Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence



By Brenda Hillman

Under the medical lights of the Ice Age Exhibit
the mastadon  looked like a wrecked ship.
Saturdays I stood with my brother
on the tundra
watching children put their hands  through the ropes
to touch the remains of the hyena,
the rusted bird with one egg
and the mural of glaciers, blue and stopped.

We'd done the dinosaurs:  Brontosaurus
in the drowsy swamp
sucking the dripping weed from his lip—
30 tons of ignorance—
and grinning Allosaurus with his limp claws raised;
neither would outlast the other,
the paragraph explained,  only the dreamy
insect in the fern would survive

and the names I memorized:
“Thunder Lizard,” “Three Horn Face,”
“the Double Beamed”—words
like dinosaurs  themselves, crouching
in their increments on the Time Line.
I watched my brother through a skeleton,
getting bored,
wanting to go on to the airplanes.


The mastadon watched too, propped
on his chrome crutches, his gondola
tusks tipped back the way they found him
in Siberia, just having eaten.
I recall a swelling arrow pointing
to a map of nothing, bones
in slings of wires,
the shaking walls that kept us from the Bronze Age,


and off to the right, in a shallow stall,
a wax man being buried
among furs and leaves
with paintings of fat bison above him
and faces of other Neanderthals, weeping.


Evolution: Bones of a Poem: 1983-2013

2013 version:

Ice age



children put

of the hyena

rusted             egg




dripping weed



the paragraph


and the names

“the Double Beamed”— words



my brother

getting bored


chrome crutches       gondola





 wax man          buried

furs and leaves

Neanderthals, weeping

Original verison, Prairie Schooner, Vol. 57, No. 3 (Summer 1983), pp. 68-69


Brenda Hillman Photo by

Brett Hall Jones

Brenda Hillman has published eight collections of poetry, all from Wesleyan University Press: White Dress, Fortress, Death Tractates, Bright Existence, Loose Sugar, Cascadia, Pieces of Air in the Epic, and Practical Water, for which she won the LA Times Book Award for Poetry; and three chapbooks: Coffee, 3 A.M. (Penumbra P); Autumn Sojourn (Em P); and The Firecage (a+bend p). Her ninth collection of poetry, Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, was longlisted for the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry.

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