Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Living in Layers

Living in Layers

By Joel Peckham

To Cyrus Atefat-Peckham

A shout and mammoths shudder.
Bones which once frightened you
to desperate weeping seem
to quiver as you run, back and across
and forward  again, like some sunblown
shell on white sandstone. That light
and blinding. Son we are walking
again through ages, me reverent, solemn,
you skipping, dancing, in and out
of the ropes which cordon off,
the dead from the dead from the living.

Jurassic, Paleolithic, Mesozoic—and you

stop—in the gallery of the great inland
waterway  where walls shudder
with an ancient sea—the artist
topping jaws in hunger on the spines
of sharks, eyes (so many eyes) glassed in
with something like longing. But this
does not matter to a boy lost in some

strange cold thrill on a Midwest Saturday
morning in July; what matters is the stone
beneath your feet, beneath  the plexi-glass

partition where bones of a great, bulldog
tarpon swim eternally northward,
block-jawed and dangerous. You jump

back and scream in fear,


delight, then

stomp and stomp and stomp on the glass
as if to shake the fish, the walls, the sea itself

to life with all its ages and no one to stop you.


Joel Peckham

Joel Peckham's reviews, essays, scholarly articles, and poetry have been published in numerous journals, including The Black Warrior Review, Passages North, River Teeth, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. He is the author of two poetry collections, Nightwalking (Pecan Grove P), and The Heat of What Comes (Pecan Grove P). He currently is an Assistant Professor of American Literature at The University of Cincinnati, Clermont College.

Return To TOC