The Other Way Around
My son asked for a quick bedtime story.
So I said time is the horizon of all being,
go to sleep. At which point he said
I think you’re wrong about that
dad, I think it might be
the other way around.
I Was Playing Online Chess
Against this guy from Turkey. I don’t really know if he was a guy
from Turkey. He just said he was a guy from Turkey.
He could’ve been some dude in his mom’s
basement in Terre Haute waiting for Armageddon
while pretending to be a guy from Turkey.
You never know. I do know his screenname
was invincible, and that he was not invincible.
Not that I’m any good either—
I’ve lost probably thousands of games
to players with screennames like buttmilk and thundercheese2000,
even lost to a 10-year old once at a chess club
that met at an Arby’s on the east side—
that’s how the god forsaken roll—
where I had to act like it didn’t bother me at all
while this kid, slurping Mellow Yellow through a straw and picking
through a mountain of ketchup and fries, blitzed me to a mess
from the very first move. It was like getting beat up
by a teddy bear. Anyway, here’s what happened with invincible—
I put him in check, and instead of saving his king
or just resigning, he logged off instead, with way too much time
on the clock, like a big fat bowl of crybaby soup.
If he was a guy from Turkey, he disappeared
into maybe 15 million other lives and the mystery of Istanbul
where you can walk from Asia to Europe while eating
a roast beef. Once time ran off, the game declared:
You win by abandonment. Let me repeat that:
You win. By ABANDONMENT. My first thought was: Of course!
Then I wondered what else could be won by abandonment?
Probably not parenting but how about The Powerball?
How about our jobs? That would give us a lot more
time on the big clock. I’d wrap my arms around
everything and try to stay high.
MTV shaped my ambitions. Nuclear strikes
eviscerated me in night mares in the 80s.
Among my friends are professors cops, and someone
who went to Federal prison for heroin. I have a hard time
reading novels. I do not remember the birthdays
of my parents or the dates of their deaths. Never dared
ask my dad about Vietnam. Never want to live
in a cul-de-sac. I will say I fear boredom more than death.
I make lists; I list. When I am trying
hard to remember something important, my shoulders tense.
I am a blue-collar kid middle son
of a single-mother who never caught a break. My dream
of freedom is to be debt free. I have been un-
faithful in my marriage. My father buried in his Red Sox hat
and Patriots jersey, as if on the other side
of the border he was crossing was a clam-chowder
victory parade. My therapist wondered aloud:
“Have you felt guilty and ashamed your whole life?”
Twice I have spent the night in jail, both times
as a minor, both times for possession.
Late-afternoon summer light fills me
with an exquisite melancholy. I can bake a simple
satisfying loaf of bread. I am easily distracted.
I cannot bear to watch slow-motion replays of athletes
getting injured, especially knee injuries,
as I have blown out my left knee three times.
I read The Things They Carried thinking it would help me
understand my dad. There was a handyman
in our town; an accident involving a power line
had disfigured his face my mother always hired him.
I worked with a chowder cook; whenever I said
I was doing “good” he would correct me:
“You mean you’re doing well.”
They talk into a banana like it’s a phone.
Vow to wash their hands for a million years
20 seconds at a time.
They wonder about fate and the lines
in their palms.
Here’s the thing about the future:
usually we don’t notice it
when it arrives.
A hundred years from now,
when our evolved descendants have the technology,
they’ll speak with us, the long lost dead,
and ask about our unpainted
drywall, our 3.7 quadrillion in debt, what it was like
—if we were lucky—
to put our feet up and be in our pjs all-day
while we survived online.
When you’re a parent,
the fate of your kids seems like your own.
And I’m sure mine aren’t the only ones
who’ve watched some numb-nuts in a hazmat suit on TikTok
blame the outbreak on a Chinese bio-lab
where they crossed a bat
with a bullet.
I have to go in there, into that wedge of confusion,
and pull them loose.
The future is where your thoughts can reach,
And the speed of light at which
you can almost see. Then I show them something really good—
how to fix dinner
with just a box of noodles,
a can of diced-tomatoes,
and half an onion
that makes everyone cry when I chop it up.
Matthew Guenette makes a killer breakfast of fried eggs over hash browns with hot sauce on top. He wishes he could still play basketball, still dreams of that one time he dunked, and regrets never learning how to play the bass and joining a punk band. He dislikes peas. He’d like to plant a bee garden and lives in Madison, on eastside, which he calls the beastside, with his wife, their two children, and a 20 pound cat named Butternut. He is the author of three full-length poetry collections: Vasectomania (U of Akron Press, 2017), American Busboy (U of Akron Press, 2011), and Sudden Anthem (Dream Horse Press, 2008). He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Southern Illinois University, and his BA in English from the University of New Hampshire.