Poetry from Diane Scholl: In the Field Museum

We’re beginning to look ahead to issue 87.3/4 which will go to press this fall and we thought it would be fun to release a few pieces from it early. Maybe this tempts you to renew your subscription or download our last issue (for free) to see if NDQ is something that you’d like to read regularly.

Diane Scholl’s “In the Field Museum” nudges us to contemplate the “pure truth” of the museum with its “refusal to look like death.” Perhaps it takes on additional meaning this summer against the backdrop of the continuing COVID pandemic (which hit Chicago particularly hard) and restrictions on gathering, traveling, and cultural institutions like museums and galleries. If you like her work, check out more of her poetry in her recently published chapbook Salt from Seven Kitchens Press.

The Field Museum has reopened, by the way, but do continue remember that these days are particularly challenging for many cultural institutions, publishers, and little magazines. If you can, consider buying a book from a small presssubscribing to a literary journal, or otherwise supporting the arts. 


In the Field Museum

Not the dinosaur’s hulk
overhead, clean sepulcher
of fine articulated paths,
not even the marketplace
in Senegal, street sounds
and percussive beat pulsing
like an agitated heart,
can rival this pure truth:
bright painted mask, impassive
and implacable; underneath
and just out of view,
dried husk of a cockeyed grin
clothed in parchment
where nothing grows, trove
designed to tempt it away:
beetle-backed scarab,
yellow cat’s eye, ibis mirror
with its jeweled bits gleaming.
All four of us get down
to peer through the window
in the floor, awed rather
than frightened, knowing
that will come later.
You lie full length, nose
pressed to glass, as if
by looking you could see
the stained strips, peel
them down to skin and bone.
Then we descend again
to the first floor playroom
with its ripe cornstalks,
lifelike enough so you can
pick and store in baskets,
pueblo with its rough grindstone
waiting like a promise. For now
you’ve forgotten. When you
chase each other you run wild
with abandon past the neatly
feathered fossil ferns that
cry out to be touched,
refusing to look like death.


Diane Scholl is Professor Emerita of English at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, where she taught American and modern British literature, literature by women, and theology and literature.  Her poems have been published in Cider Press Review, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and The Christian Century, among other places. This poem also appeared in her recently published chapbook Salt which is in the editor’s series from Seven Kitchen Press.

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