Two Peacocks Never Make a Mistake

by Lisa Robertson

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After living long and happy lives and doing no less than all of the interesting things we wanted to do, my husband and I had a baby. Because having long lives and doing interesting things had been profoundly exhausting, we came to the conclusion that we were too tired to make another decision ever again, so we did what many people in our situation do. We moved from our loft in San Francisco to a Progressive Suburb Bordered on One Side By A Large Metropolitan Area and on the Other by Farms That Grow Locally Sourced Produce. For brevity, I will refer to this as PSBOSBALMA, or Marin County.  

In Marin County, you do not need to make any of the decisions that would be necessary if you continued to live in some areas of Brooklyn, or San Francisco’s Mission District, or the wrong side of Boston. The matter of public vs. private school is eliminated entirely, because the public schools are rivaled only by those in Connecticut. The per capita yoga studios areequal to the number of pour-over cafes, so at any given moment, the people in the parking lots are at the same time Zen and over caffeinated. An otherwise perfectly well adjusted woman told me the other day that orange is the new black, and pointed to her pumpkin hued Jack Rodgers flip-flops to prove it. Was she on drugs, I wondered? I had worked in medicine but not for the past two years, and I wondered what new drugs might be out on the street and available to over caffeinated and over compensated ladies in parking lots wearing resort wear in October. These are the people who are happy to hold forth for entire hours about the benefits of locally sourced bee pollen and gluten allergy prophylaxis.  

These people are my friends.  

Occasionally, these people are my husband.  

Last Tuesday, after I bought a nineteen-dollar bottle of olive oil, I began to suspect that these people might be me.  

This is the conundrum. We are all, in fact, the same over educated progressives. We aggravate others and are aggravated by ourselves. We have found the answer, almost, to the questions that we can’t stand to discuss with the pour-over crowd in the farmer’s market parking lot. We know that even engaging in this dialogue is part of the issue, that in a way, our own self-conscious self-definition is the taxonomic definition of the problem. Sometimes we are tempted to drink coffee out of Mason Jars just to further the ironic paradigm. But my father, a man of granite hard-won middle class values, he was from Tupelo, and he drank out of Mason Jars, and so did his father, and his father before him, who spit dip into empty Folgers’ Crystals canisters.  

There is nothing about this that I can make palatably ironic.   

And at the same time, sometimes I wonder how my farmer’s market geraniums might look in an empty Folgers’s Crystal can.  


My neighbor, who walked overland through Bulgaria to escape a dictatorship, now builds caves that arespecifically constructed for the food groups, in the highly stratified way that the food groups are interpreted by Marin County. He builds one sort of cave for the DIY sausage crowd, another for the soft cheese enthusiasts, and an entirely different one for the preservation of root vegetables.  

The other day, this neighbor brought me a bottle of limoncello that he made from the lemon trees that border our property. It was hard liquor, organic, free trade, with a transportation related ecological footprint that was entirely zero. A few days later, I showed him an article in New York magazine that referenced locapours.  

Locawhat? He said. He is just doing what he did in Bulgaria, except now with clean water and central air and excellent infrastructure and this stunning wife who owns an ad agency.  

He knows that we live on the edge of the continent.   

He doesn’t know that he’s on the cutting edge.  

He might not even know that California is seismic.  

Sometimes, I sit in my car and scratch at my face.   


When I am not scratching at my face, I am singing holiday songs to my daughter. It is only fall, but if Rite-Aid can stock Halloween candy while simultaneously lining entire shelves with Father Christmas on Skis, so too can I sing Joy to the World to my small child. This is not because I am a holiday enthusiast, but because until my daughter’s first Christmas, Iknew no nursery rhymes. And by no nursery rhymes, I mean exactly zero. And having lost both of my parents before her birth, and having a husband whose parents speak only French, I was left with the last resort of finding infant appropriatelyrics to Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on The Wall.  

“This is worse than I thought,” my younger sister said, when she came out to visit. But she had gone to UCSD. The lyrics to her drinking songs, I can’t even repeat here.  

When my birth induced fog cleared, I was able to remember the more complicated songs that my mother had sung to me, but the only reason these songs were appropriate, was because my daughter was preverbal, and had no concept of what I was saying.  

