Karen Donovan




I didn't know his name. He was a skinny middle school kid coming down the lunch line, loading on as much food as his flimsy paper plate would hold. Chicken fingers, fries, lettuce salad. I stood behind the long tables, joking with the staff and putting new batteries in my camera, which I had brought in order to take pictures of the afternoon activities. He stopped at the cookie tray. There was no space left on his plate, and he was thinking hard about what that meant. He ate a few fries quick, as he stood there, to make some room. Then he took a cookie and put it on top of the pile of fries. One of the servers said, "We'll have seconds, it's okay to sit down." But he was leaving nothing to chance. He continued to stand there, eating with one hand and holding his plate with the other. When they called seconds, he took another cookie right away. It went on top of the one that was already on his plate. He now had way too much food to eat in the time left for lunch. A few other kids came up and grabbed a cookie from the tray. He watched them carefully. Then he took two more. Four. Four might be enough.







Your substance, such as it is, in liquid suspension subjected to direct heat sufficient to cause a rolling boil, will begin to come apart into its constituent elements. What is heaviest will settle into layers like tree rings of mud on the floor of a thousand-year flood plain and glue itself to your bones. That afternoon the lab assistants will have trouble scraping it off the bottom of the glass and will enjoy themselves cursing you for your ponderous carboniferous rationality. What is lightest will fly up, spiraling heavenward as if released from the laws of gravity and cosmological constants, only instantly to bump their heads on the ceiling tiles. Like bees trying to get out of a room by aiming the only way they know how, up, they collect there as a golden atmosphere, an exhalation, and when they tire they deliquesce like breath condensing on a mirror, like pale exhaust exiting a warm body on a cold morning. Before long, there's an entire cupful. You do not escape but forget what you were before, which is almost the same thing.




ambrosia beetle2  


On page 722 of Encyclopedia Britannica Vol. 1, I learn, the classical writers disagreed about whether ambrosia was food or drink, although it was widely known to be a feature of the gods' dinner menu: "The word ambrosia has generally been derived from the Greek for 'not' and 'mortal.' A. W. Verrell, however, denied that there is any clear example in which the Greek word ambrosios necessarily means 'immortal,' and explains it as 'fragrant,' a sense which is always suitable. If so, the word may be derived from the Semitic ambar (ambergris), to which Eastern nations attributed miraculous properties." I also learn that Ambrosian chant, although not invented by St. Ambrose, was adapted by him as a way to pep up his monks in low moments. But that singing you hear is probably the beetles, boring away in any damn wood they please, so very happy in their work.







Softness always falls to earth, even when it curls in and turns a key. Ask the experts where my bones lie: there, on the other side of catastrophe.







aristotles lantern  


You think your heart is a pump, but look again. It's really a beach rose in the center of your chest, a curved assassin's knife held at the throat of your beloved, a valley filled with wind. The kind of wind that pine trees breathe or that conveys in the indistinct music of children's voices a narrative of joy and contention. If I could carry a tune in a bucket, it would be that tune. It would sound like orange coals hissing or minnows swimming circles in a little bit of water. They are not the only ones whispering, how did we get here again? Gather two objects and then see how hard it is to keep them from turning into each other. My bucket would be inside everything. I could pour light into it or out of it. It would be built to contain our perfect living vitals. They will even find it when they first tear the sea urchin apart. Everywhere, even at the bottom of the ocean, a lamp we know we've seen before.






According to these chemists, you don't have to count atoms. The number you want is all based on this concept of the guacamole. Once you get it you're golden, and you can spoon out your ingredients in the right proportions. Like how many marbles are in 12 grams of carbon-12 = 6.02 times ten to the 23rd power. No worries. That's the avocado number. It's a lot of marbles, but don't be thinking: marbles. Be thinking: guacamoles. Like instead of thinking: eggs. Be thinking: dozens. Instead of thinking: apples. Be thinking: bushels. Instead of thinking: trees. Be thinking: ———. Come on people, you know this one.







I spent about a year collaborating with the engravings in my grandfather's 1925 Webster's New International Dictionary. I never made it out of the A's.