MANUAL LABORS

 

 

G. C. Waldrep

ON THE APPRENTICESHIP
OF THE INVISIBLE HAND

Inside the kernel lies the tooth of a deer.
The tooth of a deer is a small thing, like a grain of rice
on which the entire works of Dostoyevsky have been inscribed.
In the mouth of a deer, the tooth of a deer
works in the same way all the words of Dostoyevsky work:
in small increments, an ethicist's paradox.
Either the universe is expanding or else it is not.
To the deer, this is all a matter of heat-sensing technology
and bicameralism. To the meadows
the deer exist as brief interruptions in photosynthesis.
It's as if you had just sat down, with your lover,
for a sumptuous meal, only to have the telephone ring.
On the other end is Dostoyevsky.
You understand the logic of your predicament:
if you choose your lover, then when you die you will go
to a hell where the deer are the warders.
You imagine their red eyes in the firelight, their sharp horns.
If you choose Dostoyevsky, you will spend eternity
inside a grain of rice: clean and pure, but lonely
and very, very small. For the deer
your choice is simply a matter of quantum valence.
Lying in the bosky places, awaiting dusk, they contemplate
their teeth, the French curves of their jawbones.
Theirs is always a conference call.
Inside each tooth the ghost of a forest
bides its time. The ghosts of the forests are always
broadcasting, in almost imperceptible waves of choral longing.
The deer hear this idly, the way sometimes, late at night,
we hear phantom radio stations
coming through the iron, the toaster,
even the fillings of our teeth, some kind of Mexico
or Russia reaching through us, the way consequence reaches
through us and into the future. In the future
Dostoyevsky is waiting to take root again,
to sprout, to blossom. In the future
the universe will cease expanding and rush back towards us
or else continue expanding indefinitely, into the void,
and the deer will disappear the way candles do,
all wax and burning. Their teeth will become a currency.
All the koans will ask Which came first, the kernel or the tooth?
When they ask, you must answer The tooth.
And the ghosts of the forests will be listening.
All of Mexico and Russia will be listening.
From deep inside the toaster, Dostoyevsky will be listening.
Slowly, your lover will unspool a congress of radios
from her thigh. They will vote on your fate.
You will remember, then, the soft lips of the deer,
the insistent occlusion of their bodies.
Nothing depends on the universe. Nothing depends on prayer.
In the meadow, you were happy, once.
You taught the children how to sing the old songs.
And the water: God, the water. There was so much water.
And all of it pure. And yours. And everyone's.