Arsonists

There are too many peoples
willing to set fast fires
to their homes, to their steeples,
just so the needless pyres
will bloom with cinder and smoke
in a nearby window;
just so their neighbors will choke
when contrary winds blow;
too many peoples of spite
on both sides of the aisle
would rather argue and fight
than do what is worthwhile;

arsonists cannot abide
the act of compromise,
that holy pact where each side
gives and takes so both rise
above the fires of the past,
building anew in truth
so the neighborhoods may last
in peace, our hearts fireproof;
hatred is when a heart burns
beyond its picket fence,
beyond its kindling concerns,
beyond all commonsense.

Fireworks And Fireflies

Of fireworks and of fireflies
I would rather those that flare
like distant stars, or blinking eyes;
silent, modest in the air,
not those exploding so loud
to assault the stillness won
with times of war, those now so proud
with gunpowder smoke, a dawn
of manmade fire and thunder,
crackling gunshot, hissing high
in the night like salvoes under
the serene midsummer sky
to wake the dreamers asleep
in hard-won times of calm;
to startle those who wish to keep
free from sins of Absalom.
Silence and the dreamy stars
deepen peace with more peace yet,
not the cannonade that bombards
like drunk braggarts who forget
that lofty pride oft provokes
eagerness to war once more
and, so, boastfulness only stokes
the chance of fire at one’s door.
Let me revere with fireflies
the times of peace bought with death;
let me fall asleep with such skies
that resound with Nature’s breath.

Clear-Eyed, Silent

 The man in the black robe stood at the end of the long driveway, across the yellowing field where the bales of hay huddled in the shrapnel stalks.  The man leaned on his long-handled scythe, his face cowled in shadow.  The scythe’s blade gleamed, even in the predawn murk.  Billy sat upon the front porch of the farmhouse, squinting his eyes as the flash of the blade leapt out at intervals, watching the man as the man watched his older brother, Thomas.  Thomas did not see the robed man as he helped his father with the tractor.  Billy could not tell Thomas because his head did not work right, and so his mouth did not work right.  Instead, Billy pointed at the man with one hand—the hand that did not hold the toy soldier.  Even so, no one paid any mind to Billy, and so they paid no mind to the robed man.  At length, the robed man continued down the road.  Along the distant hills behind the robed man were trees.  The trees were bare and black like charred hands stretched out in vain to protect against the coming sunrise.

 Billy did not play with the toy soldier in his hand.  He held it gently, reverently, as if it might break at any moment.

 “Hey, Duckbill,” Thomas said, ruffling his little brother’s hair as he and his father stepped up onto the porch.  “You going to help daddy with the tractor while I’m gone?”

 “If he can milk Betty without being kicked he’ll be doin’ good,” their father said.  He did not pat his youngest son’s head, but grumpily took hold of the rocking chair and sat down.  “But maybe someday he’ll be strong.  A lot of them that are weak in the head prove to be strong in the arm.  Maybe then he’ll earn his keep.”

 Thomas did not sit in the other rocking chair, but stood with his arms folded.  “Wish you wouldn’t say that about him.  It’ll hurt his feelings.”

 Their father shook his head.  “He don’t understand anyhow,” he said.  “And the truth never hurt nobody.  I’ve been tellin’ you the truth for years, Tom, and you grew up big and strong and good.  No harm done, all in all.”

 In reply, Thomas crouched down beside his little brother.  “You’ll learn to talk eventually, Duckbill.  I know you will.  When I come back you’ll be here to greet me, and you’ll tell me with your own mouth how your daddy’s the sorriest son of a buck there ever was this side of Crabapple County.”

 Billy continued to stare at the distant hills, the distant trees, and the coming sunrise.  Their father chuckled.

 “I may be the sorriest son of a buck in this county,” their father said, “but I feel sorry for the sorriest son of a buck over there.  You’ve got a talent with a rifle.  I’m sure whoever you’ll have in your sights will be as a clay pigeon still on the flywheel.”

 The sun rose and set the trees afire with napalm bombardment.  The horizon burned in an apocalyptic inferno.  Billy began to sob.

 “What’s wrong, Duckbill?” Thomas asked, tenderly.  He put a hand on the little boy’s shoulder, but the boy just shook his head.

 “That boy ain’t right,” their father said, grimacing.  “What’re you cryin’ about, boy?  You ain’t got nothin’ to cry about.”

 “Lay off the boy,” said their mother.  She stood behind the screen-door, her hands on her aproned hips.  “Breakfast is ready.  Come get you something to eat.  All of you.”

 Their father shot bolt-up from the rocking chair and went in.

