Joe Mills: “The Scientist After the Operation”

The Scientist After the Operation

A couple weeks after the operation, 
he finally can sit outside,
under the enormous black walnut tree
that hasn’t yet succumbed to a storm
although it loses limbs each time.
He holds in his lap a biography 
of Gregor Mendel, the monk 
who cross-bred plants 
and discovered genetic inheritance.

At one point, he had thought about
the church as a career. His mother had
suggested it would be a good place
for someone with his “proclivities,”
a comment so complicated he kept
returning to the statement for years
trying to determine if it was caring,
Machiavellian or something else.
He had studied science instead.

She doesn’t know he’s sick.
They haven’t talked since the wedding 
when the state finally allowed him 
and Greg to be a legal couple,
and yet, this was when 
his grandmother began talking 
openly to him about relationships 
in the months before her death. 
Some things skip a generation. 
Some things never get passed down. 

He sees Greg glancing out 
the kitchen window, checking
to make sure he’s okay,
awake, still alive,
and he waves the book
to reassure his partner,
like a preacher with a bible

About the Author: A faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Joseph Mills holds the Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities. He has published seven volumes of poetry, most recently Bodies in Motion. His collection This Miraculous Turning was awarded the North Carolina Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry for its exploration of race and family.


Image Credit: Edvard Munch “Landowner in the Park” (1903)

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