Sonic Hedgehog




The gene named for a fruit-fly larva, I read,
which when mutated sprouts bristles all over it.
One of those genes you better have just right
or horrible things can go wrong; e.g. you wind
up with a single eye in the middle of your forehead,
arms and legs malform, your brain can’t separate
into left and right sides, your nose might duplicate.

Miroslav Holub, friend of hedgehogs, one of which
lived in his decrepit swimming pool in Hrnčíře, would
if he were alive likely object to skimming off one bodily
property to speak for the whole. He would however
devote himself to helping humans so afflicted; as he
once did with cancer patients, while writing poems to
distract us from immediate horrors, keep himself sane.

“Just pretend everything is normal,” he said, when two
burly, inebriated Russian MPs stopped us for speeding.
“Have your passport handy but let me do the talking.”
He opened the glove compartment for a little flask with
the fetus of a nude mouse afloat in formaldehyde inside,
plopping it in the MP’s hand thrust through the window.

“Comrade, we are in a hurry, a matter of life-or-death at
my clinic, and in fact could use an escort to get through
stoplights,” Miroslav said in such clipped, precise Russian
the MPs saluted, hopped back on their bikes, and waved
us on behind as they sped ahead. Of course we weren’t
headed to the clinic at all, so had ourselves a good laugh
from behind a drape at a clinic window when they left.

“On to Kafka’s grave, now,” Miroslav said, “last time
I was there the resident hedgehog was guarding it,
preening its bristles. I read little Franz used one to
make contorted sketches, things sprouting out all over.”







Stuart Friebert is the author of 14 volumes of poetry, most recently A Double Life: In Poetry & Translation, and more than ten volumes of translation, the most recent of which was Shadow of Shadows: Selected Poems of Ute von Funcke (two of which also appear in Granary). He established the Creative Writing Program at Oberlin College where he taught for many years, and cofounded Field Magazine, the Field Translation Series, and Oberlin College Press. This was Friebert’s sixth appearance in TLR since 1992. He died on June 23, 2020.

TLR Poetry Editor, Michael Morse, says about Friebert, who was his mentor at Oberlin, “he gave us license to love and pursue language as if it were supremely important.”

[post updated on July 2, 2020]