 “Come on, Duckbill,” Thomas said.  “You’ll feel better once you’ve had something for breakfast.”

 Reluctantly, Bill rose from the porch, careful not to drop the toy soldier.  His eyes blurred with tears and the glare of the sun.  Letting his eyes fall to the hay bales, he saw them anew.  There were minced men rolled up and bound together in amongst the straw.  He rubbed his eyes clear of the tears, but not the vision.

 Billy followed his older brother inside the house.

 Sitting at the table, the family said Grace and then began to eat.  There were biscuits, sausage, eggs, and gravy on each plate.  The tablecloth was checkered red and white.  The grandfather clock ticked off seconds, slicing Now from Nevermore one sliver with each swing of its pendulum.  The radio was on the kitchen counter, near the dirty pans.  It was turned down low, but Billy listened to it intently as he held his idle fork with one hand.  The other hand retained its gentle, but firm, grip on the toy soldier.  The radio host spoke of the Viet Cong and deadly jungle diseases.

 Still, their father spoke casually; easily.  Pridefully.

 “You’re doin’ a good thing, Tom,” his father said, beaming.  “Stoppin’ them Commies is the most important thing right now.  It’s either them or us.  You’re gonna’ make sure it’s them.”

 “I know, daddy,” Thomas said.

 “This ain’t goin’ to be another Korea,” his father said resolutely through a mouth full of gravy-laden biscuit.  “We just come off the Big War and nobody had the stomach for it.  Now, though, you are goin’ to put those Commies in their place.  And that place is six feet under.  Or head-down in the rice paddies.  To hell with ‘em.  They don’t deserve a Christian burial.”

 Thomas nodded, but said no more.  He ate his breakfast in silence.

 Billy ate nothing.  He stared emptily at his full plate.

 “Bill,” his mother said.  “You need to eat something.  You got a full day ahead of you and you aren’t going to be able to do nothing on an empty stomach.”

 “You better eat that food, boy,” his father said, “or I’m takin’ its cost out of your hide.”

 Billy pushed the plate toward his brother, his eyes and mouth agape with meaning they could not convey.

 “It’s all right, Duckbill,” Thomas said.  “I got enough to eat.”

 The radio announcer spoke confidently of the military, but his words were gnawed with screaming static.

 Gunpowder clouds floated in from the East, darkening the caustic white sky.  The winds cut across the heartland like cold metal blades sweeping side to side.  

 Billy followed his brother and father out to the gate.  Opening it, they went through.  They said nothing of the blood and ragged skin and meat hanging along the barbed wire fence, or the bodies entangled in the coils.  The herd gathered around obediently as the men went to the barn.  The old barn had a gambrel roof, like a casket, and overflowed as they approached it.  The hay loft brimmed with heaped corpses and entrails and dismembered limbs as they began to pitch hay down to the cows.  Billy could say nothing at all.  He only moaned a little.

 “Jesus, boy,” his father growled.  “You ain’t even doin’ nothin’!  We’re the ones throwing this hay out.”

 They worked at the heaps of hay while the herd eagerly gathered around to eat.  Billy watched the dumb beasts chew, their heedless lips splattered with blood.  Billy’s eyes itched and brimmed as they always did when he was near hay.  The world was blurry, but he could see more than most.

 “Daddy, I’ve been thinkin’,” Thomas said as he pitched the hay.  “You need to teach Bill how to shoot.  Who knows how long this war might last.”

 “The boy doesn’t understand nothin’,” his father said.  “You honestly think they’d accept him?  He’s…half-finished.  Course, it’s our fault.  We waited too long to have him.  And now…well, he’ll be lucky if he can look at a gun without runnin’ off in terror.”

 “Daddy, you’re being mean,” Thomas said, halting his pitchfork.

 His father halted, too.  He stabbed his pitchfork’s teeth into the floor of the barn like a bayonet into bowels, leaning on it and rubbing his lower back with one hand.  He affixed his youngest son with a shrewd, merciless stare.  “I ain’t bein’ mean.  I am bein’ honest.”  He turned toward his eldest son.  “Don’t you remember how he reacted when I tried to get him to shoot that little ol’ .22?  He ran as if the Devil was after him!  He’s scared shitless of guns now.  I can’t even clean a gun in my own living room without him becoming a blubbering mess.”

 “That’s not his fault, daddy,” Thomas said, looking to his little brother with a mixture of sadness and pity.

 “I know it,” his father said gruffly.  “That’s why I said we should never have tried at our age.  And now look at him!  Playing with dolls and cryin’ when a gun goes off.  It’s not…manly.”

 “He’s still a boy,” Thomas said.  “He has some growing to do.”

