A Seven-Day Diary

                                         first line from Alan Dugan

Oh, I got up and went to work
cleared the lab bench,
unhooked a UV monitor, a fraction collector,
a microtiter plate reader
and loaded consumable labware onto a cart–
boxes of 50 ml centrifuge tubes,
disposable pipettes and petri dishes–
everything we won't need right away
I hauled down to the unfinished new lab.

Then I cleared out the fume hood
removing radioactive waste.
Triple gloved, I shed a new layer
with each bag of waste I packaged
and hauled down to the Rad Waste Room.

And then I came home from work
and took a shower
and wolfed down my dinner
and drove forty-five miles to class
and thought about Charles Brockden Brown
and Wieland
and the meaning of the word "romantic"
and drove back home again
and kissed my wife and went to sleep.

Then I got up and went to work.
I borrowed an integrator and a fluorimeter
and wired them into the HPLC controller
and hooked the gradient delay input cable
and the inject hold cable
from the autosampler to the controller
and wrote the gradient control program
so all components could be in communication.

I checked on orders–
Fisher is out of Acetonitrile,
the guard columns haven't arrived
and the consultant forgot to mention
a half-dozen regents we will need
for the assay he has come to show us–
so I pushed paperwork and harassed Purchasing.

Then I came back home
and played Legos with my daughter
building a house with doors
for her green and pink toy worms.
After dinner I thought about
"narrator reliability" in Wieland.
My wife read Winnie-the-Pooh,
chapter V "In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump"
and I sang "Over the River" and "The Gypsy Rover"
and our daughter fell asleep.

Then I got up and went to work
and the "B" pump on the HPLC blew
when the consultant started it up.
We took it apart
and checked the inlet check valve
and the sapphire piston
and worried about the pressure transducer
and the pump motor gear box . . .

And then I called the service rep
who came and replaced a circuit board
and everything was fine.

So I took the bones of nine dogs
from the minus 70 freezer
and sawed them on a bandsaw,
extruding and discarding the marrow.
When I dropped them in liquid nitrogen
to make them brittle for pulverization
they tinkled like a wind chime
or broken pieces of fine china.

Ground down in a Wiley mill
to the consistency of sugar
they will be a source
of the bone collagen crosslinkers
that we are studying.

At five o'clock, I left the consultant
who hinted I should stay
but I came home from work
and skipped dinner
and drove forty-five miles
and thought about how much room
a sonnet has to make its single argument
and maybe suggest a few things
and come to a strong, but graceful close.
And I envied the room a sonnet has.

Then I drove back from class,
but stopped twenty miles out
for a take-out ham and cheese
and a cup of coffee.

And then I got up and went to work again
regretting that cup of coffee
and had two more cups at 8 A.M.
at the seminar on
"Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace."
Nobody said it, but everyone was thinking
"the company's just protecting itself
from potential litigation,"
especially when John asked about
the promotion statistics
of women in upper management
and was told his question fell under
"sexual discrimination, a topic
that wouldn't be covered today."
Then we all signed
the mandatory attendance sheet
and went to lunch.

After lunch, I got out of attending
the afternoon debriefing session
on the eight day Montreal meeting.
We tried to get a signal
from the fluorimeter to the integrator
and failed. The consultant called the integrator
"a bloody fookin' piece of shit!"
and I thought he'd be all right
to work with for the next six weeks.

And we pored over the instrument manuals
and borrowed a voltmeter
to check cable continuity
and I called Pete who came down
and found the bad contact.

And then I came home from work
and ate steak and corn from the garden
and played with my daughter
while my wife went to business statistics class.
Then I put our daughter to bed
and my wife came home
and we talked money
and got discouraged, but I know
the topic only comes up
because it triggers strong frustration
and makes us real to one another
when we've been out of touch too long.
We drifted off to bed, made love,
and fell asleep.

Then it was Friday, Friday, Friday
the most hopeful day of the week.
With the exception of a solvent leak
at a zero dead volume union
in the stainless steel LC tubing
which we fixed with a turn of a wrench,
the HPLC ran perfectly.
We injected dog urine
separating its components,
identifying the collagen crosslinks
that come from bone.
We injected the two purified standards
and the recording pen
traced out two sharp peaks.

Then I came home from work
and agreed with Grabo that Clara's
pat interpretation of Carwin's guilt
at the end of Wieland
was problematic and thought
she must be projecting
her survivor's ontological guilt
onto Carwin and finished a paper for class.

I remembered a dream–
walking down streets with my mother
the day after a rainstorm,
stopping to peel back a leaf
pressed to the grey slate sidewalk
just to see the dark, moist silhouette.
And someone's hopscotch game
chalked in orange
with a piece of broken flowerpot,
its numbers in ruins
half washed away by rain.

And a list of rules
kept running through my head–
never walk in front of swings,
duck your head when you play under the table,
don't tell people you don't like them,
remember to flush the toilet,
it's not nice to hit,
and don't throw stones at cars.

Thirty years, a child of my own,
a dream of my mother
and my own unexpressed gratitude
I must make time for.
Then Saturday was gone.

And Sunday vanished too–
a little pick-up around the house,
a drive to school to use the library and read
and one more fragment from my dream–

      Yesterday it rained
      and today it is warm.
      There are puddles I could jump in
      but I am being good.
      I am walking to the park with my mother
      under a sky that is longer than
      the longest car ride I have ever taken.
      She tells me the sky is really not a ceiling–
      it just goes higher and higher
      and is blue
      and invisible at the same time
      and at night there are stars in it
      and in the day white clouds
      which the winds blow
      further and further away
      but new ones keep coming . . .

And then Sunday was completely gone.


David Chin, The China Cupboard and the Coal Furnace, Mellen Poetry Press, 2000.