Bruce of Minos
Sometimes the company’s mad labyrinth
delights him! All the pretty information
flashing around him like a school
of fluorescent fish. He sits at his desk
inside the hum of heat and plumbing,
imagining the others
singing mutely in their chambers.
The sun forces its way
through a tinged window. Bruce blinks
in the machine. A lot
of them would kill for the spot he’s in.
He inserts a glistening sample, prints
out a data sheet for assessment,
imagining his discovery making its way
through the air to the upper floors.
He works harder than ever, but data
shows he’s flagging. It’s hard to finish anything
inside this roar. He turns up the brightness,
plugs his ears, tries to ignore
the hooves scuffing the walls around him,
beating the floor above his head.
The talk at the office party is of the man
who signed up to take a one-way trip to Mars,
leaving his wife and kids behind.
Bruce cowers with a sweaty drink
as a vice-president glides by
in her green dress. He’s thinking
of the old explorers—Odysseus
blinking awake in Circe’s bed,
James Cook beaten
to death at Kealakekua Bay.
He imagines Earth receding in a porthole,
or watching through a long scope
as its shrouded landmasses
bloom with mushroom clouds.
He’d never have the nerve.
He clutches his soggy plate
as a group of gossiping computer techs
veers closer. Hell is other people.
The squirrels in the wall vex poor Ghost
who sniffs along the baseboards
with a mix of joy and anxiety
Bruce recognizes from his own pursuit
of things beyond his reach. He wants
more than he’ll ever get—a scrappy
nation trying for the bomb. In fifth grade
he knelt under his desk, laced his hands
over his neck and prayed
our missiles would incinerate the Russians
first. He wrote a story about a boy
who rises from a smoldering city
and becomes king of the new red world,
of everything we have destroyed.
On the gray shelf of winter,
in the dusty light
of eight a.m., Bruce
sees his lost boy’s face,
still imagining the dead
by second grade he knew
in this universe
there’s no such thing
as up—only a scattering
of matter speeding
away from a giant
bomb. It’s strange how
Bruce misses him,
this boy he never met
except as a kick
in Annie’s belly, this
biohazard bag thrown
out with the bloody
needles, this stone
on someone else’s grave.
She’s never heard of a collision course,
blunt force trauma, Toyota Corporation,
or even the thing she’s running from—
coyotes or some hick up a tree.
Blurred by twilight and a couple beers,
she appears in Bruce’s reverie,
a hazy thoroughbred sprung from the race,
and for half a second he thinks she’s another
image on a screen. He hits the brakes
just before he hits the doe, pulls over
on the grass and watches her convulsing
in the side mirror. In a different dream
he would walk back and hold her in his arms.
In this one he calls State Farm and the cops.
A wiry man in camo comes and works
his barbed knife around her white underbelly.
Bruce drives his busted fender home
and for the next few days she floats
across his mind—the running version—
lissome, wild-eyed, nearly saved.
Mark Neely is the author of Beasts of the Hill (winner of the FIELD Poetry Prize) and Dirty Bomb, both from Oberlin College Press. He has received a Poetry Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and an Artist’s Grant from the Indiana Arts Council, and his poems have appeared in Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, Boulevard, Willow Springs and elsewhere. He teaches at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, and at the low-residency MFA program at Ashland University.
Mark Neely at Oberlin College Press
Interview with Mark Neely at AGNI Online
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