 “At his age you were shootin’ ducks, Tom,” his father said.  “All on your own with no say-so from me or nobody else.”  He smiled with pride.  “I remember back then.  You were so proud when you brought those ducks in for supper.  Your momma already had made some soup, but when I saw what you’d done, I said, ‘To hell with the soup!  Let’s have some roasted duck!’” His wrinkles smoothed with youthful joy.  “And I’ll be damned if that wasn’t some of the best meat I’ve ever had.  And you never ruined anything you shot with a bad aim.  You got the Eye for shootin’.  I’d wager to say your enemies will call it the Evil Eye before long.  Or the Eye of God.  Where you aim, Death follows.  Those slant-eyes will be like fish in a barrel.  They won’t know what hit ‘em.”

 They continued pitching the hay as the clouds rolled in.

 Billy wandered away, unnoticed.  He looked out across the yellowing fields that undulated heavenward, the bales silent amongst the splintered stalks.  He was startled at the roar of the tractor engine.  The tractor rolled out of the shed, his father a shadowy outline atop it.  Billy watched the bold, black tires of the machine deploying forward to the day’s work, its ridged tires cutting trenches in the fallow earth.

 Billy walked farther away.  He came to the tobacco barn where the stalks hung from the crossbeams.  Bodies hung there, too.  He walked inside and saw the man in the black robe, sharpening his sickle.  Billy stared at him.  He could not see the man’s face beneath his hood.  The whetstone slid slickly across the cold white crescent blade in a pendulous motion.  The sibilance struck something primal in Billy’s spine, begging flight.  But he did not flee.  He stood and stared at the man.  The man looked up, but his hand never stopped swiping the whetstone across the long blade.  Its curvature reminded Billy of a raven’s beak.  Bill began to cry.

 ‘Silence,’ the man said, his voice sharper than the blade he whetted.  ‘You have chores to do.  As do I.’

 Bill ran away from the tobacco barn, catching up to Thomas in the field.  He hugged him around his leg.

 “Whoa, Duckbill,” Thomas said, almost falling over.  He looked down at the trembling boy that clutched at his thigh.  “Come on, now.  You don’t need to get upset over it.  I’ll miss you, too, but I’ll be coming back.  Don’t you worry none.”

 Billy continued to weep, shaking his head as the tears came.

 They drove the shaky, sputtering old truck to the bus stop and waited with the other families for the military bus to come to pick up the young men assembled there.  There were lots of kisses and handshakes, hugs and shoulder pats.  There was bravado, and not just from the young men.  Fathers and brothers and uncles spoke with grinning complacency.

 “Give ‘em hell, boys.”

 “Shoot to kill.”

 “Kick their asses so hard you knock their slant-eyes straight!”

 While the others talked and boasted and bragged on their sons, Billy stared at Thomas through tears.  Thomas was tall, like his father, only Time had not whittled him thin yet, and his shoulders were broad, his chest burley, his arms muscled from tools and chores.  His smile was easy and kind.  He had the loudest laugh, spreading seeds of laughter all around him.  He was the gentlest and the strongest young man among all those gathered from every end of the county.

 But Billy knew that none of that mattered to the man in the black robe as he, too, waited by the bus stop, leaning patiently on his scythe.

 “Be good while I’m gone, Duckbill,” Thomas said.  “Grow bigger and stronger than me, okay?  Momma and daddy are going to need your help.”

 Billy tried to speak, but, as always, the words did not come.

 When Billy and his mother and father arrived home, without Thomas, Billy stared out toward the East where the dark clouds flashed here and there with lightning.

 “Get on inside, boy,” his father said.  “And go to bed early.  Don’t stay up all night playin’ with toys.  Tomorrow I’m goin’ to have to show you how to milk the cows.  You’re goin’ to be busy for the Winter.”

 Billy went upstairs, but did not go into his own room.  Instead, he carried the toy soldier into Thomas’s room.  The little boy sat on Thomas’s bed, looking out through Thomas’s window.  Beyond the distant fields, toward the East, a storm was readying its front-line offensive.  Billy opened the window and a warm breeze blew in, as if from some other part of the world that was warmer and moister.  It felt like a monsoon was coming to the heartland of America.

The Proud Boys

Hipster brigade

with the sideburn fade.

NRA lite

joking/not joking alt Right,

passive-aggressive simps

pretending to be chauvinistic chimps,

throwing poo

into the milieu

for a troll-lol-lol —

each a petty asshole.

Gavin McInnis, the founder,

likes a big rear-pounder,

taking a dildo up the downside

of his brown-slide,

on live tv

to prove he

is a man ’s man,

a bro-stan

of Ayn Rand,

conflating his own hand

with gov overreach

up the breech.

