128.1: Brian Henry:: Home School 128

A planet, a bug, a First Lady, math, "a clean hole," a quote from his life home schooling his children, and a Dictionary.com word of the day. Nine sentences in each of nine sections. Within this formally informal (or informally formal) structure, Brian Henry probes the limits of what we know and how we decide what we know. At the center of this poem is what is absent: Pluto, the former ninth planet. What most of us learned growing up about our solar system is now defunct, and as Henry sits at his kitchen table teaching his children about the world, he finds that he is "[s]ome scapegrace over-exerting himself, suffering around the yard." The facts and statements in this poem accumulate much as a teacher attempts to provide the required and necessary information to a young student. But rather than illuminating the world, this accumulation boggles the mind, facts are left to float disconnected from the reason we might need to know them: "Uranus’ rings go like this. Push outward toward less. A googol divided by ten is a dogillion." What we realize is that our understanding of the world is dependent on what we call the world: is Pluto a planet or a dwarf planet? If the former, we include it in the lesson plan and on the test. If the latter, we all but forget it exists. Henry brings us to understanding by returning us to the viewpoint of the young student: bright eyed, curious, perpetually confused, but determined to make some sense of this crazy world. Andrew Wessels

Home School


Some scapegrace over-exerting himself, suffering around the yard. Worm, termite, beetle, worm. A clean hole—snake or spider. Soil moves easy, won’t complain. The boy stomps it, a billion dwarf planets. A shooting star is not a star. Even if you could stay afloat on Jupiter, gravity would crush you. Caroline Harrison died in her office, her widower married her niece. Only the outer planets have rings.

*

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington took her time. No horse loves its rider. After the war, he tried to settle down. Anything divided by zero is infinity. Peggy Parish didn’t die, she’s in the land of Nod. Gerald Ford is resting in Michigan. A bee has bored its way into the deck—a clean hole. Whatever happened to the verdant green? Mercury has lost its moons.

*

If it splits, it’s not a dinosaur bone. Violin, swivel chair, elevated bed. I was a feckless spendthrift. A million million is a trillion. Rachel Jackson died before Andy was elected. Saturn’s rings shine (a clean hole). The palm was made to blister and moil. Row me out on the pond. Into that mosquito cloud.

*

The surface of Eris is sentient. And then there’s the inner belt. Vegan mice eat vegan cheese. One tick at a time. Hannah Van Buren was no wastrel. A deer has scraped a clean hole by the begonias. Beneath the dirt, clay. Beneath the clay, bones. You cannot talk about fractions of animals.

*

Tuesday wants to be blue. Like Frances Cleveland. To lead a hugger-mugger life. Venus is just hanging up there. Elk litter the hill above the hot springs. The thermal panic grass immune to locusts. Multiplication, like addition, is commutative; multiplication, like addition, is associative. A swift yet firm tug should remove that tooth. A clean hole.

*

Uranus’ rings go like this. Push outward toward less. A googol divided by ten is a dogillion. That is a neologism. George Washington was a biscuit. A clean hole. Open like petals after rain. A ladybird walks the curtain. Letitia Tyler would know how to dissuade it.

*

If I fall into a hole I’ll see Ellen Arthur. A clean hole. Here is where you come up with a metaphor. The sister is a star she shines so bright. It’s always better to be prime. A firefly disports in the yard. The boy swivels after it. Watch your step. Mars is rusty.

*

A clean hole. The dog revolves around the yard. Neptune saunters beyond beyond. To slake his desire for regular orbits. Here come the fire ants. Sarah Polk used grits to burst their bellies. Otherwise they breed factorial. Europe divided by Europe equals Europe error. There’s no such thing as rain.

*

Dolly Madison serviced two Presidents. Three halves is improper. The girl scurries up the door jamb. The praying mantis rips a clean hole. Ne plus ultra of something or other. Earth grinds onward. The boy at the chalkboard, the dog under the table. The voice on the other end. We’re strangers to strangers.