after Michael Pollan
Take one genetic mutation, an evolutionary dead end if not for an opposable thumb nearby. Pollen falls, seeds sprout, Chichen Itza rises, and corn walks across a continent. Much later, Nixon makes Butz his ag man, shrimp leap for air in the dead zone of the Gulf, and Chicken McNugget stalks the fat land.
The vegetable envelops the animal, which may be poultry, beef, or pork, or some post-genetic combination thereof. It rises transformed from a vat of hot oil, to beckon almost telepathically at the tawdry county fair, in the grade school lunch line, above the subliminal baseball game— desire on a stick—take, eat, let us become one.
Hope is the thing on the grill—bled out, plucked, smoldering— fit to be consumed in a fit of hunger, then deposited with all the other disappointing offal, the sludge and slurry, leaving unchanged, hovering, that other thing with feathers, that drooling buzzard, worry.
The jar of hard-boiled pickled eggs resting on the bar is the only emblem of irony here. Everything else is straight discourse among the owners of elbows resting on the bar.
They found his Grand Am burning on a dirt road sixty miles this side of the Mexican border, three days past Thanksgiving, two lives too late back home in Kansas. He asked for a cheeseburger and a chocolate shake, then said he needed to sleep.
Saline County Jail inmate beaten with domino-filled sock after allegedly stealing honey bun
Lawrence Journal-World, 21 June 2011
They called him Doughboy because it got a rise out of him. His supervisor at the packing plant criticized the cut of his pork chops. He made women nervous with his cow eyes and sweat stains. He lived with his mother and drove an Eclipse, but mostly he went unnoticed. They shouldn’t have been surprised when he walked in that morning with a Bushmaster and quickly spent two hundred rounds and ten lives. In his letter he said things just weren’t working out. And yes, he meant to kill the baby and the dogs.
“One of my colleagues observed that there are more people working in a single McDonald’s than there are trying to save civilization from an asteroid.” — Robert Jedicke, University of Hawaii astronomer
Putcher money where your mouth is. Go witcher gut. A burger in hand is worth way more than the outside chance of cosmic shove and push. But objects may be closer than they appear, as say, emboli breaking free of an accumulated lifetime of lunch are closer than the next dislodged, wayward asteroid’s punch.
I stop at the Gobble ’n’ Go to pick up a poem and a lottery ticket. Both are long shots, I know— words and numbers aligned just right— so I also grab the sure thing, the wiener rotating in an infrared glow. I’ll count on sleep coming easy tonight, resting diversified with my portfolio.
The disgraced pharmaceutical CEO recommends the chili in the vend-o-mat at the minimum security penitentiary. It’s not the Four Seasons, he admits and winks, but it’s still pretty good.
One night last winter in Allen Fieldhouse a senior music major from Salina sang the national anthem as the woman in front of us held a foam plastic plate of nachos to her breast.
In Wilson, the Czech Capital of Kansas, trains pass through each night not stopping. The wooden water tower has been restored as history, the movie theater now a museum of settlers’ artifacts, the high school building converted to nursing home. The café still serves sauerkraut with fennel seeds during hunting season, but the pheasants are gone.
Our presidents preside over serial disasters. The days fan out into deltas of lassitude. Off the highway a sign— “Boar semen sold here.”
They found his body in an old Toyota in the tall weeds back of the fireworks factory. No gunshot wounds or ligature marks, no blood spatter, cuts, or contusions, but the tires had been slashed. His shoes were shined. We thought he was smiling. The medical examiner said rictus.
You’ve heard the American apocalypse knell when Wal-Mart runs out of bullets to sell.
The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd. — Andre Breton, “Second Manifesto of Surrealism”
Take this new Quran and these bags of frozen broccoli and spinach. Here: T-shirts and shelves on which to store them. Here again: an air mattress, two briefcases, a desk lamp, and sixty dollars. Is that enough? What don’t you understand?
Each morning I know less. A cousin remembers wringer washers and dimmer switches on the floorboards of cars. One “friend” “likes” Sunkist oranges and dog adoptions. One posts a picture of the sushi she had for breakfast. Some express horror at the news of dead schoolchildren, then click “Like” and “Share.”
An animatronic cow intones the life story of the stadium evangelist. As if a ruminant, even one that speaks, could know redemption or chew the cud of any abstraction, unaware of a meat-hook last judgment. As if the songs of mechanical birds were still to be heard in Byzantium.
More than half of us can’t find our hearts and don’t know the shape of our lungs. But most of us know where our guts take up space and can pick out intestines in a lineup of innards. All but a few, men and women alike, know the penis, though its importance splits opinions along gender lines. On the other hand only a slight majority admits much knowledge of clitoral matters. Most support further research. Respondents were unanimous in having no spleen, and no one can name the four humors anymore. We know, however, “the neck bone’s connected to the back bone,” and some among us “hear the word of the Lord” even if ignorant of dem auditory ossicles.
Note: “More than half can’t find heart on body diagram,” CNN, 15 June 2009
On the radio a huckster sells cinnamon extract and counsels against vaccinations. In the 1918 flu pandemic the black angel passed over the cinnamon grinders who worked in the dust of a spice factory, and their families were spared. At the pharmacy, behind the rattle of pills in bottles, “Purple Haze” plays softly.
I was reading the ad on a urinal cake in the men’s room of the all night neon diner. Something about an online dating service— or don’t drink and drive— I don’t remember.
