Taxonomy

Hired men squat around a hole in the ground. The 19th century gentleman naturalist hefts a dirt-caked seashell and frowns. “It’s certainly a cephalopod, but of what kind? Ammonoid? Nautiloid? Fetch me a glass. If the siphuncle was fossilized, all the easier to tell, but a good look at the septal necks should do the trick.”

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“I wonder what we will call this thing?” he says excitedly.

 ***

The 21st century young professional is halfway done. She picks up her phone, flips through Twitter, skims an article, skims related articles, filters for inspirational image macros, puts the phone down and writes another sentence. She picks up the phone again. She hesitates.

What am I doing? she thinks. It’s certainly work, when I’m working, but it’s not work when I’m not. I don’t ‘go to work’ in the sense that work occurs between nine and five and leisure – whatever that is – occurs before and after. It’s work for fifteen minutes, then two, then twenty-five, maybe an hour, interspersed by periods of not-work. The work/not-work continues when I’m home. My phone blips the same for think pieces and work emails.

What should I call this thing, this ‘not-work’? I can’t quite call it leisure. There’s nothing leisurely about sitting in a cubicle in stiff clothes hunched over a smartphone.

“I’ll look it up,” she mumbles.

In five minutes, she has an answer. “Leaky,” she says. “Leaky leisure.”

Dissatisfied, she puts down her phone. She types another sentence, mouths an awkward portmanteau, shakes her head. She drags her phone from the desk and heads to lunch.

^ This. All of this.

We all agree this thing is bad. Like this smart person that also has internet access and a keyboard, I’m against this bad thing in this very specific way that you’re not.

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It’s entirely symbolic. I haven’t really done anything for any cause other than share links with comments in cancerous agreement (e.g. “This. All of this.”) on social media and send ten dollars to a candidate who will most likely do nothing to fix the issue, particularly in the very specific way people who I think are smarter than me think it should be fixed, but I believe, conveniently, as long as we keep posting imperatives derived from premises in the indicative mood, and then insisting that people aren’t listening when they disagree, or aren’t educated enough to have an opinion on the matter at all, hammer to anvil, something will change. I may not know how and I certainly don’t know what this change would even look like, given that the imperative itself is vague and mostly an exercise in nomenclature, but we all have to do something.

Model home

They moved the Mason-Dixon line south. They kept the veranda.

I suppose you don’t put ceiling fans and wicker rockers on a townhouse porch or city stoop. You don’t paint the back deck canary yellow.

It’s a quiet walk home. But when the wind picks up on a summer evening, the rocking chairs tilt and the wooden blades turn, and I can almost see them: After a long day at work, Dad yanks down his tie. Mom watches the kids play. She dabs her neck with a wet gingham kerchief. A pitcher of iced tea sweats on the table. Mr. and Mrs. Thornbull wave from across the street.

The sun disappears. The air cools and turns to soup. A dozen air conditioning units kick on, as one. Living room walls flicker blue beyond lighted windows.

A happy twenty-fourth

The lot behind Pattie’s is barren in March. Morning inches over the ridge. The creek waters seep like gelatin. Stubborn beech leaves rustle like looseleaf.

I sink to the ankle. The sand is cold, but it isn’t the creek’s. I save one foot then the other.

The swamp sparrow plucks twigs from the shore. She eyes me and tousles her feathers.

Last year, the bird made nests of Pattie’s cigarette butts. Chrissy laughed. Netty cried. Michael saddled his high horse. I turned twenty-three. The candles went unlit as they all went at it on the patio over the creek.

Today I brought the sparrow a poem. It sat on my printer for weeks. I never got around to reading it. But maybe she can not read it too and use a poem in lieu of Marlboros this year. Maybe then my twenty-fourth birthday won’t end in a fit.

Ground rules

From the hill the tramp could see for miles. But he could not find the hut or a camp.

“At a loss. Another lost.” The tramp rubbed his neck. “But it seems to me, that since I don’t remember where I’ve left my home and you don’t remember where you left your people, that maybe we should go find a new home and new people. Or perhaps an old one and no one, depending on the quality of each.”

The pony took careful steps closer. The tramp held out his hand.

“Nothing in it, for now,” he said. “But I’ve a knack for filling it and the other. Two hands should be enough to fill the two mouths between us. Anyway, it’s a symmetry pleasing enough for the claim to be true.”

The tramp walked down the hill a ways and turned back. He gestured to the distant valley shoulder. “To the rocks?” he said.

The pony followed.

The tramp nodded. “In that case, let’s set some ground rules. I promise not to press you for how you lost your way if you promise not to ask how I myself became detached. What’s another layer in the sediments of the past but a guarantee of surer footing?”

Succession

One-thousand keys jingle on a steel ring dangling from the metro man’s belt.

As a youth, he knew each key and each of their thousand doors between tunnel and landing and tunnel again. As a youth, he knew nothing else.

As a man, he knew the daily one-hundred, the weekly three-dozen and the monthly six or seven. He knew these keys and their doors as he knew his daughter’s tuition, his son in default, his wife’s midlife crisis and his own flagging faith.

Several times over, he’s a grandfather now. The doors are all gone and with them the locks. Keys and steel keyring hang in memoriam.

Turnstiles grind, pressed by the morning commute. The metro man ducks into a darkened booth and sits.

-scape

The apartment lawn grows as it will.

On Wednesdays, men come with bladed machines to bring order to will.

Administered order yields both order and dissonance as the lawnmower yields both lawn and exhaust.

Dissonance cascades: An infant wakes in 22B. His mother wakes to tend to him. His father wakes to tend to his mother. The building wakes to a sobbing child, stomping feet, a manicured lawn and a nose-full of fumes.