And by this token

and that token

and that token

they think the Woken

are thus broken,

but useful idiots

are also vidiots —

technicolor fools

over which the new rules

of tribalism

and bible schism

are isms themselves,

sprawling across untidy shelves

and crowned in tinfoil hats,

contentious with so many @s.

Guns, god, and glory,

or so goes the story

they tell themselves at night

in their monitor light,

but the keyboard alt-right-shift

and the libertarian thrift

only go so far,

like a shooting star,

and so they tweet and greet,

meet down the street

in Cabela ’s gear

like a Camo steer,

pretend-soldier boys

with compensating toys,

assault rifles held tight

in case there is a fight

from their instigating,

screaming, “Race-baiting! ”

as they take aim

like that movie by the name,

“Falling Down ”,

but looking like a clown.

No, mother is not proud

of sons overly loud

as they grandstand

in their KKK-Pop boy band.

Real men don ’t whine

at their own punchline,

and pwning themselves just so

no one else can have a go

is like a skit full of snark

from the creators of South Park.

And this “jk ” defense

doesn ’t make any sense.

They are wired

and, some, Trump-inspired,

meming meaning into their days

in a Red Bull-and-bullshit haze,

playing at PR on youtube,

five rubles a newb,

in the comments section

with little self-reflection

while badmouthing Joe

on his Rogaine show

for doing his own thing

because they are Alex Jonesing

while hunkering down

and bunkering down

in a cyber stronghold —

for fuck ’s sake, their shit ’s getting old

The Modern Oz

The modern Tin Man is fueled by

snake oil,

having given away freely his

heart

for an Amazon discount

and a podcast peacemaker of

conspiracy theories.

The Scarecrow has lost his brain

in a broken trade deal,

having pawned it off to pay for

tariffs

while he stuffs the breadbasket with

soybeans,

laying down,

at long last, beneath his

thresher

to return to a simpler time.

The Cowardly Lion roars

with hashtags on Twitter,

Instagramming a fierce photo

while, between posts, shuddering

in the dark of his

lock-down apartment.

The Wizard sits on a

golden toilet

behind the puppeteer curtain,

vociferating loudly

like an orange talking head

to distract from the sounds he makes as he

drops another turd in the swampy toilet bowl,

refusing to flush it.

Dorothy, meanwhile, has been picking fights

with the little people,

accusing them of being

illegal immigrants

while she ignores the tornado of

historical currents

that had brought her to this golden city

upon a hill.

And the

Wicked Witch of the West

sips Tea Party tea,

caterwauling as her flying monkeys busily

troll online,

copy/pasting disinformation for

a ruble a post.

And poor Toto is nothing but

roadkill

splattered along the Yellow Brick Road.

(Non bene pro Toto libertas venditur auro).

Titty-Babies

Eagerly they suck the snake oil
as if it is their mother’s milk,
frenzied and fearful it might spoil—
the conman thus nurtures his ilk.
Gaunt to the point of starvation,
they shake their rattles of unrest,
withered heartland of a nation
and still they suckle at his breast.

Green Star

The green star still shone in the sky as Greg walked out into the parking lot that sprawled emptily in front of the Bocacubrir Industries office building.  His black Charger was the only car illuminated by the lightposts gridded out among the parking spaces, other than the vehicles belonging to Security, the latter huddled near the Security office.

Greg stared at the green star for a while.  Even with the crescent moon overhead the green star dominated his attention with its strange green corona.  It was a color he associated with green slime that he played with when he was a kid —green slime he made with the Mad Scientist lab set he had received for his eighth birthday.  Now he was a numbers man, an accountant, and in his eyes floated all of the numbers for that quarter which he had been crunching in voluntary overtime that evening, while everyone else went home to celebrate the weekend.

Greg would be going home soon, too.  He unlocked his car door, loosened his tie, and swung himself into the Charger with a great sigh of relief.  He set his cell phone in the passenger seat and started his car.  Rain had fallen earlier that day, before sunset, and now a mist rose into the muggy July night.  Greg lit his high beams and started to leave.  Then he stopped.  With a disgruntled growl he removed his N95 mask that was hanging uselessly from his rearview mirror.  It was always in his way.  He had been meaning to throw it away.

The mask now beside his cell phone, he drove toward home.

It was official Bocacobrir policy that everyone wear a mask while at work.  Yet, no one enforced it.  At first everyone obliged.  Then, gradually, one person stopped wearing his, and then another stopped wearing his.  And then another stopped wearing hers, and another stopped wearing hers also.  Now only Security wore their masks, and everyone pretty much disrespected them for it.  Greg heard the other guys in the office crack jokes about the “Rent-a-Cops ” and laugh.  It was a commonplace and everyday pastime.