My mother, whom I loved dearly, and who tried very hard, did not have a resonant singing voice, and so as audience compensation, she allowed me to request songs from her illustrated piano playbook. And because I was a peculiar child, Iliked, in particular, the illustration of a girl floating in a river. For this reason, I could now sing On the Banks of the Ohio, as well as every other murder ballad that the publisher of that songbook had thought to illustrate.  

This is less strange than it sounds. My family roots are old, not wealthy, and southern, and I have a suspicion that this music served a purpose. Like country western songs, except on steroids, they illuminated certain inalienable truths to our lives, truths that were not, evidentially, transmissible to Marin County.   

“No?” I said to my husband, when he caught me harmonizing to Stagger Lee

“No.” he said.  


Last week I ran into a mother whom I knew from our playgroup. She was passing out Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food stickers, and when she handed one to me, I might have hesitated. Not because I disagree. I vehemently agree. I could not agree more. My agreement bordered on fanatical. In fact, if I could, I would know my farmer the way I know my toddler’s babysitter, background investigated and reference checked and trained in the latest version of the Heimlich maneuver. This is because I once knew a farmer quite well. Our neighbor, Clyde, also drank out of Mason jars, and ran the greywater discharge line into his rows of corn, and for the piece de resistance, ran over our two peacocks with his combine.  

One peacock might be a mistake. But two peacocks are never a mistake.  

 I smiled and took the sticker. And then, maybe to be reciprocal, or maybe just to see what would happen, I pulled out a bag of candy corns. My friends looked at them, and shook their heads. I suggested that the candy corns were orange, and it was almost Halloween, and orange was, like some root vegetables, in season, but nobody laughed. After a minute, the woman with the stickers said: carrots are orange, and everyone nodded, and even I nodded.  

It was a statement of fact. Carrots are orange. Orange is the new black. Carrots are the new candy corns. And I had this vision of myself, old and wizened, just before my grandchildren are told by the geriatrician that she is seeing an increase in this strange late life dementia, a misbegotten recollection of fairy-tale things like polar ice caps, and rainy seasons, and sugar.  

Except sometimes, like those murder ballads, things have a way of seeping in, and so if the memory of sugar doesn’t last through the centuries, I can’t say that I believe that stone fruits will become extinct, or songs will be replaced with something else, or that anything can take the place of sweetness, all the good old songs and autumnal liqueurs.   

And if that fails, I happen to know where the good caves are to be found.  

The Adventures of an Elderly Couple Unseen in The Avengers

by Nathan Holic



Several thousand feet above, superheroes and secret agents were fighting with Norse gods aboard an invisible flying aircraft carrier, an epic battle for the fate of humanity, but for the 2,000 cruise ship passengers far below, it was just a gray thumbnail-sized smudge in the sky.

As far as these vacationers were concerned, there was nothing happening up there. There was no such thing as Norse gods, or men who turned into Hulks or wore red-and-yellow techno-armor, or any of it. There was only the “Gem of the Sea,” an aging cruise ship whose lunch café was decorated in Miami Vice pastels, and whose railings had been sun-bleached to the faded blue-white of spit-out toothpaste. Aboard the cruise ship, there was no talk of superheroes or supervillains. There were only college graduation parties on the deck, children eating pizza as they spilled down the waterslide and splashed into the pool, fat Wisconsin men in “hairy back contests,” newlyweds on Honeymoons smearing tanning oil over one another’s backs and chests, frat stars chugging plastic soda bottles filled with cheap vodka, and thousands upon thousands of square miles of sea and sandbar, shimmering ripples in tropical water the color of a Tiffany’s jewelry box.

            There was no trillion-dollar enterprise called S.H.I.E.L.D., no thawed-out supersoldier from World War II, no Tony Stark, no such thing as an “Avengers Initiative.” There was only Ted, 71, a retired high school principal with decades-old Amber Vision sunglasses, and Cynthia, 67, his wife, mother of three, wearer of Busch Gardens fanny packs, both of them lounged out across beach chairs on the very back of the cruise ship, in the shade, far from the pool and the sunshine and the excited chaos of the DJ and waterslide. Back where it was quiet and dark, back where no one wanted to be.

