Two Poems

Stephanie Burt

Tourmalines

I used to collect them;
they gather a charge under pressure, piezoelectric
(I was proud to know the word),
semi-precious when clear, pink or green; mine were half an inch thick,
striated, unpopular, cheap enough to hoard.
In science museums and gift shops I learned to detect them
amid the stacks of greater souvenirs.

At the Smithsonian’s cavernous
Museum of Natural History, for example,
on the first floor, to the right, in the minerals hall
behind the apparently ravenous
wooden T. Rex, I could pick out a thumb-sized sample
for the price of a Superball,
then wait in the rotunda with my peers,
sixth-grade boys and girls in puffy coats.

The girls put their hair up as if for a special occasion;
the boys slouched, weedy, scared.
The taxidermy elephant cocked an ear.
A few blocks down, the Democrats under Reagan
were trading away their votes;
they filed like visitors into the Senate, prepared
to watch the Great Society disappear.

A Covered Bridge in Littleton, New Hampshire

I can remember when I wanted X
more than anything ever – for X fill in
from your own childhood [list of examples]

[balloon, pencil lead, trading card, shoelaces, a bow
or not to have to wear a bow]

and now I am moved to action, when I am moved,
principally by a memory of what to want.

The point is to be, in your own eyes, what you are,

or to keep your own tools, so that you can pretend.

And so it was no surprise,
to me at least, when Cooper, who is two,
collapsed in fortissimo fits when he could not have
a $20, three-foot-long stuffed frog
in the image of Frog from Frog and Toad, since he is Toad.

That morning, needing a nap,
he had thrown, from the third-storey balcony
of Miller’s Cafe and Bakery, into the whistling
rapids and shallows
of the Ammonoosuc River, with its arrowheads and caravans of stones,
his Red Sox cap. His hair was shining like
another planet’s second sun
as he explained, looking up, ‘I threw my hat in the river.
I would like my hat back now.’