I just forgot how to count in Roman Numerals, and had to look it up.
I used to be good at them, and would always wait for the end of TV shows,
where I’d get to count the date. The game was: figure out the date
before it blinked away. In that, it was like most other things. It was
an odd feeling, when it went from MCM to MM. I’d been seeing MCM
my whole life. Natalie was born in MMI, November the 16th,
after the Twin Towers were already gone, and most likely
all she’ll know is MM. M & M. Mmm mmm good.
We all know in the abstract to be prepared for several eventualities,
most of which won’t happen. And so what do we do with all these preparations
we never have to use? All the driving routes one imagines
in case one has to get to these people or to those people. What to say
when all these people call who never call. And in the same way,
there’s always something that we can’t imagine preparing for, that happens.
Quick! Say something memorable! At every point it’s a matter of minutes
and then seconds, then now, the stopwatch winding down the hundred-year flood
that becomes the flood you’re steeping in. Still, thinking about it, it begins
to look like: one, two, three, many . . . many, three, two, one. And that’s
a terrible way to count, when most days it’s routine maintenance,
and every cup of coffee a suite for spoon and porcelain. Being
is the true subject, right? And they say there’s a hole in every theory of being.
“Do you think you’ll ever be free?” was just asked on CNN, by Soledad O’Brien,
I think. And there we are. Everywhere is locked in with everyone, as
almost no one makes it out, as Jason Molina says. But let’s pretend
for a moment that we have choices, that these eventualities are a choice,
as if the Camptown ladies might be able to do anything other than sing their song.
And then, would anything change? It’s the old question, because the universe,
to a being of infinity, is wholly known, which includes the sci-fi stuff,
where an astronaut gets going a little too fast in 2001: A Space Odyssey,
and ends up a little ahead of the speed of light, suddenly finding himself
everywhere at once, including a quiet white room, like this one I’m in right now,
contemplating breakfast. While doing that, why not check in on the ladies
in Camptown? Connect all the dots of the connect-the-dots at once?
But once you’re infinite, as infinity is travel, what happens if you slow down
again? Or is it that once crossed, it’s a line from which there’s no return?
John Gallaher is the author of, most recently, Your Father on the Train of Ghosts (with G. C. Waldrep). His next book, In a Landscape, will be out in Fall 2014. He’s currently co-editor of The Laurel Review and lives in rural Missouri.