The night you bury your father you hope

he will visit your dreams

but apparently there’s a final exam in biology.

When did you sign up for biology?

Fluorescent bulbs flicker, lockers shimmer

like kelp in a film by Jacques Cousteau,

who invented the aqua-lung but couldn’t waive

the final exam. Outside trees by Van Gogh

waver. You need help, and your larynx

is on the fritz. Why can’t you remember

registering for biology? What exactly were

the prerequisites? (There was nothing, nothing,

then boom—there you were, in the middle

of testing Newton’s third law with a neighbor,

both of you two and not yet up to speed

on the biomechanics of locomotion.)

A raccoon—clearly your brother—interrupts

the freight train of thought to rent you

the Indian Ocean. Then snow and your mother

roars up in a Mustang, blaring Van Morrison. 

You’re certain the brakes are broken, 

but you can’t shout, she can’t hear you

moaning. Then stars and you’re staring

at this jar. Then calm and you’re in some room

with a cut-out moon, and it’s time. The exam

has only one question: After death,

what is our phylum?
You know this!—

yet you’re still sunk: all quarter

you also cut Latin. The paper falls

hard from your hand, there’s the bell, 

you blink to the surface. You hold

your father’s face in mind as best you can.

Pinfish make a last lap of the yard.

Thanks to the minnesota review, which published a version of this poem in its Fall 2012 issue.