What Happens in Hour Four?
I’m paying attention to the lyrics in this song
which go you can’t…always get…what you want…
but if you try…you get what you need. I’m paying attention
because that’s one thing I do. Others include falling
asleep reading in bed and jumping in the air at graduations
like it’s the first day of the rest of my life.
I’m paying attention to places like Norway
where they’ve built the first octopus farm—this article I read
spent a few pages worrying it could be a disaster
ethically. Which it probably is. Name anything right now
in front of a mirror and see if you don’t notice the bruises
patterning your tongue. If what we’re up to is what I think we’re up to
we’re in auditions for translator of the untranslatable voice
at our center, and having a truly awful show. Hence I am leaning forward
and listening. Hence we want to walk through the world on fire
complaining about the cold heart we dangle from a string on our neck.
As if we didn’t tie the string ourselves. As if there were a knife small enough
to cut the electrons at the center of our most anxious atom, freeing
us. Hence: we can’t always get what we want. See: today
on our walk Swayze tracked a squirrel as it danced
from tree branch to telephone wire. Clearly the master
had become the student. I was trying to decide what I need
and what I want, and if they’re compatible with what The Royal
We need. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be removing this hook from my lip
for example, or finding others to join me. After the octopus story
I found pragmatic tips for surviving the first hour of a nuclear impact.
By the second hour, apparently, you’re on your own. And by the third:
why aren’t you dead? I used to get all gee shucks when asked what I really need.
Now you might find me late at night looking for a perfect place in the grass
to deposit the spider from my shower. We’re both still living: that’s
usually what I mean. Lucky for us, the army of octopus is only floating babies
in theoretical glass jars, backlit like the Jesus in a painting in my neighbor’s den
our first night on weed. Matt spun a globe and Jeremy tooled around
with a yo-yo. I was waiting for nothing and nothing came. It was abundant.
Things Keep Happening
In the first real trouble of my life, dad told me,
“It’s not if you hold the gavel, it’s if you bring it down.”
And then the next domino was placed, My Brother
And The No-Good Night He Got a DUI.
And the next: I got fired from the boat store.
They said, “We aren’t disappointed, just angry.”
Then, as I walked out, they corrected themselves:
“You know what, actually, we’re disappointed, too.”
Que Sera. And then for two weeks we were religious.
I stood in a youthful crowd with my hands up hoping
and aspiring to show Katie W what a good boy I was.
But then some child of doubt murdered my child of belief
and it was over. What will be will be. It got really Lord of the Flies
for a minute inside me, but we’re better now. God exists
or doesn’t, Katie’s a guidance counselor and the world’s
more habitable for it. Life’s now killing the same
ant, releasing the same yellow spider. Domino
after Domino. My vocation is nodding along
like a dog who’s exhausted two of three tricks and trying
to decide if he should go back to trick 1 or 2. It’s my authentic
gesture to the universe thus fulfilling my destiny as bird
who presents discarded Monopoly piece and gold
foil wrapper to researcher it’s grown fond of.
Or all we’ve ever been is one of many baby turtles
crawling the wrong way up a beach towards lights of a city whimpering
“Moon mother, I am coming.” Either way, the next domino
is already here. We’re being fitted for clothes in the eternal museum
and if I’ve understood this past life correctly we get to choose
which position we’re in, what we’re wearing, if our hands are up.
Jeff Whitney’s most recent collection is Sixteen Stories (Flume Press, 2022). His poems can be found or found soon in 32 Poems, Adroit, Kenyon Review, Missouri Review, Pleiades, Poetry Northwest, and Sixth Finch. He lives with his wife in Portland.