The First Lie

The scientists went searching to find the first-ever lie,
which, on account of how lies barnacle forever
to the bottom of things, was believed to be hidden
in Antarctic pack ice, somewhere off the Lassiter coast.
This turned out itself to be a lie—
not the original lie just a regular one
of no cultural importance
beyond its surge of frostbite among graduate assistants.
Time moved in its careless way.
Research money wore out like the bristles of a brush
dragged systematically over everything.
The scientists came home with the same blank faces
burned by polar night. Memories specious and hazy.
Their spouses traced fingertips over brittle skin
to thaw abandoned desire.
The scientists still made new discoveries
but these were chiefly in the field of grant-proposal drafting.
One searched the names of constellations for deceit. Another went
looking for falsehoods painted on cave walls in the Pyrenees.
Someone impossibly young and set on making a name
studied the epic of Gilgamesh and pronounced
the first lie as Gilgamesh’s insistence
his dead friend was not dead even while feasted on by maggots.
But this is not a lie, the scientists insisted. This is grief.
Don’t you understand the difference between grief and a lie?
There was no consensus. Grief might be a subset of lying.
Or grief might be something distinct entirely.
Their arguments came, politely but inevitably, to blows.
Could be the scientists were jealous. Could be.
It’s possible their brains were still frozen. It’s possible.
Or perhaps poetry itself was the lie.
This thought seized the scientists all at the same time.
It sent them, in a collective rush, digging in the desert for more.

Robert Wood Lynn’s debut poetry collection Mothman Apologia (Yale University Press, 2022) was selected by Rae Armantrout for the 2021 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. His work has been featured in Antioch ReviewBlackbirdNew Ohio ReviewMichigan Quarterly Review, and other publications. He is an MFA student at New York University where he teaches in the undergraduate creative-writing program. He lives in Rockbridge County, Virginia.