“God hates Canadian string quartets,” said signs waved by the ubiquitous anti-gay picketing Topekans outside the local performing arts center. But they didn’t know the half of it. After intermission, the Canadian classicists played klezmer with a Methodist American clarinetist.
Black hole rips star apart, whispers the headline in small type buried in the back pages of the local paper. A star about the size of our sun, 700 million light years beyond the city limits. On the front page, above the fold, with a large color photo, the lead story exposes the annual pot hole problem. The bold headline warns, The worst is yet to come.
the Kansas state motto
No stellar aspirations for us, only dim bulbs buzzing and flickering beneath the statehouse dome, Latin mottoes as neglected as the statue of Ceres packed in a crate in a corner of the capitol basement. The poor may pray for daily bread. Give us guns and tax cuts instead.
“When Baby Jesus disappeared last year from a Nativity scene on the lawn of the Wellington, Fla., community center, village officials didn’t follow a star to locate him. A GPS device mounted inside the life-size ceramic figurine led sheriff’s deputies to a nearby apartment, where it was found face down on the carpet. An 18-year-old woman was arrested in the theft. Giving up on old-fashioned padlocks and trust, a number of churches, synagogues, governments and ordinary citizens are turning to technology to protect holiday displays from pranks or prejudice.” — Associated Press
The neighborhood Herodians are out of luck this year— this boy child’s staying put. The crèche comes complete with GPS embedded in the Baby Jesus. The magi never had it so good. The hidden manger Web cam with wireless pastoral router allows multitasking shepherds to worship from afar as they watch their flocks by night and listen to the angelic choir beaming down on satellite radio, Gloria in excelsis Deo.
He rolls the receptacle out to the curb— not Sisyphus exactly.
The governor of Georgia prays for rain. In Washington a cow falls off a cliff, drops two hundred feet and lands on a van on vacation from Michigan. Thousands of bananas wash ashore on two Dutch North Sea islands before the people can say amen.
After inventing the electric can opener, he was free at last to write The White Man’s Bible and then commit suicide.
When I shook his hidden hand I noticed the Masonic ring. “I’m also Unitarian,” he said, “and utilitarian to a degree. I’m selling cell phones and hedge funds and automobile warrantees, motorized chairs and Beach Boys songs, life insurance, pharmaceuticals, cemetery plots with free wi-fi, just jockeying for the future,” which was good enough for me. The future after all has brought us this far. I bought two, then sent him on his way.
The social contract has become a diversion agreement.
Cash or charge, debit or credit, paper or plastic, with or without, here or to go, here and now or there and then, now or never, to be or maybe.
We take it even though it’s a common- place, a given. It’s the indicator of the national psyche, the medium that makes up the soup of our circumstance, the butt against the shoulder, steadying our crosshairs on the steer’s head.
First, do no harm. A trained philosopher can do anything and, if unregulated, will.
When empires decline, the populace retreats to the solace of circuses. The British have their royal reality show. A pregnant duchess opens new possibilities at betting parlors across the land— date of birth, gender, Christian name. The commonwealth has purpose again. In the U.S., the citizens discuss Survivor and invest in an American idol. We’ll take Ted Mack over Tom Paine any time, no contest, no vote needed. The republic has quietly receded.
Unlike its virtual cousin, it beggars imagining.
The term social media is as aptly redundant as the phenomena it designates.
The Vatican doesn’t want us to know Leonardo invented the electric guitar with inlay of chalcedony and lapis lazuli and airy strings of spun silver. But it’s there, waiting in the vault, tuned and ready for the Lead Guitarist’s shout, “Hello, New Jerusalem! Are you ready to rock?”
Just when we thought separation is the unifying paradigm Big Bang to burial we learn the loop has been closed.
A marriage counselor has been murdered by her cuckolded husband, who happens to be a divorce attorney. An oncologist killed a mother of five while sending a text message at seventy miles per hour. Here is a picture of Jimmy, napping with his dog, Cosmo.
The official spoken language of the universe is English, and the official written language is Egyptian hieroglyphics. Deep space explosions and telepathy require no subtitles. All creatures known and unknown possess mouths. The rule of sequels obtains, even in parallel universes, and gravity gives rise to reason, weightlessness to panic. Despite our investment in it, the moon sheds little light.
The TV eschatologist stands before the blue screen and begins to break the seven seals. A shadow moves over the face of the Atlantic. A hidden hand fidgets with the axis mundi. He predicts wormwood showers along the west coast, then east to the Rockies. Drought and locusts across the Great Plains, with intermittent apparitions of the Beast. The news co-anchors look nervous, the weatherman miffed. The sports guy rewrites his copy, scrambling to work the word plague into his account of the home team’s latest losing streak.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one....
Stephen Bunch lives and writes in Lawrence, Kansas, where he received the 2008 Langston Hughes Award for Poetry from the Lawrence Arts Center and Raven Books. His poems can be found in Autumn Sky Poetry, The Externalist, The Literary Bohemian, Fickle Muses, IthacaLit and Umbrella. From 1978 to 1988, he edited and published Tellus, a little magazine that featured work by Victor Contoski, Edward Dorn, Jane Hirshfield, Donald Levering, Denise Low, Paul Metcalf, Edward Sanders, and many others. After a fifteen-year hibernation, he awoke in 2005 and resumed writing. Preparing to Leave, his first gathering of poems, was published in 2011. Bunch can be found on the Map of Kansas Literature near L. Frank Baum and Gwendolyn Brooks. [He reports that property values tanked when he moved into the neighborhood.]