Theory of the Universe

Did we learn ourselves from the mirror
after we studied constellations
in ragged almanacs… we rotated mechanical
with a hiss of the so-slow
slowing axis…

No equation… can yet rebirth
a cooling star’s impending supernova

If the family cello were given to you
as it recovered from basement dust…

the bowstring part of me
moves… without asking
to the crescendo of ripples…
and F-minor weeping, the lake
awake not as often at night

the big bang must have stemmed… from a desert string
nervous tremolo through the ages, expanding
like a lung just before that first breath–
whole note for the endless meter…

 

(originally published in 99 Pine Street)

Work of Man

Gruesome scarecrow bore into me, wicked carrot limbs, dried snowman. This farm is seeped with the blood of the farmers but the cows are all right. Have you seen a cow’s smile? It crumples the yellow Mississippi into a zagged horseshoe. Forever we’ll remember the first game we played. The hoof felt like hardened slabs of discount deli turkey, art deco. No one won. No one is winning. The larger the city, the truer this fact. You can almost feel the weight of a tower’s collapse in its shadow, bogged shirt. Hemp gravel lines. I see the kinetic potential of kindergarten, a kinder garden than which you cribbed your tomatoes in, so stabbed by the wanderlust deer. We dug those tiny crevices with conveyor shovels. Wickets, wickets, and did the terrain ever grow out of itself like the work of man– ah, did it ever.

 

(originally published in Ping Pong, October 2015)

Seatless Unicycle

She is a seatless unicycle who dangles on a string attached to a wire on a telephone pole. Her pedals spin with the wind. The payphones wonder if still she can ride. They worry she will roll off into the parking lot and strike the black ramshackle Lincoln to gift another dent. Cars in motion on the street will snort and shriek. In saturnalia a brown Boerboel yelps and hurtles and snatches her tire with ferocity in his jaw. He tugs and pulls as her wheel snarls and squeaks. He drags with his fur the weight of concrete. Her rubber hairs become roots she cannot untangle from white oak trees sequestered to forests she cannot reach. The parking lot is gravelly and minuscule. Caterpillars need more space to bloom. Butterfly-eyed people who look like dead poets recite words with aluminum in their tracheas.

 

(originally published in Corvus Review, Winter 2015)

What We Pieced Together About Our Father After His Death

A father needs to have a secret room to do whatever it is that a father does in his secret room, so ours turned the oil-changing pit (six feet deep, eight feet long, three-and-a-half feet wide) in the garage into his secret room. It is covered up by three long wooden boards, the outer two of which he would carefully place on the edges at the pit’s opening. The center board he never removed, only shifting just enough to fit himself. He filled his pit with National Geographic magazines dating back to 1936, rudimentary pencil sketches of our mother, dried walnut husks, hideous gremlin statues, various hand tools, and two inscribed World War II-era accordions. He used an aged kerosene lamp to read A Farewell to Arms, the only book we ever caught him reading. If the power went out during a storm, he would manually crank open the garage door, climb into his beloved 1989 red Ford Probe, flip on slick headlights which jutted out from the hood, reverse into the driveway, and park directly beneath the shoddy-but-sturdy plywood canopy he built himself just so he could manually crank the garage door closed and slip into the dark privacy of his oil-changing pit while rain and lightning raged beyond its cozy confines, to do whatever it is that a father does in his secret room.

 

(originally published in Dual Coast Magazine, Issue #2)

Bee

“Floccinaucinihilipilification,” Danny repeats. “F – L – Um, can I have the word repeated?”

Christ, Danny. We went over this word last Thursday, thank God. It’s the longest non-scientific word in the English language. This one’s important, bud.

“Floccinaucinihilipilification,” restates Ronald Hanson, the word pronouncer with a fancy Ph.D.

I flip my blue, custom-hardcover Oxford dictionary to the F-words.

Danny fidgets with his thick, wire-framed glasses, which magnify his brown eyes even more on stage than they do normally. Patches of sweat on his cheeks and his forehead coat him like honey under the key light.

“F – L – O – um,” Danny starts. “Mr. Hanson, may I please have the definition?”

“Cut it out, Danny,” I mistakenly say out loud.

Megan leans over to whisper into my ear.

“Shut up, Daniel,” she softly but sternly says. “We don’t want anyone to think that he might be cheating.”

I push her face away.

“No one is going to notice us. There’s a kid spelling,” I quickly speak.

“Yes, hon,” she says, moving her mouth back to my ear. “But didn’t you notice that there are cameras on us, too?”

I push her head away and notice the kneeling cameraman at the side of our row pointing in our direction.

“Um, can I have a sentence, please?” Danny asks, rubbing his bright yellow cardboard identification number against his oversized, “official” yellow-and-brown striped polo.

“God damn it, Megan,” I loudly whisper. “You made me miss the official definition.”

“Oh well,” she whispers. I sense a tone of malignance in her voice. “You know what the word means already, so…”

“The official definition might be unclear. Or wrong.”

“You’re being ridiculous.”

