Everything’s fine at the funeral
till the fire fighters rush through.
Or cops raid the wedding reception,
the captain tackling the bride’s mother.
Particulars may vary but it’s the catalysts
that remain buried in the mazes of some
mix up, as in did you just say that you
desperately need a tuxedo or a burrito?
The difference isn’t so much the series
of chasms famous for its suicides but
rather the frost heaves ticking by on
the highway. Five hundred miles away
from me my brother adds to the city’s
graffiti before passing out, six hours later
he’s holding the keys to the university’s
collection of irradiated rabbits that he
feeds before administering cocaine to
the mice. Surely some good will come
of this. Surely these doctors want to
make us well and not keep us sick,
a hacking clientele that they wish would
just go away so they themselves could
call in sick, stay in their pjs and binge
on daytime soaps. Surely this is one of
many feasible conditions so let’s focus
instead on constructing that skyscraper,
mending the levee, disinfecting the cut
and getting a frozen steak on that badass
shiner you got. Is this the result of the
defense of another’s honor or is this
the evidence of an ill-fated attempt at
being a wind tunnel? Don’t feel bad.
I too have tried to be a manmade force
of nature and like you I too believe
we’re at the front of the pack that heaves
itself headlong into the immense wall of ice.
Oof!…Ssshh. Listen closely for the
faint beginnings of a breaking apart.
People get concerned when the ravine
begins boiling with ants and the school
slides in the rankings but the baseball team
keeps winning so there’s no point
in getting greedy. At the diner they
screw up your order and you get
more hash browns than you paid for.
Gold-veined water lily. Sugared almonds
in a paper cone stuck to a paper cone
of sugared almonds, all our guests
this week will receive complimentary busts
of Copernicus on the veritable precipice
of revelation. Thank you you’re welcome
shining sun but we all know the story there.
Let’s pass out some plaques instead, in honor
and recognition of etc. Hello enormous tree.
Crumbling slum with cracked storefronts
fast deteriorating infrastructure via un-
traversable boulevards, you’re still around
so here you go. Hello grandmother
outliving your husband three kids and
four of six grandchildren all of whom
were rapidly evacuated a few years ago,
got stranded in a motel or with someone’s
aunt whose awful cooking got worse while
the collars of everyone’s shirts got greasier,
watching the local news reports about
the derailed train in the center of town
leaking gasses that were bound for the center
of a mountain, gasses later found to be no more
pernicious than a fog of dandelion seed.
Plaque for all that though who could forget
the haz-mat men on porch swings.
The fluttering biohazard tape strung among
the Christmas lights around the maples.
The baseball team making it all the way
to state finals for a decade straight without
winning once, the spacious trophy case like
grandmother’s crinkled-paper smile, a barn
buckling into an alfalfa field by the town limit.
Oh no an angry line of ants is coming this way.
Oh no another red cloud descends.
There – where the skinny kid
who’s last in his class claps
as the curtain is about to go up
on the cardboard-desert scene
where a child dressed as a rabbit
runs from a child dressed as a wolf
while in the dim parents beam
or shift their weight in metal seats
trying to remember to pick up flowers
or dry cleaning, the night janitor
smoking out back by the dumpsters
until the wolf seizes the rabbit – the end.
At least this isn’t the play where
the child is pretend-beaten and then
pretend-crucified, after that I just stared
into the warm mess of my soggy cereal,
turning my spoon over to hear it plop.
Back when I could run fast it seemed
like astronauts served an important purpose
like a group of well-trained porpoises
though I must confess that they both seem
like so much less now, the way they all just
float around, astronauts in blue jumpsuits
waving through grainy images to all of us
back here on planet Earth where worms
tear through the soil introducing oxygen
into the soil and the plants leaking oxygen
as they suck up our exhalations, though
a little bit of everything is invariably lost
into the atmosphere. Most of us don’t need
tubes or helmets or special boots or at least
not in our daily lives. I can see the stars fine.
I can see the earth too. I can see you lose
your train of thought, order another drink,
weep into your crumpled green jacket
as if to drown it, the rest of us drifting off
one by one. Most of us were once something
to make a minor fuss over, an okay excuse
for twisted crepe paper and plastic forks.
In another, say, seven hundred years
we’ll all be in the same place again, i.e.
ashes and/or dust, which will break down
into their smaller constituents, which
according to exhaustive empirical evidence
is absolute proof that although now invisible
we once were not, which is why when placed
in a glass of water tiny particles of pollen
won’t ever settle to the bottom.
Brad Liening is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He currently resides in Iowa City.