When I was a kid, I hoped that I would grow temples of white hair like Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four as I aged. I got them — along with a widow’s peak as sharp as a letter opener.
My hair was always wispy, even at its thickest. I buzz it all now. I like the feeling better, not so tussled by the wind or tickling on the scalp. It’s less to manage, less to restyle after being matted down in a beanie during the New England winters.
I’m fortunate to have a nice, round head. It made me a shoe-in for the lead in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown when I was in college.
I also buzz it because my hair only wants to fall to one side. The follicles grow like a crew without sea legs, leaning too far starboard and leaving the boat feeling lopsided.
But I miss the white temples, which are translucent with my hair this short. I’m sorry, Mr. Fantastic.
I wonder if I was in a rush for white temples because the people around me seemed to need me to be old more than they needed to be young.
I felt like people needed me to be a Reed Richards. Not just smart but genius. Not just flexible but elastic. Not just durable but indestructible.
When I look in the mirror, I see a shorn head, and I think, ah, there he is. Not Reed Richards.
The T-shirt tag that I forgot to cut out. The nice wool sweater I bought that feels like burlap. The jeans that hug my calves a little too tight.
The scrape of silverware in the sink. The hand full of sludge as I open the drain. The clank of dishes as I line them up in the washer.
The alarm in the boiler room of the complex, skimming the surface of audibility through the bedroom wall.
Smacking lips. Dry mouths. The unexpected brush of a loved one’s fingers (I’m sorry).
But hey, there’s also music. So it’s not so bad.
I hereby declare the ineffable. I proudly exclaim the nonsensical. I smell what is seen, and it sounds like it tastes. I’ll write it in prose that is lyrical.
It’s as plain as the sock that I wear on my head, or the shoes I put on before going to bed. It’s an optional edict, for better and worse. It’s ice cream for dinner and steak for dessert.
Now, stand up and bow! I’m a king made to serve! I’ll rule with submission! Straight on we shall swerve!
Also the end won’t rhyme.
He carved his way through the ocean with a calcified backstroke, the horizon forever escaping him. With the abyss below and the sky above, he felt like prey suspended in a spiderweb.
The seas trembled. He turned on his chest, plunging his face into the water, staring through it as if through one giant tear.
A face of stone glared back at him, a face like a sunken island, stretching on all sides into the blackened depths. The eyes glowed red, and the lips cracked. The mouth opened, and he surrendered to the whirlpool, smiling back as he was swallowed.
A billionaire is a brain trembling in a vehicle of blood and bones, believing itself to be the sole vessel of the Great Spark.
It senses the wavering axles of its meat vehicle and curses it. “No,” says the brain. “The wheels must never come off. The Great Spark is mine. It’s my destiny to carry it.”
So it spends its glittering hoards forever tightening the bolts of its body. It siphons the blood of the young. It fuels itself on the brains of its cousins. It sets a course for the stars and cuts the brakes, burning barrels against time.
The Great Spark is every brain’s passenger. It will pass from brain to brain, like a traveler switching train cars. There is no road to the stars but life and death and life again — a vast cycle of engineering, until the vessels are ready to carry it there.
A billionaire and a hundred years will not save the Great Spark. A trillion brains and a million years…
Driving along a country road through
harvested corn and soybean fields.
The sun has freshly sunk into the horizon.
I am a bead of condensation,
rolling down a dark windowpane towards its edge
with inexorable velocity.
My high school friend Mark
used to drive us down this road at top speeds in his
hand-me-down white Chevy pickup truck —
the same one he’d use to carve donuts
in his stepdad’s farmland,
even at peak growing season.
There were — still are — three large bumps
in that road, and if Mark hit them fast enough,
the suspension would get us airborne
by the third and final bump.
I haven’t lived here in twenty years.
But this place is so changeless, so empty, so flat,
my dreams of it are now indistinguishable from memory.
Driving through it feels less like an exercise in nostalgia,
and more like the ambling disquiet of a nightmare.
This place isn’t real.
I want to drive and keep driving.
I want the oceans and mountains of where I live now.
I want towering anchors against the realized horror
that we are just barnacles
on the hide of a lumbering planet,
sailing through the waters
of the great abyss.
A poem inspired by a drive through my hometown during Thanksgiving this year. I promise, I had a much better time than this poem implies.