“I’ve told you a thousand times the spelling bee is rigged. They probably want that ethnic girl to win.” The foreigners always win, ever since the year I should have won and before that, too.

“Would you shut the fuck up?”

I gasp and cover her mouth with my hand. “Shh! Language! There are kids around!”

A middle-aged woman with honey-brown hair in her “official” polo suddenly appears at my side.

“We’re going to have to ask you to keep it down,” she says through big, gritted teeth in the fakest smile I’ve seen. “Or leave.”

“Well, what definition did he give?” I say, pointing to Ronald.

“Excuse me?” the lady chokes out, her fake smile making way for a squinty glare.

A swift glance reveals that people are now looking in my direction. It almost seems like people are more interested in me than my spelling child.

“I said, what definition did you give?” I repeat, much louder, directly confronting the official reader. “In the interest of fairness, I want you to repeat that definition. I didn’t hear it.”

A couple of the judges at the long white table stare ineptly at Ronald, who shakes his head no.

Danny helps me out. He asks for the definition again. With hesitation, Ronald looks at his dictionary.

“Floccinaucinihilipilification. Noun. The estimation of something as valueless or worthless.”

The eyes of the audience watch me still. I glare at anyone who looks at me, but the definition Ronald gave me was word-for-word what it said in my dictionary, so I’m content enough to proceed with watching Danny spell the word correctly.

“Floccinaucinihilipilification,” Danny says quickly, wiping his sweaty, tear-soaked face. “F – L – O – C – C – I – N – A – U – C – I – N – I – H – I – L – I – P – I – L – I – F – I – C – A – T – I – O – um.”

Come on, Danny. Come on, buddy. Finish it. One more letter and we get to proclaim: Daniel Johnson, Jr.: Spelling Bee champion. I’m so proud of you. Just finish it. One more letter and we get to hold that beautiful trophy together and be happy for the rest of our lives. Wait, buddy, are you crying? What the hell?

The Oxford dictionary is gripped tightly in my hand, pollinated with sweat.

“Uh, floccinaucinihilipilification,” Danny finishes.

DING.

“Christ!” I shout, rapidly standing and throwing my massive dictionary in one swift motion. It hits the chair in front of me with a thud and crumples to the floor. The fat parent in front of me spins around and says something I don’t hear.

Megan pulls at my shirt. It takes all of my strength not to hit her, but the camera is on us. I sit down. The people grumbling and whispering around me can kiss my ass.

“Sure wish there was a bar in here, huh?” I chuckle to the parent sitting to my right, who has refused to acknowledge me this entire time. “Because of drinks?”

The only other contestant left in the contest, the girl, comes up to the microphone.

“Floccinaucinihilipilification,” Ronald pronounces again with his fancy Ph. D.

She pronounces it and spells it quickly and clearly into the microphone.

The ding of doom doesn’t sound.

“Congratulations to Ecchumati Nityusander, the 2009 National Spelling Bee Champion,” a voice says over the loud speaker. An old, shriveled-up woman hands the winner the coveted, golden, glistening, bee-shaped trophy. The object of every kid’s desire. The girl lifts it up above her head, glowing, smiling so wide the tears on her face feel wrong. If I ever had the chance to hold the trophy, I sure as hell wouldn’t cry.

Rowdy, deafening applause. I feel myself falling into a dizzy spell.

“Bullshit!” I shout.

Everyone seems to clap in spite of me. Even Megan claps. “What the hell is wrong with you?” She doesn’t hear me.

“Fuck this!” I can barely hear myself.

I leave my seat, nearly tripping on one of Megan’s annoying feet. But I don’t. The high I get from keeping my balance while feeling dizzy makes me feel like I have wings. I effortlessly fly to the front, getting on stage.

The excited roar from the audience turns into a confused, worried, murmur.

“You can’t even spell your own name!” I yell at the girl.

Her smile twists into a fearful grimace as I effortlessly wrestle away the trophy from the young teenage girl. The bronze statue! I’m holding it! I’m actually holding it!

It’s lighter than I expect. I run to Danny, who is still seated, face buried in his hands, sobbing.

“Do you want to hold it?” I ask him. He doesn’t look up. The trophy sticks to my hands from sweat.

I plant a kiss on the bee’s forehead. I linger. It tastes like that new penny smell. I lift it high above my head. I wrote a speech for this moment when I was eleven. Seeing the occasional camera flashes nearly brings me to tears.

There’s chaos up here. The cameras want to capture it. The officials want to stop it.

“Put the trophy down and get off stage,” a short security guard warns me.

“I’m finally living my dream,” I tell him.

The police filter in from the back.

I don’t have much time.

“Danny, why did you purposefully misspell that word?” I ask. Danny’s face is uncovered, but he still refuses to look at me.

Three policemen swarm onto the stage.

“Put the trophy down!” the large officer orders.

I hold it tightly.

“Because I didn’t think you deserved to win,” Danny finally answers.

The trophy is wrestled out of my possession effortlessly. My hands are cuffed. I watch an officer bring the prize back to the girl. She takes it into her arms and hugs it. The audience erupts into cheers, again to spite me.