35,400 years ago, in a cave on Sulawesi—
fourth-largest Indonesian island—
someone painted a pig on the wall.
It’s been with us since the beginning—
This impulse to create, to say:
We lived; we observed along the way.
They probably ate the pig, too.
History’s first Instagram post!
Look at this thing I’m about to eat!
All this was on my mind last night,
standing at a urinal in a VFW hall,
in a town—and a life—I’m just passing through.
Someone had marked these walls as well,
a celebration of the human spirit:
“Titty,” it said. And then “Skunk.”
Constantly seeking connections and patterns,
I bounced the nouns like blue rubber balls
in the handball court inside my skull.
Well, both excrete, albeit one to nourish,
one to defend. And in this spirit of defense
I returned to the place where I was.
Perhaps the words were a veteran’s reminder
of honorable service. In a sea of softness,
someone needs to protect the burrow.
Although—thanks to curiosity, and the internet—
I’m learning that skunks can be domesticated as pets,
while we all know an innocent titty might harbor Stage 4.
But this is nonsense—an attempt to find meaning
in a world bred and fueled by chaos. I zipped up, claimed my spot
at the bar, and continued to not ask any probing questions
of the man to my left, who, I’d been informed,
had served as a Vietnam medic, and fifty years later
still wore the war. He, more than me or most,
must understand the utter ridiculousness of this
whole human experiment, a riddle best left raveled.
There is no adequate explanation—
Why the bullets or cancers found homes in our friends
and not us. Why we are here while others are not.
Thoughts without answers, 35,400 years old and counting.
All we can do is graffiti our luck we’re alive.
We paint pigs on walls to remind us. We pray.
We say “Grace.” We say “Titty.” We say “Skunk.”
from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Josh Lefkowitz: “The two poems in this issue were both written care of the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center in New York Mills, Minnesota. It’s a town of approximately 1,200 people, which also happens to have this incredible arts center, complete with a visiting artist residency. I spent two of the best weeks of my life there—alone, lost in my work. The town has a diner, a library, and a BBQ restaurant. What more do you need?” ( web)