The highway toward home was dark and foggy.  Mist from the evaporating rain and fog from the river made the dark night seem like a groggy dream.  Or perhaps it was Greg ’s grogginess that made it so.  He had been suffering from fatigue lately, and breathlessness.  Regardless, the green star shone clear through the fog, even while the moon dissolved in it like a skull in a witch ’s cauldron.  It was as if the green star was not among the stars at all, but was closer to the earth than the moon itself.

Greg ’s cell phone rang.

“Hello? ” he answered.

“Hey, Greggy-poo! ” Alison chimed.   “You coming to the bar or not? ”

“Or not, ” Greg said.   “I ’m feeling pretty tired. ”

“Oh poo on you, Greggy-poo! ” Alison puffed.  He could hear the pout on her lips as she spoke.   “But everybody ’s here!  Can ’t you just stop by for a while?  You don ’t even have to drink.  You can be my ride home… ”  Her voice fell to a whisper that was louder than she likely realized.   “…if you know what I mean. ”

“How much have you had to drink? ” Greg asked suspiciously.

“Too much, ” she admitted at once.   “And Paul keeps offering to take me home.  It ’s starting to get creepy as fuuuuuu… ”

Her voice broke with static, and the sounds of music and the cacophony of overlapping voices.

“Please? ” she said, once the static had passed.   “Pretty please, with my cherry on top?  You know I like to be on top.  You like it, too. ”

“I do, ” Greg admitted, though reluctantly.   “Is it smart for everybody to be at a bar right now?  I mean, with everything that is happening? ”

“Don ’t be a stick in the mud, Greg, ” Alison said.   “Get your fine ass over here. ”

“Okay, okay, ” Greg said, slowing his car and turning off into some random driveway.   “Where are you all at? ”

“Shenanigans, of course! ” she exclaimed happily.   “Now, you better hurry, Greggy-leggy.  Don ’t make me beggy. ”

She laughed and the signal distorted her laughter into digital mania.  Greg ’s phone dropped the signal.

Sighing, Greg reversed out of the driveway —just as the front porch light came on —and headed out onto the highway in the opposite direction.  Southbound toward the city, he could see the faint tinge of light pollution on the dark, fog-cobwebbed horizon of darkness.

“Should be safe by now, ” he said to himself.   “They wouldn ’t have reopened the bars unless it was safe. ”

The highway was not very safe.  Greg slowed as the fog and mist thickened.  There were only a few cars on the road as he drove.  A few went slow; a few went fast.    Most disappeared at intersections and subdivisions.  Lampposts along the highway were wanly white or sickly yellow.  Greg had to turn off his high beams, the bright haloes refracting diffusely among the thick vapors and therefore obfuscating rather than illuminating the road.  It was easier to see with low beams.  He turned his windshield wipers on to clear away the condensation.  Afte ra while he turned on the radio, though he was in no mood for music.  Many of the stations were eaten with static. As he flipped through them he became restless.  A station cut clear through the static infecting the others, and his hand paused a moment at a News station.

“…surging through the Southern states while Northern states are seeing a spike of their own… ”

Instinctively he changed the station, flipping through a while longer until another station cut clean through the static to a song that was in the middle of its chorus, the singer ’s obnoxious voice pealing with a yo-yoing yodel.

“…we are young.  So we set the world on fi-yer.  We can burn bri-y-ihter than the sun… ”

Greg hit the power button and welcomed the humming silence of the benighted highway.  Taking a deep breath — and feeling a little pinch in his ribs —he sighed.  Glancing up at the sky he saw the green star reigning high in the foggy, black sky.  Was it larger now?  Perhaps it was just his imagination.

His cell phone rang again.  He answered.

“Greggy-leggy-poo, ” Alsion said in her singsong drunkenness.   “Where are you? ”

“I ’m on my way, ” he said.  He added, “Are you sure it ’s safe there?  No one ’s coughing are they? ”  He asked because he could hear coughing among the music and the voices.

“Just the smokers, Greggy, ” she said.   “Don ’t be such a scaredy cat. ”

“Aren ’t you worried about catching it? ” he asked.

“I ’ve had the flu before, Greggy-poo, ” she said.   “It ’s no big deal.  You gotta ’ live while you can, Greggy-leggy. ”

He heard a familiar voice in the background.  The creaking-oak voice was avuncular in its proclamations.

“When you get to be my age you see these ‘pandemics ’ come and go.  Yeah, the media drones on and on about it as if the sky is falling, but it never does.  They ’re just trying to ‘make it rain ’.  Money, I mean. ”

“Is that Jerry? ” Greg asked.

