A Field Trip
History looks out on the playing field
and some chestnuts in bloom along the Seine,
which is out of bounds.
These kids are too big for the classroom.
They knock over chairs, fumbling for gear—
compass tip to caress, electronics to drop.
Outside, on the pitch, playing football,
they aren’t clumsy, they are graceful,
they are dancers who sink to the green turf
coupled like lovers. The chemistry teacher
explains about gasses, how lungs dissolve
like cotton candy on the tongue and you drown;
he reads a poem by Wilfred Owen
and leaves with his models of gas
molecules: green for chlorine, yellow for sulfur,
mustard gas like a playground structure.
Pupils slump over written work—
Battle of the Somme, July ’16,
death tolls abstract as sums.
We have to go, learn with our hands
like the blind: pat the good dog
artillery, fondle bayonets, pace
off the long divisions of graves,
on our fingers tot up the plus signs.