            Ted had been looking forward to this vacation for months, but Cynthia had always been scared of cruises, scared of snorkeling, scared of open water and sharks, scared of the excursions that Ted had purchased for Mexico, the hiking and the caves and the old ruins. But here she was, at the urging of her husband.

            Somewhere out across the water, Cynthia saw a sprinkling of sharp pin-pricks against the sea, almost as if it was raining. But there were no clouds in the sky, only that strangely-shaped plane high above—a blurry square coughing exhaust in smokey bursts.

            “Is it starting to rain?” Cynthia asked.

            Ted groaned, ran his hands across his weathered temples, and made that impatient nose-snort noise that Cynthia now expected whenever she offered any unwanted observation. “Don’t tell me that you want to go inside already,” Ted said. “Show some backbone.”

            “I don’t want to go inside,” Cynthia said. “I just thought I saw something out there.”

            “You didn’t see anything,” Ted said, and shook his head. “Can we please just relax out here and enjoy the day? Can we please?”

            Cynthia shut her mouth. This was always the way of it, wasn’t it? The whole trip, even as Ted urged her to be adventurous, to strap on the life preserver and take a chance (“I mean, for crying out loud, you’re almost 70now, Cynthia, it’s time to enjoy life, not chain yourself to the couch and wait for it to end…get up, let’s go, get up.”), and even as she took chances and agreed to every one of Ted’s new adventures, he still made her feel like she wasn’t daring enough, like she was always holding him back. She couldn’t reveal that she was hot, or sunburnt, or hungry, or that she had a headache from the bottle of red wine that Ted insisted they finish. If she made anycomment, any observation, Ted told her that she was trying to ruin his day, trying to sap the joy of his final years.

            And now, on the faded green deck before them, Cynthia saw the same sprinkle of raindrops. But it wasn’t rain, couldn’t be; the drops were too big, too solid, and after they pelted the deck, they bounced.

            “You see that?” Cynthia asked.

            “Crushed ice, maybe,” Ted said. “Someone from the deck above tossing their drink.”

            Cynthia rose from her beach chair, her back aching in a dozen places from the stiff beds of their lower-level cabin, but she tried not to let it show: any sign of weakness—even something as simple as a sigh, a wince—and Ted pounced, questioning her attitude. Cynthia walked to the far railing, out into the sunshine, and looked into the sky: still no rain, just that smoky plane. But at her feet, glinting like ice cubes…was this hail? Or was it just as Ted had said, a spilled drink from somewhere above?

            Cynthia bent over and pinched one tiny piece between her fingers, held it up to inspect. No, not hail. This was a dime-sized chunk of glass, and through its transparent surface she could already see how its sharp edge was cutting into her thumb, the blood peeking out through the wound. It hurt, but Cynthia decided that she wouldn’t grimace, not today, not anymore.

            “It’s glass,” Cynthia said. “There’s glass on the deck.”

            But Ted barely lifted his head from his beach chair, still pretended to be immersed in his Newsweek, as if the international events depicted therein were of more importance than anything that could ever happen directly in front of him. He’d brought a dozen periodicals, a backpack full of Ludlum and Patterson novels. This was howhe enjoyed his life. These were his adventures, Cynthia thought, spies and detectives and nuclear intrigue and ticking time-bombs, cheesy books with techno-gadgets on every page…If this was what he read all day long, it was no wonder that his real life, his real retirement and his real wife, bored and frustrated him. How could she ever compare?

            “If it’s broken glass, why are you picking it up?” Ted said, now slapping his magazine onto his lap to show his irritation.

            “Not just in my hand,” she said, though she held up the shard for him to see. “All over the deck. There’s glass everywhere. It was raining glass.”

            The deck was dusted with tiny bits of broken glass, sparkling and shining everywhere like diamonds on some mythical South African beach. If she hadn’t worn her sandals as she’d walked here to the railing, her feet would have been cut to hell, and then just think what Ted would’ve said when she screamed in pain. He’d tell her that she should have known better than to walk barefoot, or that she’d wanted to get hurt, that she’d purposely ruined the vacation.

            “You don’t believe me?” Cynthia asked her husband.

            “Somebody broke a glass, and now you’re playing with the pieces,” Ted said. “Brilliant move. When we go snorkeling, are you going to pet the sharks?”

