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  • Poetry

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.

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