“Yeah, ” Alison said happily.   “Jerry ’s here too! ”

“He has a heart condition, ” Greg said.

“Two beers won ’t hurt him, Greggy-poo, ” she cooed.

“That ’s not what I meant, ” Greg said, resentful of her flippancy.   “He could contract the… ”

“Woooo, Jerry! ” Alison exclaimed.   “Chug that beer, you old fart! ”

Several people cheered as Jerry exhaled in triumphant satisfaction.

“Let me tell you somethin ’ else, ” Jerry slurred.   “They want to control you.  That ’s what ’s it ’s all about!  Take a little freedom here.  Take a little freedom there.  Bit by bit.  Before you know it, you are living in a Communist country! ”

“Preach it, Jerry! ” someone said.  Probably Thomas.

“Besides, masks don ’t do anything anyway.  I mean, wearing underwear and jeans don ’t keep a fart from leaking out, do they?  How ’s a mask do anything?  I ’m not no vir…virile…ventriloquist or whatever, but even I know that. ”

A waspish swarm of static swelled and the phone dropped the call.  Greg hesitated to put the phone down, and almost dialed Alison ’s number.  But he kept hearing her comment “scaredy cat ” and refrained.  He drove on through the fog and the shadows.

He hated the console light.  It reminded him of the green star.  It was unnatural.  Artificial.  Synthetic.  Unreal.  Looking toward the South, and the city, he saw that the light pollution seemed tinged green, too.  He wished to see the sun, but the sun had been blacked out all day by the rainclouds.  Now that the clouds were gone, the night had come, and with it this oppressive fog.

“Paranoid, ” he told himself.   “The fog ’s distorting it. ”

He continued Southbound.  He continued rationalizing away his fears while suburbia faded in and out of the fog on either side of the highway.  The homes were like haunted houses dimmed darkly in the fog, or else phantasms with pale porchlights that were eaten up with distance and shadow and mist.  He was a numbers man; an accountant.  He knew about percentages and rates and interest and such, and he told himself that numbers were nothing to fear when they at 1%.  Even so, watching the houses lurch out of, and dissolve back into, darkness made him uneasy.  So many houses.  So many people.  How many people would accept the odds of dying from something when the reward for the wager was merely the status quo?  It was a death sentence everyone agreed to pass on someone randomly; someone they may never see or know in their lifetime.

Then again, he knew that odds were strange things that made allowances for aberrations at unpredictable rates.  Various circumstances could exponentially increase the odds of something happening within sectors and conditions.  To concentrate numbers, and decrease distance while increasing time, were to multiply the odds that the unlikely scenario would play out.  Pascal ’s wager, in other words, was not such a longshot in a universe of infinite possibilities.  And besides, odds could also tilt drastically against someone — such as someone attending a church —and suddenly the odds disadvantage all the people in that church because of circumstances and conditions being ripe for such over-leveraging of occurrences.  In other words, by risking the odds an individual invites the possibility of maximum loss, even with minimal waging.

Greg thought about what Jerry had said.  The problem was that the danger seemed like it was far away, over and beyond the horizon; happening somewhere else, if it was happening at all.  There was a delayed sense of impending peril.  Like an asteroid in the Milky Way that was supposed to hit earth as it looped around, year after year, but no one could calculate when.  And so days go by, and months, and years, and people forget about it.  Or stop believing in it.  Then, one night, they are looking up at the stars, thinking about the lives they have been habituated to, and all at once a star falls to earth, only it is not a star —it is the asteroid —and they have been staring at it all along, but not recognizing it until, at long last, it comes crashing down upon their complacent heads.

Chicken Little is vindicated, but not in a way that will bring any satisfaction to himself or anyone else.

“The sky is falling, ” Greg said.   “Isn ’t it? ”

He frowned down at the N95 mask.  He did not know what to think.

His cell phone rang.  He answered it.

“Please join us, soon, ” Alison pleaded.   “Hurry.  Paul is being weird.  So is Mikey..  He is very handsy.  Won ’t keep his distance. ”

“Alison, ” he said seriously, “stay away from them.  Do you hear me?  Where ’s Rachel?  You and Rachel need to look out for each other until I get there. ”

He tried to accelerate his Charger, but the fog was too thick and he almost hit a opossum crossing the road.  He swerved, then slowed.  Alison was speaking like a child.  It was quiet behind her, except for a knocking noise.