            “The glass came out of the sky,” Cynthia said. “You saw it.”

            “Trust me,” Ted said. “It isn’t raining glass. Probably just some frat party out here last night, and the maintenance staff didn’t clean it up.”

            But as Ted spoke, something flashed behind Cynthia, crashed into the open ocean.

            And when she turned to watch, something else came slicing through the sky to meet the water, created a splash so wide and tall that it looked like a firework explosion. When the ripples and waves died, Cynthia could see it sinking into the crystal waters, the object that had fallen from the sky: it was a giant hunk of metal the size of a mini-van.

            “There!” she shouted. “Did you see that?”

            “I didn’t see nothing,” Ted said. “Come back over here. Sit down.”

            Something else crashed into the water, then. Something larger, and ocean-water again splashed the railing, the deck, Cynthia, Ted. Ted’s Newsweek now soaked. 

            “Damn it!” Ted cried.

            “You believe me now?”

            Glass and metal were falling from the sky, almost as if the plane high above was gutting itself, tearing apart its insides and tossing the waste into the Atlantic.

            “For God’s sake, Cynthia, get back here,” Ted said. He had retreated to the far wall, to the doorway that led inside to the elevators and stairwells. His hands were pressed to the wall. He was frozen, immobile with anger and fear. “You’re gonna get killed, you stand out there.”

            “I thought it was nothing,” Cynthia said. “I thought it was a drink that someone tossed.”

            More broken glass sprinkled the water.

A strip of twisted metal hit the railing and ricocheted past Cynthia’s face, but still she did not move.

Another splash, then another, a dozen things falling from the sky, falling into the sea: something that looked like the blade of an airplane engine, something that looked like a Hummer. A man on fire, waving his arms as he tumbled through the air and then broke the sea’s surface with an almost-soundless fsssh, thin stream of smoke dissolving upward like he was a 4th of July sparkler extinguished in a bucket.

What was happening up there, in the blue expanse of sky?

            “Cynthia!” Ted shouted. “Cynthia, get back here. You’re going to get hurt!”

            But why would I walk away? Cynthia wondered. She gripped the railing, stepped up so that she was able to see farther out into the sea and so that she could get a better look at the dark shape in the sky…a 67-year-old woman climbing the railing with trembling hands and weak ankles, wobbling, balancing…and now she could pretend that there was no boat at all, no Ted, no stupid vacation, no artificial adventures, no guilt, just water and horizon and falling glass and army men and military vehicles.

Why would she walk away? When would she ever see this again? Fire from the sky? A fighter jet twirling in the air like fallen foliage, ultimately slamming into the water like it was performing a belly-flop? She breathed it in, the billion-dollar spectacle. Way up there, there was real adventure, and this—the falling debris—was simply the unseen aftermath. Cynthia felt a fresh sprinkling of glass all around her, jagged pieces daggering into the deck and the water and the beach chairs, and she heard the cries of the other cruiseship passengers as they stampeded back to the elevators and the stairs and their cabins to avoid the raining destruction, but she would not move. Not now. Not for Ted, especially. He thought she was afraid? She’d given birth to three children, had seen one of them join the Navy after high school and disappear underwater for months at a time, had seen another lose her husband to cancer and had cared for the grandchildren for weeks while their mother grieved. Every weekend, Cynthia visited a nursing home to visit a sister who struggled to remember her own name. She feared nothing. She feared nothing, but maybe Ted had missed all that she’d endured for the past forty years.

            The ocean was fire now, fire and crashing waves and bobbing engines and guns and bodies, and she wasn’t tough? This was no movie. This was no book, Ted. This wasn’t some stupid Patterson thriller; this wasn’t Jason Bourne. And even standing here, she was not Kate Winslet on some epic voyage. This was the real world. She inhaled slowly, stood tall atop the railing, stared into the wreckage on the ocean’s surface and let the image linger.

            When she looked back over her shoulder, her husband was gone, retreated with the rest of them to the safety of the cabins, and she thought, Yes. I’ll stay here awhile longer.

