The Truth about Paleontologists

I. Field Work

The harder the rock, the harder you drink. That much is true.

They don’t all wear funny hats like you see on TV,
those safari hats, like from Curious George. No.

Most will be dressed somewhere between mountain man
and unruly schoolboy. Perhaps a giant belt buckle

in the form of their home state. Kansas, say. Maybe Texas.
And not all them are brutes. In fact, many are

very attractive—strenuous excavations and time outside
do wonders. Digging is good for the bones.

II. Lab Time

Biology without evolution is a character without a plot.
Each paleontologist finds their own climax in a pinprick

of time. The experts can be as dusty as the bones,
or as dynamic as tectonic shifts. The difference

is the desk or the field, but the passion remains the same—
to understand how the world came to be, the crushing

multitude of life, the easy breath of extinction.


Lesson on Micro-sampling

The dust coats
We spend hours
in silence scraping
through debris
with tweezers
looking for
skin spines or
otoliths—the tiny clues
with which we
piece together
the past.
Our lamps and
the table top.
“It is like
pepper from
fly shit,” he
said, and later,
much later, when
the silence and the dust
were heavy in the air
“I was engaged
once, you know,”
the dirt sifting
through his pan, 
sweat beading
on his clean-shaven face.


Lesson on Species Identification by Coprolites

You are what you eat. Or ate, in this case. 

But that’s not the only clue. We can tell by the shape.
Sharks have a cleft asshole. Their shit comes
spinning out like a corkscrew. Pretty distinct.

If I were a poet instead of a scientist, I might say
if you don’t want to be found,
don’t leave your shit lying around.

Shrimp burrow through the sand and leave a trail
to fill the holes, bumpy, pock marked tubes,
the size and color of dirty chalk.

But they can’t help it. We can’t help it.
The worst of us always leaves
the most enduring impression.



Dan Brady is the author of the poetry collection Strange Children (Publishing Genius, 2018), and two chapbooks, Cabin Fever / Fossil Record (Flying Guillotine Press) and Leroy Sequences (Horse Less Press). He is the poetry editor of Barrelhouse and lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and two kids. Learn more at danbrady.org.