“Rachel is with the others, ” she said.   “I ’m in the restroom.  By myself.  I locked the door.  People are banging on it.  Paul and Mikey won ’t leave me alone. ”

“Alison, do you have your mask? ”

There was a long pause.   “No, ” she said, her voice cracking tearfully.   “I left it in my car.  Or I threw it away.  I don ’t remember. ”

“Just…just stay in the restroom, ” Greg said.   “And don ’t open it unless it ’s me talking to you.  Okay? ”

“Okay, ” she whimpered.  There was another long pause.   “Greg…I ’m scared… ”

The static swarmed and the signal dropped.  Greg ’s heart hammered upon his aching rib cage.  He had known Alison for two years now.  They had made out once at a company function —while both were serving as bartenders.  Nothing else came of it except casual flirtation and friendly conversations.  Until recently Greg had been engaged to a young woman he had dated in college.  Partying together through college had convinced them that they were a good match.  A month of lockdown spent together in the same apartment for 24 hours proved otherwise.  When lockdown ended, Greg and his former fiancee bid each other adieu in colorful, uncompromising fashion.  It was for the best, in the end.  They were not a good couple without other people to distract one another from each others ’ incompatibilities.

When he told Alison about the fallout, she quickly began to pull him in her own direction, culminating in a recent night of bedtime gymnastics.

“She said she gets paranoid when she ’s drunk, ” he reassured himself.   “Or when she smokes pot.  She probably did a little of both tonight.  Just to celebrate the first month free from the lockdown.  A lot of people are indulging right now.  Going wild. ”

He glanced, irresistibly, up at the green star.  He tried to speak aloud again —some trite rationalization involving numbers and odds and such —but his voice died in his throat.

The dilapidated strip malls slowly unfurled out of the fog, and the old fast-food restaurants, the dive bars, and then the newer strip malls, and the newer fast-food restaurants, and then the hipster stores, and wholesale foods, and niche shops.  More streetlights bleared sleepily through the fog and mist.  The buildings crowded closer together, occasionally giving way to a block of townhouses, a sushi restaurant, a records store.  Then the more eccentric bars, and the dance clubs, and lounges, and music halls.  Greg told himself that the green tinge to the fog was a result of all of the neon signs for food and beer, and the green traffic lights strung over the roadways, as well as the cars passing by more frequently now, speeding as if they could outstrip Death himself.

But Greg could not ignore the people standing on the sidewalks, and in front of the clubs, and near the outdoor dining areas.  They all stared at him through the fog as he passed, their mouths gaping open to spew the fog from within the greenly glowing recesses of their open throats.  Slack-jawed, they gaped and spewed.  Idiotically they gawped, spreading the fog thickly throughout the city.  Greg ’s hand fumbled for his N95 mask, then quickly secured it over his nose and mouth.  The green glow of their eyes followed his Charger as he hurried toward Shenanigans.

His cell phone range.  He picked it up and answered.  The line was digitally fragmented.

“…Greggy-poo…hurry…come to us… ”

The call dropped and he found that he had a hard time breathing.  His lungs ached.  They had been aching all along.

Shenanigans was overflowing with people.  They all stared at Greg as he parked his car down the street.  They all spewed the green fog.

Keeping one hand on his mask, Greg walked toward the bar, its bright neon sign dimmed in the fog.  Directly overhead the green star glowed bright and sickly.  It was bigger than before.  Greg tried not to look at it, or the other people crowding the street.  He focused on the door.

The crowd parted as he passed.  Their green eyes followed, and they never stopped spewing the green fog, but they did not impede him.  He soon saw why.

Alison greeted Greg at the door.  She was wearing a Summer skirt and a green tanktop.  Her blonde hair was permed into lively curls.  When she spoke the green fog sputtered from her mouth.

“Join us, ” she said, her voice distorted with static.   “There is nothing to fear.  Do not live in fear.  Do not fall prey to their control. ”

Greg backed away, holding his mask tight to his face, but the crowd closed in around him, blocking his retreat.

“Alison, ” he begged.   “Please…you need help.  All of you need help…  You are infected. ”

“Do not fear, ” Alison said, her voice a digital drone.   “Do not live in fear.  Live in liberty.  Do not be controlled.  Think for yourself.  Join us. ”

The crowd enclosed her.

“THINK FOR YOURSELF.  JOIN US.  BE FREE.  BE UNAFRAID. ”

The green fog swirled thickly around Greg.  He had nowhere to go.  The green star reigned above him and beyond him.  It grew larger, coming closer, and what was a star became as a sun, its corona making the night as if a day bright with a pestilent color.  The green light burned brighter than the sun.  His lungs ached.  He could not breathe.  An iron maiden clamped upon his brain.  The mask could do nothing.

He had already been infected.