Heros for Parties: 59 Bucks

by Jennifer Sears


 A glossy black car speeds quickly down Highway 24, southwest of Boston.  In the front passenger seat, a man dressed like Batman curses at a driver dressed like Robin.  Large pink letters painted across both sides of the car read, “Hanky’s Panky Entertainment Services” and below that, “Heros for Parties: 59 Bucks,” and then inred caps, “Boston’s Best in Balloons!”  An enormous bouquet of foil and helium and curled red ribbons bobs above the back seat.  Happy Birthday! is printed on them and, in orange magic marker, “Billy” has been added with a flourish that suggests a woman’s touch. 

Robin, a small man with large hearing aids sticking out of both ears, wears a yellow cape that has gotten caught in the door once again, making that flapping noise Batman can’t stand.   Robin pays attention to the road, ignoring Batman who is often drunk and yelling about something.  Though it is difficult to determine Batman’s exact build under his blue cape and hood, he is clearly a large man with cultivated quads and biceps, a man physically confident enough to don a baby blue unitard. He continues to yell at Robin who drives too fast down the divided road.  Both want only to hand over the bouquet, smile for the rug rats, collect their Bat tips, and split. 

A cattle truck pulls onto the highway and merges too close to the unconvincing Batmobile.  Horns blare.  Batman lets loose a stream of expletives as the collision sends both vehicles onto the grassy median.  Both drivers jump out.  No person or animal is hurt though the cattle bellow and stamp in the trailer. Both drivers, polite yet certain the other is at fault, turn to call authorities from cell phones. 

Batman remains in the passenger seat.  His scalp sweats beneath his vinyl hood.  Pushing aside his cheap cape, hepulls a flask from his belt and takes a bat nip.  He is the only one who notices the impact of the accident caused the back door of the truck to spring loose.  A curious white face sniffs the weather and contemplates the drop to the ground.  The wide bovine eyes make him think of Billy, poor Billy waiting anxiously at his own birthday party for the Super Friends to arrive and impress his friends.  

Refusing to come to the rescue, Batman takes another swig.  

The cow bawls, makes the low jump, and lumbers onto the grass that spreads like cow manna across the median. Batman takes his third swig as the next cow follows, bellowing loudly. 

With bovine equanimity, the cows tumble down after their leader.  The truck driver and Robin come running, but it is difficult to stop jumping cattle from below.  Robin slaps one in the hindquarters because he doesn’t know what else to do as the driver forces his way into the trailer and throws out small white fences on wheels and then jumps down to roundup the leader. 

Cattle wander the median.  City people driving by honk excitedly.  A few stop and eagerly offerassistance, yelling things only city people would yell in attempting such a task, including  “Suey” and “Yippee-yeah-ki-oh.”  A woman pesters the driver to find out where she too might purchase such an adorable portable corral.  A sports utility vehicle hits a young cow that has stepped into the fast lane.   

Robin, a vegetarian, starts crying.  

Finally, Batman steps out of the car.  The wind toys dramatically with his cape.  People cheer.  He wishes he wasn’t wearing a batsuit.  He walks toward the cattle, his physical size and stride and numbed senses giving him an advantage. 

The press arrives to document the calamity just as the cattle, minus one, are safely contained inside the fences.  The fact that Batman won’t speak adds to his bat mystery.  In reality, the Caped Crusader is just sober enough to realize he’ll be unemployed if word gets out that Batman was drunk.   

On the next day’s front page, Batman closes the flimsy cattle gate in one picture and in another, gallantly givesaway Billy’s balloons to the small children who, as always, manage to arrive on his scene.   

Hanky’s phone rings incessantly.  Hanky gives Batman gets a raise.  

Robin, charged with reckless driving and endangerment to animals, gets fired but is quickly replaced with a slender magician who not only fits into the stretchy red suit--he can produce a pear from Batman’s sharp little ear and slowly make it turn blue. 

The Outer Reaches of Love

by JP Kemmick


            He's holding up a pad and pen on which he's written, “I miss you.”  He's flying alongside the space shuttle, matching its seventeen thousand miles per hour as it orbits Earth like a singular, misplaced electron, his cape motionless in the void of space, a little adorable half-smile on his face.  He shouldn't even be here, she has experiments to be preparing and her fellow astronauts will be awake at any moment.  But of course he has come, as he said he would, to check in, to make sure her trip amongst the stars was going according to plan, reminding her how sweet he was so she wouldn't fall too in love with the stars and decide to stay.  Behind him the sun rises over Earth, a little sliver of unbelievable light creeping over its curve.

