Tabula Rasa Revisited

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In college, at a lecture on John Locke
On newborn minds (Locke judged them mere blank slates
Awaiting information from the senses)—
With rain that evening, after a hot May day,
Pouring damp scents of earth and flowering trees
Through classroom windows cracked an inch or so—
I thought of my own sister, just turned two,
And of My Lai, then still much in the news
(There’d been the Calley trial and photographs
Bleeding unstanched into the public eye),
And saw the My Lai children, soon to know
Bullets and bayonets, babies like buds,
Clinging to mothers or to older siblings,
As even household bangs make babies do.
(I’d felt my sister’s ordinary fears.)

Today, forty-plus springs away, I wonder
About the mind, what caused those images,
So wildly disparate, to collide
And whether Locke considered how the mind
Persists, despite the facts, in seeking meaning,
Relentless as the spring, which breezes in,
Regardless of what life the winter leaves—
An unempirical hope, to say the least,
As if it were God’s imprint on the mind—
You’d think, if not, it would have been erased.