When I moved in with her, I thought now
I won’t have to look it up:
rubidium, Calvin Trillin, the fourth-
longest river in Brazil.
The lunar mountain ranges
zoomed in. Zygotes and paramecia
made themselves known. She
could cook a mean boeuf bourguignon,
then rank the leading authorities
on the aspiration of the h
or mystical tenses of Latin verbs.
But you are so creative, there’s
not a creative bone in my body,
she would say, when I insisted
before friends we had recently met
that not I but she was the brain.
Now that she is gone,
now I can feel secure, one
of my thoughts sending another
down through the foggy
databases, the fractures,
and the unions. Here boy,
I whistle to the dog of my thoughts.
I am thinking how,
before I lived with her,
I was known as the brain,
but I valued the heart more than the brain,
and more than the heart,
the flag of the erogenous zones—
loving me was like patriotism,
but I was not fit to live with her.
I knew, when she began to chant
and burn incense to the Asian saints,
I did not know her secret anything.
Still, I had ideas, insights,
a brain like the world’s mute,
intelligence. With that same
brain now I hold our ill-starred,
of happiness and tragedy.
Yet when I need to know
how spinnerets work
or the distance to Alpha Centauri,
I think of her, not for long
or at any depth, or what
she was, but the last
compliment that means anything
is the compliment to memory.
from Kingdom of the Instant, Houghton Mifflin, 2002.