            She writes on a whiteboard, “I miss you too.”  Then she erases it and writes, “But I've got to say, this whole space thing is pretty damn cool.”

            He writes, “Isn't it though?”

            She writes, “You should go though.”

            He nods and then mouths, “Be safe.  I love you.”

            She mouths, “I love you,” back and then he flashes her one more toothy smile and leaves the window, swimming through space back to Earth, his cape stretched out behind him, the planet lighting up in front of him, her super heroic love.


            In the early evening he touches back down on the balcony of their apartment next to their potted tomato plants.  He promised her he would water them while she was gone, but he keeps forgetting and now they look a little sickly.  He opens the sliding glass door to the apartment and then turns to crane his neck skyward one more time, toward the now invisible stars and the half-disappeared moon.  He imagines her up there, swinging around the Earth like some fancy yo-yo trick, floating around the different compartments of the shuttle.  He pictures the way her curly hair floats up like a crazy lady.  His wife the astronaut.  He used to introduce her at parties like that, This is my wife, the astronaut, and she would just roll her eyes.  She told him in bed that one day she would introduce him as, My husband, the superhero, blowing his cover.

            He steps into the apartment and heads toward the kitchen with the aim of filling a jar full of water for the tomatoes.  Halfway there he notices the pale blue cape slung over the back of a chair in the living room.  Farther down the hall he sees a pair of gloves the same color lying on the floor.  He stands still a moment, studying the pieces of discarded costume and then he plucks the cape off the couch and, moving down the hall, the gloves off the floor.  He turns the corner and there are her dark blue tights, the colors of her costume like the different shades of the sky.  He walks down the hall and opens the bedroom door and there she is in his bed, the covers pulled up tight, her top on the floor like a discarded piece of the summer sky.  She turns to look at him, one cheek balling up with a sly smile. 

            “Oh, good,” he says.  “Here I was afraid the sky was falling.”


            She's running across the Indian ocean, clipped into the treadmill, keeping her muscles working in the zero gravity so she can still walk around when she gets back to the maddening pull of Earth's surface.  She's thinking back to how he tried to tell her what it was like up here, the peace of the infinite, that feeling you get watching the sun rise and set, rise and set; how you worry that the Earth is aging incredibly fast without you and the ridiculous sci-fi fear that you might return to a different era, that everyone will have aged innumerable years without you. 

            But still she can't imagine what it must be like for him, free of the shuttle, free to float all alone in that black vastness.  She can sometimes feel overwhelmed standing in a mountain meadow at night and that's with the calming company of the crickets, the burble of the streams like little fingers through the grass.  She can't shake the dread that accompanies the thought of him out here alone though, the scientific certainty that if she were to float out into space she wouldn't last more than a moment before all that black wrapped around her, enveloped her for good.

            Sometimes they would look through the telescope at night, picking out planets and stars, and he would say, “I've been there, been there, there, there,” swinging the telescope randomly as he did so until she would tell him to shut up, to quit gloating.

            She unclips from the treadmill and pushes her way toward breakfast.  One of her colleagues is eating out of a little pouch, the food sticking to his spoon long enough to get it to his mouth.  He releases the spoon and it floats toward the ceiling before he intercepts it with his mouth.  She's pretty sure little things like this trick are the real reason anyone wants to be an astronaut.

            She looks out the window and she can see all of California and Oregon, Washington still hidden behind the Earth's curve.  In some way it is reassuring that she cannot see all of the planet at once, that it is too big and we are too small, that it was designed that way, to hold its mystery, to be unknowable despite our best efforts, our most distant viewing.  


            He shuts the door and pulls all the blinds down because in the darkness she actually glows a little, like the sun behind a cloud, such is the nature of her power.  He watches the bed covers pulse with her, the light emanating from her core, waiting to be released, unleashed.  He has seen her do some amazing things with that strength, has seen her do a lot of good for people in need.  He unclips his cape, peels off his costume and joins her, slipping under the covers.  Her skin against his reminds him of flying through storm clouds alive with the buzz of potential lightning.  The hair all over his body rises and with it so does he, taking the sheets with him until they drape down over her, until she floats up to meet him, to wrap her legs and arms around his body, to pull him back toward Earth, toward the bed.

