Parentless, In Our Childhood Homes
During the night after my grandfather’s funeral,
the night my brother and I threw a party
in my mother’s house, I had the slurred thought
that somewhere beneath the layered, filmy stick
of beer spilled from low-stakes tall boys,
deep down, under crumpled fast food wrappers
damp with grease and cigarette butts on beds of ash,
the coffee table still had the shine my mother
always guaranteed—magazines straightened,
smudges erased—but it wasn’t until just now,
seconds ago, rain ticking shingles and car hoods,
slicking this small town’s unlined streets, on no
specific occasion, years removed from what remains
of that night’s memory, that I wondered
how my mother decided to fill those same hours,
both of us parentless, in our childhood homes,
and somehow my first thought was that,
for even that night, she was a mother, that she organized
her dead father’s clothes into piles, reknotted
his necktie, pulled framed photos from his dresser
so she wouldn’t have to look back on that life
as she dusted the surface until the scuffed oak lay bare.
Welcome to Pneuma Airlines. Before we begin boarding
with our Pneuma World MasterCard carriers
and those with small children, we’d like to make
a few special announcements:
The woman who speaks to you in front of your gate,
touches your shoulder, her black hair gleaming
with treatment, boots laced mid-thigh, the gal
right over there, living in her highest spirit,
wants to give you two roundtrip tickets
to anywhere you desire.
We hope you choose Las Vegas. Dream it. Do it.
On board, our cabins are pressurized to seal in
all your secrets. Never let your Vegas stories fly.
If you’re taller than six feet,
welcome to our Limited-Edition-Compact-Seating-Experience.
If you’re lucky enough to claim Row 26-A,
the lone seat near the culinary compartment,
get ready for a thrilling ride.
But imagine the payoff: a chair
in the sky your grandfathers thought
only possible in Heaven, a throne of mild discomfort,
a test of the spirit’s worth in catalogue merchandise–
commemorative mini football helmet lampshades,
We will never forget inscribed on a martini mixer
guaranteed to fashion bone-dry drinks for you next big soirée.
Or, if you’re hungry or thirst for something else,
try a selection from our Good, Better & Best Deals: two juices
and a Pneuma-sized bag of nuggets and nuts for only $8.
Pneuma water, $3. But no matter the seat, the drinks
or the snacks, God, the godless and the mysterious all fly Pneuma,
hopefully to Vegas, hopefully where each
will hang tough at the tables through the last dice roll,
the last quarter, the last lever pulled.
If your Pneuma refreshments leave you
in need of a restroom, enjoy the plush cabin
with near-marble sink tops located at the rear of the aircraft.
Cover your ears for the flush, and deposit
your cigarette butts in the complimentary ash tray
molded into the door (Federal Law prohibits tampering with,
disabling, or destroying any smoke detector
in an airplane lavatory; smoking in lavatories;
and smoking in passenger compartments).
We’ve fashioned your seat cushion with Pneuma Straps.
In the rare event that we need to make a water landing,
you can grasp them and float, be saved.
Before you know it, our journey together will be complete.
Think fondly on the times we will share in anonymity.
Take the fable of your Pneuma Airlines trip with you.
Pick up a t-shirt or ball cap as you disembark.
Let your loved ones know, your friends, your colleagues,
your bartender at the hotel lounge, your call girl, your photograph,
let them know how we smoothed you through
the air with old magic, from one bloated urban dreamscape
to the next, each time a nod and understated silence
from one of our Air Hosts. Remember what we have offered you—
a nickel-slot gamble on Pneuma,
a discount flight over the ocean, the flitting city lights.
New Year’s Resolution, March 20, 2012
Going on four months in the year
of the supposed end-times, I’ve figured out,
if doomsday arrives, my final self-improvement:
I’ll chew and swallow every bite of food
before taking another. Nothing muscle and mind
can’t be taught after a few thousand tries.
This morning—the first—I practice with clementines,
one piece before the next, each reduced to mush
and spilled down what feels like the underside of skin
inside my chest. I manage the first,
teeth snapping its eight separate wedges
of vein and orange-jellied meat.
But on a morning like this—dogwoods
bloomed a month before annual festivals,
sweat drench of a pre-work run—
I am shocked into indulgence like the bee
on the early flower and the red-eyed vireo
tricked into return. And I know as well
as everyone else that these times do not call us
to be so full, but there’s something
about the premature burst of spring,
that same old beginning, and the food I eat
as far-flung and endless as it’s always been,
that if I don’t keep chewing and swallowing
without pause, the earth might burn its lot
on a season’s passion and one night soon
leave us to frost-tinged fruit, turn
the sugared flesh, too young, back to salt.
Austin Kodra is an MFA candidate in poetry at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pirene’s Fountain, Birmingham Arts Journal, Polaris, The Medulla Review, and elsewhere.
Q: Birds migrate along the earth’s magnetic fields. What guides a human’s internal compass through life?
A: I’d like to think it’s something similar. Maybe the alternate life in which we’d made all the opposite choices determines what happens in this life. That’s my silly metaphysical answer. In reality, I think this has more to do with education, with how we treat the most vulnerable among us. For me, I’d undoubtedly say my internal compass is calibrated to the example my parents set for me. Others might reject all that and go it alone. Some might only care about power or money or death. So I think what people learn to appreciate and/or hate about life from childhood on from whomever or whatever educates them is probably a decent indicator.
Q: “Jet-set” has a whole new meaning these days, as flying has become difficult, demanding, occasionally hellish. What’s your favorite route, favorite stopover, and why?
A: While my experiences on discount airlines have sometimes been comical and superfluous to the point of absurdity, I wouldn’t go so far as to call them hellish. I mean, I’m still flying through the sky. What did I ever do to deserve that? Borrow some money from my parents? But to address the question, I’m freakishly tall, so I try not to fly too often, and I prefer short flights with no layovers. I flew business class to Paris once, so I guess that’s the one. Seven hours of so much leg room.
Q: Why is the apocalypse, with or without zombies, so much on our minds these days?
A: I think this is the exact question I grappled with once I’d figured out what I wanted to do in the poem “New Year’s Resolution, March 20, 2012.” The more we know about our places in the world, the more we know about our roles in its destruction. There’s the obvious cultural mythology surrounding 2012, but I think having actual evidence to back up the fact that we consciously and willingly make decisions that contribute to the destruction of where we exist is horrifying and fascinating. In addition, I think human beings are inherently curious about what the world would be like without their own consciousness to interpret it, so I guess that might play a role as well.