Northwest Schools of Literature: Texts

13. Heather McHugh, "Past All Understanding"

Heather McHugh, “Past All Understanding,” from The Father of the Predicaments
(Hanover, New Hamp.: University Press of New England, 1999), 23-24.

The langouste’s long feelers may be the result of a single thought.
—Ezra Pound

For it is the opinion of choice virtuosi that the brain is only a crowd of little animals,
but with teeth and claws extremely sharp . . .
—Jonathan Swift

A woman there was balancing her baby
back-to-back. They held each other’s hands,
did tilts and bends and teeter-totters on
each other’s inclinations, making
casual covalency into
a human idiogram,
spontaneous Pilobolus—
a spectacle at which
the estimable Kooch
(half Border and half Lab)
began to bark. He wouldn’t stop. The child slid off
the woman’s back—now they were two again (and so
he quieted a bit). But they were two who
scowled and stared (now it was I who grew
disquieted). You looked,
I started to explain, like one
big oddity to him. (They weren’t appeased.) He barks at
crippled people too. (Now they were horrified.) Meanwhile a wind
rose at the kiosk, stapled with yard jobs, sub-clubs, bands somebody named
for animals. The whole park fluttered up and flailed, and Kooch, unquenchable,
perceived the higher truth. The upshot: such a bout of barking
as to make the bicyclists bypassing (bent beneath their packs),
an assortment of teaching assistants (harried, earnest, hardly
and even the white-haired full professorships
all come to a halt, in the wake
of the wave of their tracks.
What brouhahas! What flaps!
To Kooch’s mind, if you
could call it that,
the worst was
yet to come—
for looming overhead, a host of red and yellow kites appeared
intent on swooping even to the cowlicks of the humans—Were
these people blind?—that woman in pink, that man in blue, who
paused there in his purview, stupidly, to shake their heads? He
we’re in danger, I tried again
to reason with my fellow-man. But now the dog
was past all understanding; he was uncontainable. He burst
into a pure fur paroxysm, blaming the sky for all that we
were worth: he held his ground with four feet braced
against the overturning earth . . .

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