            “Where you going?” she says.  Her eyes are vibrant, radiating, and when she closes them she seems to disappear for a moment before his eyes adjust to the dark.  He reaches with his tongue toward her earlobe.

            “I missed this,” he says

            She opens her eyes again and says, “Ditto.”


            She's watching out the window as the satellite flies next to the shuttle, piled high with all its little packets, like some lost palette of mail floating out in space.  It's part of an experiment they're sharing with the Germans.  She looks back down at the controls for the robotic arm she's helping to direct, to catch and release the satellite.  It's in her care, up to her to bring it back home.  That was what her mother had always reminded her father when he brought her, his only daughter, up into the sky to fly with him.  Nothing crazy, Jim, she'd say.  She's your daughter, not one of your Air Force buddies.

            He would take her up and over the neighboring counties full of farmland, all those fields stretching out forever, some of which he had crop dusted as a much younger man, swooping in low to spray herbicides across acres of corn, the farmers' kids watching him from a distance, the highlight of the season.  Flight had humbled her father; his ability to waltz through the sky had made him all the more appreciative of the small, delicate wonder back on the ground.  She's fairly certain that without him ingraining in her an awe of the little things, she could never have thought of the possibility of the big things, of space or the always expanding universe.

            And now, even after these months in space, hurtling around the Earth, the thing she's most looking forward to is hugging her husband's neck and letting him take her out flying, nothing between her and the air, none of this metal, no suits, just them.  Sometimes she feels like her marriage to a superhero was preordained; what other options did she have when her passion was split between flight and the stars?  When she gets home, she'll wrap her arms around his neck, twist her legs around his, lie down on his back and they'll go carving through the night sky, ignoring gravity's plaintive calls to come back down, the lights of industrial Houston like the stars reflected ten fold, the opaque water of the Gulf spotted with the miniature cities of oil rigs.

            They'd passed a V of geese once, the birds silent in their migration, pointing ahead with certainty, taking no notice of the humans loosed from the ground, like they had accepted that if humans could send up planes full of people it was only a matter of time before they sent up the individual passengers.


            He sits on a lip of a crater on the moon, chalky dust covering the soles of his feet and the fringe of his cape.  He has been coming to the moon for years, since the first time he dared to break throughthe atmosphere into the darkness of space.  It is quiet, peaceful, a place where he can keep an eye on the Earth, monitoring every rotation, looking for any signs of trouble like a new father over his infant child, as if the Earth might alert him to trouble with a racking cough, a strange wheeze, space its never ending crib.  He had paid the moon a visit when he was trying to summon the courage to propose to his wife, to make her a part of his extraordinary life, to usher her into his unstable and dangerous existence, full of a power he still doesn't fully understand.  He had held the ring out in front of him, the Earth visible through the gold band, to try and bring some perspective to the decision.

            He had thought that marrying an astronaut would fulfill the craving he felt, the desire to love someone who could relate to his world, who knew what it felt like to be free of gravity's pull, to see the planet from beyond itself.  But for all her love, he still went searching for something more, for the kind of passion only found in sky blue tights. 

            He looks across the grey curve of the moon toward the Earth to see if he can maybe pick outher shuttle hurtling around the planet, but he can't remember where in its trajectory it would be.  He wishes she were home already.  He wishes she could leave the confines of the shuttle and fly with him, to join him on the moon in a fuller understanding of his world.

            The frustration wells up in him, at himself, at his wife, at the alien powers that gave him his, that set him apart without his asking.  He punches the moon and when the dust settles he is standing in the lifeless rock's newest crater.


            She checks on her radishes and sunflowers, makes notes on how best to get roots to dig into the soil when there is no gravity to direct them, the kind of knowledge future space colonies will be glad to have.  Then she works her way back toward the front cabin for a teleconference with Mission Control. 

            As she looks out the window at yet another sunset, at the Earth always spinning, she thinks she is beginning to more fully understand what he must have always known, that Earth is fragile, lonely, that it is in constant need of reassurance, of saving.

