Word Problem #37
Train A departs Duluth at 7 a.m. traveling 20 miles per hour faster than train B, which departs from Sheboygan at 6 a.m. The conductor of train A is drunk. The conductor of train B is asleep. They travel on the same track from opposite directions because X and Y equal bitter saboteurs who’ve never been able to solve their identity crises. There will be an explosion. Everyone will catch on fire and die. How far will the charred limbs fly when the trains collide head-on and create algebraic wreckage? Show your work.
from When Kerosene’s Involved (Black Coffee Press, forthcoming in 2013), first published in Gone Lawn
( _______________ )
We do not say the word. We let it linger in the house like comfortable dust neither of us is willing to clean up. We allow it to weave its way into our lives like an anonymous tapestry. It’s becomes a second home—one that doesn’t require renovation. We attempt to make amends and, on those days, concoct homemade smoothies for each other; it can even be heard over the grinding blender that was a wedding gift. When we yawn, it knows why. It creeps into our bedroom and wakes us up every morning, begging to be fed. We oblige. It has become our pet: housebroken and neglected. We knit a sweater for it in case it gets colder, yet we pretend it’s not there. We welcome it into our family. We have named it, nothing.
We wait for you to say the word. That word is magic. It’s easy to pronounce, and loaded like love. Our arms are open (See our cracked calluses?). We’ve witnessed you pull a rabbit from a man’s scalp. The rabbit died, but the man lived and was so inspired, he became your apprentice. We’ve seen you levitate over an audience. Your flying was more like invisible-stringing along, but you pretty much pulled it off. We won’t go into the saw and volunteer. That was an accident. Yet we’re concerned. Most recently, we caught you crying backstage, repeating how hard it is to satisfy non-believers. How difficult it is to prove illusions and mind tricks exist to help spectators live vicariously: a life of smoke and mirrors, vapor and reflection. Here we are. Gimmickless. Just say the word. And then we’ll disappear.
Who can understand the words? They dribble out of mouths too lazy to pronounce. Leftover language barely passing as communication. We should not blame the culprits. They’re serial offenders whose native tongue is a derivative of mumbling. The trait was passed down at a young age. They watched passive-aggressive tendencies from tight-lipped fathers who tiptoed around their mothers. Hence, they became juniors/inheritors. We’ve tried to teach them an•nun•ci•a•tion. Exaggerated lips attempting to model proper speech patterns without being pa•tron•iz•ing. But we understand their reluctance. Because telling another man how to say is akin to telling him what to say. Instead we do our best to nurture “pidgin,” substituting makeshift subtitles for broken wings.
“For who maketh thee to differ from another?” 1 Corinthians 4:7
It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame and blasphemy. Sunday morning is our Big Leagues. Some of my teammates claim, “Baseball is our religion.” I bunt and spill blood through my pants for them, but we are not followers of the same doctrine. I arrive at the high school field extra early because I take warming-up more seriously. A half-hour of stretching limbs and wind sprints. The other players trickle in like gradual sin.
The service starts with worship. Hands raised to Heaven glorify Him. Voices lifted in unison. No national anthem is played before our game. But the other team has a portable radio crooning Lowrider oldies. Lots of songs about lonely girls. After worship, Pastor encourages everyone to greet the person next to them, usually a stranger. Just before gametime, I hi-five teammates I’ve known for years.
Checks are written and cash is dropped into offering buckets, then passed down the row where an usher awaits to collect them. The Bible says to give ten percent of your income to the Lord’s house. I dig into my back pocket, grab a handful of sunflower seeds and my six-dollar umpire fee. I unwad it and place it into my player-manager’s hand.
The Word is always brought after offering. The congregation sits and intently listens to whatever Pastor had on his heart for the week. Sometimes a few girlfriends and wives sit in the metal bleachers. Sometimes they even look up from their phones. Usually when we give them something to cheer about.
I’m in church when I’m not playing baseball every other Sunday. I’m my team’s leadoff hitter and consequently, a heathen. Number one in the lineup— Prodigal Son in reverse. I intend to make up for my no-show by going to night service. But I still cling to glory. After the warm-up pitches I glare at the mound, dig into the batter’s box and whisper, “Herewegonowkid… Praise God.”
Daniel Romo is the author of Romancing Gravity (Pecan Grove Press) and When Kerosene’s Involved (Black Coffee Press), both forthcoming in 2013. His poetry and photography can be found in The Los Angeles Review, Gargoyle, MiPOesias, Yemassee, Word Riot, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and teaches high school creative writing. He lives in Long Beach, CA. More of his writing can be found at his blog, boxscores and luchadores…and poetry.