The Game We Played When We Played The Game

Remember this one?  Thereís a game called The Game, where
the goal of the game is not to think of the game.  Once you
think of the game youíve lost the game.  When you think of
the game, and therefore lose the game, you are to shout ďI
lost the game,Ē thereby causing all others around you to think
of the game and therefore lose the game as well.  Itís the ďIím
taking all of you with meĒ version of passing the time, where
we get to be the bad guy at the moment of defeat who has just
enough energy and antipathy to grab the ankle of the winner,
taking the winner with you into the abyss.  Itís losing, yes, but
with this little kernel of winning, the silver lining that gives you
a boost into the after party.  Itís all a version of fear, Iíve decided.  
If not explicit, then still pretty explicit.  The sun goes around
and then around a little more, and weíre going around the sun
while naming things stationary or game, and then we say weíre
embarrassed to be so enamored by taxonomiesóbut we love
curation, museum exhibits, cross sections, maps.  Letís blame
science and history.  And religion, as well, has this dirt on its hands.  
Letís blame our brainís need to name and group.  And our need
to gather and reduce the world to a collection of objects.  Can this
kill me?  Can I take it with me?  But thatís also part of the game
I just lost, the distraction part.  Itís not really a need to be distracted
from something, though itís popular to think so.  We need to
be distracted from our useless or meaningless or futile lives by
watching someone fall down a stair or hurt their knee on the night
of their big dance number as hijinks ensue.  Once, in college, we
snuck into the dorm across the quad and pulled the fire alarms
on each floor at two a.m., because it was two a.m., and now, in
social situations, you tend to talk about bugs and rodents, because
you have this job as an exterminator.  Itís like hiking through a
forest, slowly, as thereís all this underbrush, and whatever trail
there was has been lost long ago to the drive-through road.  And
then, where was I again?  The forest abruptly drops into a river,
right, and a little cliff and drop, and there you are, thinking that
if you ran down that hill you wouldnít have been able to stop,
or at least one can imagine so, so now youíre aware of being
fragile, or tenuous, and you can keep that thought most of the
day, though you can tell no one gets it when youíre telling them
about it.  They do get it, itís just that they donít really get it, the way
I donít get it and you donít get it, and how, in my best dreams of
an afterlife Iím swimming through the universe and itís delightful.

Mixing Chemicals Just To See What They Do

Thereís a woodpecker attacking the side of our house right now,
and I have nothing else to say.  Having nothing to say makes me
nervous, as if having nothing to say at any moment might cascade
into never having anything to say ever again.  As long as I have
something to say, as long as Iím here saying it, then I have validation
that Iím here, that Iíve not lost my mind.  Remembering my
passwords for my accounts means Iíve not lost my mind.  Every
time the logon is successful means Iíve not lost my mind.  We spend
our lives hallucinating ourselves in this way, as if remembering to
remember things means something, when I could just as easily be in
a room someplace right now imagining Iím living a life.  Itís the basis
of numerous movies and stories, how there are these beings who keep
tossing the world up in front of you daily, and take it down again each
night, only to toss a new one up the next day.  ďHereís your beautiful
house.  Hereís your beautiful wife,Ē they say over the half-formed
objections you hear over the radio talking to you.  ďGo outside,Ē it
says.  ďDrive somewhere.Ē  My mother hasnít made a phone call in
five years.  Sheís unable to figure out how.  She doesnít know how
many children she has or what their names are.  She changes her own
name daily.  Do you want me to call you Pat or Kathleen?  Patricia. 
Maybe today youíll run some errands with the confabulators and
phantasts.  Maybe today youíll imagine the something something of
your youth.  What is I Love Lucy up to these days?  The picture is not
clearly painted.  A few weeks ago she asked me, as I was helping her
to the bathroom, to change into her nightgown, ďDid you ever think
when you took this job, that it would come to this?Ē  ďWhich job?Ē
I asked.  ďHelping old ladies.Ē  One must always hold something to
the side to keep this from happening.  I will do the daily crossword,
because I read that helps.  I will name the planets, starting with orange. 
I will tell you stories.  Once in high school I took a couple six-packs of
St. Pauli Girl to the theater costume room in the basement for the day. 
In-school hooky!  With beer!  Friends visited during their free periods. 
My mother never found out.  Mom, look at me now, there are worms
crawling out of my eyes.  Iíd explain if there was anything to explain,
if you were able to say something back, if the theater wasnít on fire. 


John Gallaher's most recent book of poetry is In a Landscape (BOA, 2014). He lives in rural Missouri where he co-edits The Laurel Review.