does the upper arm have just one long bone (the humerus),
While the forearm boasts two (the radius and ulna)?
Further, why does this progression expand and bloom into five phalanges, or fingers?
Consider the humerus first, the doctor advises his young students.
It springs from the shoulder and, in turn, from the torso, as solid and utilitarian as a wagon wheel.
The simple single bone (he continues),
Facilitates the straightforward actions of warfare or farming:
Why does this simplicity give way to ambivalence?
(No useful postulations issue from the students' gallery.)
Perhaps the radius and ulna reflect the conflicting urges to grasp and to draw back.
Combined with the gender-based, inherent split in all bones--
The masculine "robust" and the feminine "gracile"--
We have, clearly, a limb at odds with itself, shaking apart, disintegrating into ever more numerous shoots and branches.
Fine for botany, observes Dr. Loomis dryly (eliciting a ripple of superior chuckles from his charges),
But it will hardly do for human anatomy.
The double bones of the forearm may suffice for slightly more complex motions,
Such as operating a weaver's shuttle, or manipulating the mechanisms of a weapon,
But, when speaking of finer tasks,
Writing a letter to inform that a loved one has died,
Touching a lovers' skin, puzzling whether silence denotes contentment or ennui,
These things require the bizarre profusion of digits at limbs' end,
A removal from what is really understood,
And distance from the rational mind, locked in its bony case.
Dr. Loomis rejects medicine and turns to astrology, religion, and superstitious rite.
He tells the unfinished faces looking up at him, as his students pause in their note taking.
"I haven't the god damnedest idea why."
Then, he crumbles,
Collapsing onto the single wooden chair beside the dais,
His tired face hidden in his folded arms with their troika of perplexing, vexing, ridiculous bones.