Five Poems

by Jeannine Hall Gailey



For the Love of Ivy

(Poison Ivy Leaves a Note for Batman in the Wake of Another Apocalypse Attempt)

You can see, can’t you, the appeal of such a world – lush with growth,

an earth empty of men’s trampling? In college, sitting through botanical medicine


classes, ecotoxicology, experiments in plant poisons – it became clear

that this was my verité – an orchid dressed to seduce wasps, a blooming


parasite wrapped around the trunk of a tree. You might take me home,

beg me for a kiss, but don’t you see the xylem and phloem in my veins


can’t pulse for you? My only offense not-death, regenerating from venom

fed me by my own professor? Feculent, fecund and feral, my power


you couldn’t understand, being born of cave-dwellers, bats and humans,

and your peculiar love of stray cats. My very existence, perhaps, my only crime


against nature. You can’t stem the murmur of voices under soil,

buried against their will – radioactive trees, GMO fruit. Just consider me


another mutant gone wrong, my betrayals in the distant backstory, my tears

now flow a green ooze as I try to heal the land, cesium in the sunflowers,


goat genes welded into innocent corn. Despite drought and denial,

I will continue to grow unharmed, my defense all delicate leaf and toxic petal.



The Black Widow’s Bite 

is full of tired venom, a ballerina lost in flames.

The years spent conforming to black bodysuits

and government cabals. Can’t whitewash her childhood

away, can’t forget years spent whispering secrets

into untrustworthy ears. How many hawks and highwaymen

on the side of the road, how many daredevil escapes?

Fighting for one country or cause after another,

it’s not exactly patriotism or passion that mobilizes her

but where else, exactly, does she fit? Educated in warfare

and mind games and little else, her 73rd birthday

behind her and barely a wrinkle, what can she turn to now

but the bottle of fine vodka, Mussorgsky (another team player

betrayed) and dreams of fallen empires? Peel back the layers

of her identity – who was Natalia before the orphanage fire,

a little girl playing at being the last Romanov?



Why I Love The Supervillain 

Because I, too, was raised by wolves in a town seeped through with secrets and radioactive spiders.

Because I am tired of the shiny and strong.

Because once I believed that everything could be fixed, and now I am tempted to believe

the bald man with the laptop and Persian cat, the wheelchair-riding scientist in dark glasses and German accent, the brittle-boned over the muscle-bound. And all those tights.

Because my father was a mad scientist, and my mother a tragic figure I could not save. Because my twin brother is alive on another planet in a parallel universe.

Because I, too, long for a laser ray to wipe the slate clean, to write my name in the blank smug face of the moon.



The Scientist Solves a Puzzle 

Like the boy in the Snow Queen story,

playing with ice and fire, trying to spell “love”

or “salvation,” ending up with only broken shards.

I don’t remember what I wanted to accomplish.

When did I find myself so far away, so bruised with frost,

so unseeing? There are crystals in my heart, fragments

of mirror in my eye. I stack one atom next to another,

then force them apart, race them against the clock.

I’m only guessing. Endothermic, exothermic.

Is that what brought on this nuclear winter? I forget.

I remember a long time ago I thought it would always be exciting,

that logic would save the day, man’s triumph over matter.

White lab coats, secret caves for experiments.

Atomic man. Radioactive boy. Tick tick tick. 



Introduction to Girl Detectives 

It’s important to start with a powder blue car and a locked diary.

The mystery is the disappearance of the mother. No role models.


The girl detective catches the film noir festival downtown, the theatre

with patchy velvet curtains and fading murals. The images light her up.


Silk blouses, nefarious hot-rollered hair. Pools of blood, dim corridors. She thinks:

contemporary versions of my character might sport tattoos, nose rings, contempt for law.


She has a lot of male friends, but no permanent love interest. Sometimes

she thinks it is because she is too good at solving mysteries.


She indulges in shinrin-yoku, to soothe her nerves, control her impulse to clean

her purse again. She meditates, tries hot yoga. Still the tick of that clock in her head.


The girl detective says, if you’d been working since 1930,

you’d be worn out too. The girl detective’s sleeves are getting frayed.


One more puzzle to solve: the clock tower whispering too latetoo late,

the shadowed hallway leading once more to a tower of books, to solitude,


to a storyline where she might once again be the heroine, thumping along

solid as the engine of her vintage Mustang convertible.