Seth Grindstaff - At the Melbourne Museum
the order in which we encountered exhibits
was as important as encountering them at all.
The first had us follow the lives
of a handful of Australian soldiers
before, during, and after the First World War.
One room was circular to give us a 360 degree view
of a pre-War countryside. We stood and turned as
everything projected in green around us turned to ash
again and again as the film looped.
Some areas displayed letters and packages from
home, like a pair of baby shoes returned to sender.
Another station presented medical advancements
of the period: how glass eyes worked, how wooden legs
attached, how jaws were rebuilt, and skin grafted.
The next exhibit showcased an ark’s worth
of taxidermy animals from around the world
featured in a bright, multi-tiered room. Quite an exit
from a war, with every Disney character accounted for
--even a dodo frozen midstride. I thought
of the true shape of their glass eyes, of how
their jaws were not their own, that they didn’t shape
their last words. I wondered what their skins now cover
and if their hearts too have been replaced with something
as hard as human history. Silent, I found myself still
posed by an all too easy acceptance of this past, wired
down and fixed to facts, as not to tremble when terror
reoccurs, with a jaw shaped to say “of course,” to preserve
without a blink. My mind returned to a soldier
who had his face reconstructed after surviving
a grenade. I could barely tell from the picture,
but surgery left him without tear ducts. And when he
came home, his girl broke off their engagement.
Eyes dry, he returned to farming, sensitive to dust
with no way of showing it. I imagine he spent the rest
of life adding his own synthetic tears through a dropper,
like the dampened eyes of the taxidermy otter
which shone from an application of clear glaze
to help them appear wet and alive, an expression I’ve
missed somewhere, numbed by an education
of information, taught that tears blur the numbers or
stain the pages of textbooks.
Seth Grindstaff is a creative writing teacher residing among the hills of northeast Tennessee. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in The Mockingbird, Sheila-Na-Gig online, The Dead Mule, and has also been honored at the John Fox Jr literary festival in VA. He spends his time alongside his sun-loving wife and foster children.