Images Of A Pandemic

Straddling the lungs
with its heavy weight,
the inflaming imp
settles down comfortably
for the long night.

Forty-thousand deaths so far
in this war,
yet they scoff.
Perhaps if the enemy
believed in Mohammed
they might take this war of
existentialism
more seriously.

Breathing through his
thin orange skin
the toad needs no mask
for his smirking mouth,
contented to eat the flies
congregating on the heaped dead.

They trip the Red Queen,
making her fall flat
on her masked face
and then ready her
corona coronation.

No gloves, no masks,
no tests, no ventilators,
but many are amply supplied with
tinfoil hats,
thinking such fashionable attire the
vaccine
against their fears.
Too soon they gather
on the Spring Break shores,
piling up their
beach bodies
to ride the tsunami
of that swelling curve.

During the Bubonic Plague
the conspiracy gossips killed
cats,
thinking them all witch familiars
and likewise today
they kill
commonsense
to help the rats multiply.
It was a literal
free (flea) market.

The Priest And The Pig

There was a Priest who lived in a town— a town very much like any in Colonial America. His favorite refrain was “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, and so he often exhorted his flock to bathe at least once every three days for healthiness of body and soul. These ablutions were not so well-received by the townsfolk. They resented taking baths, and they resented the Priest’s ideals concerning cleanliness, and often laughed about their pigs wistfully and how they wallowed so happily in their own filth.
One day a pig farmer asked the priest a question.
“If cleanliness is next to Godliness, then you, being a priest, should be able to clean a pig and keep it clean, shouldn’t you?”
The Priest took the challenge to heart and, so, proclaimed he would clean a pig of his own and keep it clean in the pews of the church henceforth. The farmer was so pleased by this bit of mirth-and-merry that he volunteered his own hog to the Priest; a hog whom he had named Donald.
Donald was a large, fat hog with quivering jowls and quick bowels. It was said the farmer had never planned to butcher Donald because his meat would have been too befouled to eat. Donald also made the farmer— and his neighbors—laugh due to his devil-may-care antics of befouling himself and wallowing in it and shaking it about himself in every direction. Seeing the hog, the Priest was dismayed. But he was not deterred. He took charge of the hog and brought Donald home, immediately setting about cleaning the beast with rituals of ablution. Everyday the Priest undertook this Herculean labor, and every day Donald would be clean for a brief time during Mass. Not long later, however, Donald would be covered in his own filth, and so, too, the church pews. Conversely, the Priest spent so much time and effort trying to clean the pig that he, himself, became soiled and sullied as well. Day to day, his holy garbs were ruined by the hog’s disgusting habits, predilections, and impulses.
In time, the townsfolk began to scorn the Priest and his dirty condition. They stopped listening to the Priest while in church, and forewent their own ablutions. Simultaneously, they looked upon Donald fondly and praised him, adulating his cleanliness, even as he spoiled the pews between which he passed, the Priest following behind him to clean away the filth in Donald’s wake.
“Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” they said, remembering the Priest’s refrain. And so they shunned the befouled priest and made Donald the new leader in their church. The Priest despaired at this, and became angry.
“Have you no sense?” he said. “It was by my labors that your pagan idol became as though clean!”
His former flock ignored him, sitting in the pews and listening raptly to Donald’s grunts and oinks and squeals. The Priest raged, vowing never to clean Donald again. Within the same service of Mass the hog had befouled himself, flies swarming him in the hot Summer air while he wallowed upon the dais and squealed. The townsfolk looked on approvingly, yet the Priest attempted to triumph in this revelation before them.
“See you now the iniquity of this squalid beast?!” he cried. “See you now how sullied you yourselves are made with false worship of a glutton and putrid profligate? A creature of basest instincts and inane proclamations?”
The flock was sprayed with filth from Donald as he rolled in his own expulsions, and yet the flock was not so filthy as their new idol.
“But he is a pig,” they said. “Of course he is filthy. And that is why we love him. For he is what he is, and makes us feel better about ourselves. And he makes you angry when all you do is make us feel wanting. You only chastised us to improve ourselves. But we do not need to improve ourselves with Donald leading us. We are cleaner when beneath him than we were when beneath you, for if Donald is closer to God when he is so filthy, why, we must be very close to God right now. Closer than we ever could be with you talking down to us.”
“But it is a god of filth that you aspire to,” the Priest said. “It is a god of baseness to whom you lower yourselves in prostration!”
The flock tried to say more, but Donald’s filth rained downed upon them in a great shower. They praised him as one voice, then cast the Priest out of the town, exiling him to the wilderness as if he was an unclean leper among them.
The American townsfolk lived as pigs, shamelessly, to the end of their days.