Blast Off! by John Gallaher

The only thing I’ve said to someone this morning so far is, “It’s going
to be warmer than yesterday, but still cool.”  It’s a daily routine, waiting
for me when I get up: here is your weather forecast for the next
seven days.  Also, it’s two months until the Apollo 11 50th anniversary.
There’s going to be a gala, parties and movies all week.  Upstairs,
Natalie’s getting ready for a day of high school graduation parties.
I think she has eight or so to go to.  Robin tells me we’re supposed
to go to a few of them as well.  We know the families.  Every day
is the anniversary of something.  Today is my new, just discovered
cousin Gary’s birthday.  “What purpose does the Troutdale historical
society serve in this narrative?” the narrative runs, as we note and mark
the calendar.  What is haunting this family?  How is it resolved?
For anniversary napkins, we could go to Party City.  The nearest Party
City is 90 miles south.  You wake up one day thinking, “Everything
I tried, it just didn’t seem to work out.” so you decide on a new
definition of what it means for things to work out.  Because you also
want to say, “I was here.”  And then a date, time, and reason.  Apollo 11
leaves a flag.  They want this flag to ripple in the breeze of the lunar
landscape, but there is no breeze, so they opt for a wire through the fabric.
Let’s plant our flags, leave our marks.  Robert Burton, priest and scholar,
publishes The Anatomy of Melancholy in 1621, which includes lists
of reasons to be sad, with all the kinds, causes, symptoms, prognostics,
and several cures for it.  In three partitions.  With their several sections,
members, and subsections, philosophically, medically, historically opened
and cut up, or maybe that’s the satirical compendium published
two centuries later, addressing topics such as digestion, goblins,
the geography of America, or maybe there was no satirical compendium,
and that’s a reason to be sad, not errant, but fixed: this is the kind
of music someone who has stopped listening to music makes.  It’s easy
for me to remember how old I was in any given year, as I was born
January 6, Epiphany Boy, to start and stop with the year, in sequence.
And what do we mean when we say this is a sequence, a sequence of events,
a musical sequence?  DNA?  Is a table of contents a sequence?  A nested
table? The table of the elements, a tabled motion?  Robert Burton was sure
of many things 398 years ago.  I wonder if there are any 400th anniversary
plans.  It’s good to start thinking early.  The graduation party invitations
started coming in weeks ago and the Apollo 11 gala has been scheduled
for years.  Take a life, for instance: what walks on four legs, then two,
then three, that sort of thing.  Or you pass a soccer ball to your winger
in an overlapping run.  I’m writing this while having a slice of pizza
for breakfast, and Victoria says, “good question, what is a sequence?”
And Eli says, “It’s pizza for the soul.”  It depends on how you slice it, I say.
And he says he slices it with the cosmos; that he keeps a sharpened cosmos
beside him for this express purpose.  I’m thinking a sequence is this worry
I have, to happen in a line, to see it that way just to tell it.  Like how it’s fun
to laugh at suffering if it’s big and fake and someone else’s, a coyote
and roadrunner, the distant past.  Today I’m making a file in which
I’m putting the notes and receipts from my trip to Portland last month,
where I met my birth family, mother, brother, and cousin, and Margo
comments with, “you’re going to have so much to write about!”  The walls
rise up, the Brutalist architecture of memory.  Check the calendar.
If you number it, a sequence will come.  So here’s to the next book:
51 years ago last week I was adopted, according to one document,
and according to this other one, my adoptive parents were my parents
at birth.  Like how it’s fun to say, “when ghosts stop appearing as fire,
I’ll stop considering them hostile.”  Like entering a mood or a garden party.
Like having a joke address: 1234 Chick Avenue.  Or how the Pacific
garbage patch isn’t really visible from space in the way we think of
as “visible from space,” but it’s still visible from space, as we debate
when one should say “a sequence of events” and when one should say
“a series of events.”  It’s the World Series, not the World Sequence.
It changes everything and nothing, what you call it.  It’s why I wish,
when they adopted me, my parents wouldn’t have changed my name.
I was three, and just getting used to things.  Something should’ve remained.
But changing remains, so I also wish I could change my name every week,
then I would be a sequence, a season.  50 years ago today the Apollo 10
astronauts were conducting a dress rehearsal in lunar orbit and I was almost
one year into my new life /new family.  There’s training involved in all things,
10,000 hours maybe, and maybe I was only 9,000 hours in and accidently
stopped.  Otherwise, you’re the same as you were in high school, in science
class, over a marigold you’ve encased in yellow tinted plastic to see
how it does or doesn’t grow.  The dogs are barking in the yard again.
It sounds like “I am what I am.”  I’m appreciating the lack of silence
a moment, in a Cuisinart way, a business way, a “keep me from thinking”
way, the way I used to like the sound of the rollers at the Walmart
distribution center I worked at, killing time.  It’s another missed opportunity,
imagining our lives this way.  This hour, waiting to register the car we bought
after a guy ran a stop sign and hit Natalie’s car last month, bored, killing
time, when the accident could’ve been so many other things.  We’ve only
just now come into this world, and we’ll be leaving soon.  Then one
ponders the empty book over the table.  Maybe next a lion will fall from it,
speaking, how the wretchedness of life is contrasted with the grandeur
of the imagination, as hundreds of martins crowd outside the courthouse
waiting for our toxic friends to transform society.  And just as we play
with our hands to cast the shadow of a bird on the wall, so too the birds
practice casting their human shadows across us, arms out.  They’ve been
reading Borges, or perhaps their shadows just happen, like a car accident
or fountain in Kansas City.  I was thinking Martians, not martins, and then
I thought the idea of Martians stupid, though most of the planet believed
in them once, not that long ago.  People thought there might be canals
on Mars, life under the surface of the moon, or that the lunar lander
would sink into the moon’s surface.  Because life is random, and now
I’m thinking of the lunar lander sinking in quicksand.  This month is the 15th
anniversary of a trip I took to Daytona Beach, where I stood in line
for the bucket sling shot, inverse bungee jump, that sends people
a hundred feet up and back down, called “BLAST OFF!,” and the couple
ahead of me hit a seagull, which exploded into a school of fish
raining down upon us.  They closed the ride for the day.  Sometimes
things happen as if we’ve practiced all our lives for it to turn out
this way.  The slow-pan shot of a seagull full of fish heading inland.
The montage of the young couple laughing, stepping onto the ride.
Complete.  I don’t think we’d even flinch if music were to rise around us.




John Gallaher’s forthcoming book is Brand New Spacesuit (BOA 2020). He lives in rural Missouri and co-edits The Laurel Review.