| return to contents |




What did we do for fun back then? Who can remember?
We lived in lead-walled rooms where, to feel better, everyone smoked.
            JFK. LBJ. Everyone. Something.

Outside, late night lightning, which originates on earth, appeared in its way
            to strike from above, curving our dreams laterally.
Cloud-to-ground lightning: that’s the anomaly.
Control the lightning’s gas, and you can turn it into talking machines
            and M-16s.

And where did the women go at night?
Like birds, they seemed to disappear, to just cancel out,
            when the sky belled black.

Those positive and negative charges: they’re not like theories of rightness.
Theories of rightness founder on bad moods, not bad science.

There were more cats than humans in the rooms then,
            not necessarily an indicator of intentional relationship-building.

Now: you can predict lightning now, now that we know it begins here,
            not up there.
You can’t predict humans, or birds, especially now that the poles are melting.
Or you can predict men, but it won’t make you feel better
            or understand bird behavior.
And cats? They’re just going to be that. They’ll never help you self-reference
            or crack jokes.

What did we do for fun back then? What made us laugh?
No one can say.


The head, leaking bristle worms, tumbled in on the tide’s wrack:
            blued see-through skin, drain-trap hair, off-kilter jaw,
            and one gleaming silver earring, where half an eyebrow lingered.
This, after the kids had been put to sleep---and the pets.
The registered adults, all assembled at the gasworks, benumbed by their
            latest sacrifices, were last on the scene, by which time
            the reservists and bag savers had already claimed the head
            for their own just-begun ceremonies.
A chartreuse butterfly---entrapment?---slowly pressed its magic-trick wings
            from its perch on the agleam earring. That eyebrow-part.
The tippy head softly grated on its ajar jaw on a sudden altar of coral and conch
            in a gusty mercury-whetted breeze
            turned particulate by cardboard ash.
The earring glimmered. The butterfly beckoned. Guile?
No, too late for that.
In grey on greyed, the circled reservists and bag savers
            rubbed elbows and shoulders and hummed, as they will, gibberish.
And thus we determined: release was at hand.
Perhaps, after all, some of the children and pets
            should not have been put to sleep.

The Case for Intelligent Design

What’s all the bahooey about intelligent design?
Besides the professional skeptics, who doubts it?

Garage-door openers: random selection?
Rush Limbaugh: sheer good/dumb luck?
Deer runs into your car at speed: bad/dumb luck?
Not likely.

And, let’s concede, intelligence does not need to be nice to be credible.
To be intelligent, you only have to know a thing or two.
How to rub a couple of stones together to create heavy water.
How to count backward by threes while having a colonoscopy.
Can you tell the clod who’s fallen in front of you on the sidewalk
            to quit whining and get up, get out of the way?
That’s intelligence.
Charles Darwin would’ve stopped and asked the clod
            about his parents’ senses of balance?---did any of his
            siblings  have trouble staying on their feet?---would he
            like a coffee?

Who designed this vale of tears? We can’t say.
Maybe it was Kurt Vonnegut. Maybe Guido Sarducci.
Whoever it was, should we be talking about it in our schools and car-pools?
We talk about faith circles, fornicating neighbors, animals that eat their young,
            with no concern about corrupting our kids
            or becoming western Europe’s joke-butts.

My friends: you may well hate how your new shower curtain is off-gassing.
This does not mean your uncle was a monkey.

Dick and Jane Discuss Wittgenstein

He’s out here in the yard, raking. Stewing. Thinking: “Says you.”

“You just don’t rake in the rain,” she’d said, sounding more disappointed than cross.
            “And that wind? You just don’t.” A sigh had wandered out of her mouth-
            and eye-corners like steam, like the force of all charmed dissent.
Yet she would run in it, and had, earlier, her bizarre duck-foot flux of blue and hair
            all a-jog round and round the near blocks.
Running, she always looks too small for her hair,
            which somehow admonishes him.

The wet-bright leafy furrow forms and holds. More or less.
The problem’s partly the wind, partly her sighing. Her engine of disbelief.
That hair. Gravity.

In the corner of his own eye, through a beveled tear in the skimmed morning light,
            she monitors his progress from the closed patio door,
            sipping something hot, she and her reflection, sipping, sipping.
A near-perfect bell curve of steam and breath comes and goes on the glass.
A difference between. Math, not philosophy.

“Plus, you’ll never get them to burn,” she’d said. And, as reason and proof:
            “Think how hot your fire’ll need to be.”
Math, that’s her secret.

But she looks no more substantial than her reflection. And this rain
            somehow misses him, or else passes like neutrino streams
            and her reflection through him.
He concludes: their argument was weather, not ideas.
Not: Why is there rain rather than not-rain?
And fire isn’t so degreed a thing, not since the first gaseous light
            began its outward curve.
Forever, conceptually, one flame’s as hot as another.
Like the stamping of her blue running shoes, like the progress of roots:
            gravity and inertia are manifestations of the same force
            and make only a passing sound.
Like hair.
Like steam.
“Says me.”


Copyright © 2009 Steve Downing

Steve Downing

Steve Downing has been a teacher, house painter, conflict mediator, arts administrator, freelance writer, and has occasionally worked for money, too. He's currently a contract consultant for Northern Community Radio/91.7 KAXE, in Grand Rapids, MN.