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Poem in which I Contemplate Extinction and Play

Updated: Jul 11

Photo of the children's game Operation

At the zoo, my grandnephews

play “excavation” in sandboxes 

full of hidden plastic bones

they dig up then jiggle 

atop a mesh wire screen.

They kneel in front of tiny

skulls and femurs, dusting them

off with a brush, then create 

skeletons of Dali-like creatures—

big arms and tiny legs, oblong

heads impossible for these frames 

to hold up. I’m reminded 

of Operation, the boardgame

of my childhood. Each player

tried to get an “ailment” out

of the body of Cavity Sam

using tweezers. My favorite 

diseases—“Writer’s Cramp” 

and “Broken Heart.” I remember 

my grandnephew’s mother

as a girl with her homework. 

She had a cardboard skeleton 

onto which she was supposed 

to glue construction paper organs. 

She put one of each of the kidneys

right on the knees—kid knees,

she heard, and still delighted

in this wordplay when told

she was wrong. Her boys delight 

in this archeology—the ulna 

and tibia of the past present

on the ground before them.

Hear Denise read her poem:

Poem in which I Contemplate Extinction & Play Denise Duhamel


Denise Duhamel’s most recent books of poetry are Pink Lady (Pitt Poetry Series, 2025), Second Story (2021) and Scald (2017). Blowout (2013) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is a distinguished university professor in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami.

Denise Duhamel photo by Claire Holt

Operation photo by Jez Timms

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1 Comment

So very delightful

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