Glenn Shaheen


My wife has starting smoking. Well, she began to smoke in high school, everybody did really, but she has now started to smoke for real. She buys packs on a regular basis. The clerk at the Snapy Snacky knows her brand and everything. I tried to tell her to stop, that she would die much sooner if she didn't, but that's no argument. Neither of us wants to live to see the other die. I have high blood pressure, so I've already got a decade or so advantage over her. Tobacco is a resilient crop and it is doing fine. There have been food riots lately, many of the chemicals used to make potato chips, candy, junk food,  and fast food burgers have been in extreme shortage all year. There is not a food shortage, no—just a chemical shortage. Crops are abundant. We have to eat leafy greens almost every meal, and fresh eggs. It's too much for many to handle. They want their frozen Boneless Wyngz* (*no real wing meat) with flavor dustings of all shades of salt. Tobacco is a leaf, it is untouched and my wife puffs away. Puff puff. I become healthier and healthier, I can't avoid it. My doctor says my blood pressure is that of a very fit senior citizen, which is a decent start for me. I make a terrific sandwich with cucumber and arugula paste and worry I'll live until I'm 90. On a business flight I sit next to an older woman. Outside the plane are two layers of clouds. They look like frozen ocean waves. The sun makes a single diagonal beam that cuts the scene and I must bother the stranger, the older woman. She looks up from her book and she is crying. I apologize, I hesitate. I say there is something beautiful outside and she nods, says thank you, and turns back to her book.



Stiles and I wanted to make a bomb. We were thirteen, bored, girlfriendless. Kids at school had been making fun of me because I was Arab, saying I'd blow up the school. It was just after the World Trade Center bombing, the first "failed" one that only killed six people and that Biggie would immortalize in the lyric "blow up like the World Trade." Not that the kids at school needed a racial excuse to bully me—I had just moved from Canada and still called soda "pop," had tortoiseshell glasses, thick braces, and few friends other than Stiles, who himself was not exactly the Zack Morris of our middle school. I only mention the Arab thing though because Stiles figured I'd be a natural at building the bomb, it was in my blood. I only protested a little—my thirteen-year old self thought it would be pretty badass to have an innate bombmaking skill passed on through generations of badasses, for Arab terrorists, bad guys as they may be, were certainly badasses. The power to make something violent was seductive. So I grabbed a bunch of aerosol cans and batteries from my house and we shoved it all into a shoebox with some M-80s. We took the box out to the woods and doused it in gasoline, then placed it on the bank of a stream and lit it on fire. It was a deep purple flame, and tall, maybe three or four feet. The batteries crackled in the fire and at every pop Stiles and I jumped back thrilled and terrified. A good ending to this story would be that the bomb exploded and we were injured, learning our lesson about becoming entwined in violence to cope with social inadequacies. What really happened was Miguel, another friend from the neighborhood, showed up and was scared, told us we'd get arrested if it exploded, so we pushed the bomb into the stream and doused it. It was foolish to cobble together all those explosives, but now as an adult I still regret that we didn't let it burn, let it detonate, that I didn't get as close as possible to the burst of flame to only barely avoid injury. I've blown up much bigger things since then, I've been seduced by fire and metal dozens of times. Miguel, it's like he fell off the planet, no social media, no nothing, and Stiles won't talk about the bomb, like it's some sexual experiment or torture we engaged in. Little failure crumpled in the woods. When my ass got kicked on the bus the next week and I bawled for the hour trip back I just wanted to go home, I told my mother I wanted to leave my family behind and return to Canada, but Canada didn't exist anymore, nothing existed except the mottled roads of Lake City and its assemblage of endless fuses. 



In our town lives the tallest person in the world, at 8' 11". I am 5' 10", not tall exactly, and when I am walking on various errands around town or for leisure I sometimes see this tallest person, a man with a beard who always wears a suit, and I will wave to him, yet he does not always wave back, though I do not think this is because of any sort of unfriendliness but rather that he may not see me, being that I am, despite being a full grown average adult male, almost half his height. "Hello, tallest person!" I imagine saying to him. "We live in different worlds!" I wonder if he possesses the same sort of brain that I do, since it is twice the size of my brain, or if he has twice the number of thoughts I do, twice the nuisances, twice the miseries. I think of children, their chatter and running about, how they have their own languages and phrases that I never understand. The tallest person works at a law firm in town as a paralegal. You may expect that he played basketball at some point, but no, as I read him saying in an interview, his extreme size puts such a pressure on his bones that even to walk he must wear a brace around. The shortest person in the world is a woman in Mexico who is just around a foot and a half tall. She is a college student and has made the honor roll according to an Internet site I read. If the shortest person in the world, the college student in Mexico, and the tallest person in the world, the aloof paralegal here, met, they would be like aliens to each other, and she could perch on his shoulder and give him angelic and/or devilish advice, though the same sort of thoughts would run through both of their heads as run through my head, questions about adequacy or inadequacy, a fear of being stepped on or stepping on another, the general sort of navigation around hurt in which we are all engaged. If the shortest person in the world would be like an alien to me I am not sure—the tallest person in the world is in a different world, and my average neighbor is in a different world because she is a doctor, and my mother is in a different world because she does not know how to use her cell phone to respond to text messages. "Hello, doctor!" I imagine saying to my neighbor. "Hello, mother!"



People often ask what the difference between flash fiction and prose poetry may be. The difference is in what the author chooses to call it. If an author says it's fiction, it's fiction. Poetry, poetry. This sounds glib at first, like an easy door slamming shut on a conversation. However, the notion of "genre" is important to any piece. If you open a journal and a short prose piece is listed in its fiction contents, then you bring your preconceptions of what defines a "story" to that piece. If the author has written a piece that exists mainly in lyric and fragment and has chosen to call it fiction, then an extra dimension of tension is created between readers and the work, because readers will search for so-called "traditional" story elements and experience stress when those elements (narrative, character, plot, etc) are not present. The same tension can happen in prose poems. Readers may instinctively search for the musical or syntactic syncopation  created by line and experience a breathlessness when a prose poem reads like a traditional narrative. This is not an insult to readers, of course! When we crack a journal or book open we're often looking to be stressed out, to be knocked askew. I've been reading/writing poetry for years and I still like to let myself get freaked out when a poem doesn't rhyme.