by Brennon Williams

The third grader I babysit tells me about
Obamacare, the debt crisis:
Their incompatibility, inconceivability.
He knows which politicians are right
And which are wrong.
He knows which parts of the world are good,
Which are not.
I smile and nod,
The way one does
To their boss,
Or to someone who may one day
Become their boss.

He scoffs at Monopoly’s paper money,
Rolls his eyes at Clue’s lackluster narrative.
Do you like hopscotch?
I ask.
He thinks, straightens his tie.
“I’m a Bourbon man.”

Once the boy asks me about girls.
I know something about love
I say
Because I am its foil, its fool,
Its poor foal.
It’s so hard to find people
Who read Marquez
And listen to NPR
These days.
(I keep this last bit
To myself).

Another time he asks what it means
To be alive.
“I know what the answer is,”
He says,
But I want to know what
You think the answer is.
Some believe existence is a singularity,
I start,
The buzzing of quantum strings
Or a Gospel,
‘Isn’t that the greatest news you’ve ever heard?’
(Air quotes)
Maybe the universe is he explosive belch
Of a lone neutrino
Or the dizzied retch
Of a sickly black hole.
BUt how am I supposed to know?
God doesn’t tell me these things

The boy dies a few years later,
Succumbs to one of those rare diseases
That spreads from cell to cell,
Neuron to neuron,
Like doubt.
Snipping DNA,
Turning organs inside out.
His eyes are some of the last
To go,
Streaked like alabaster,
Shining wet
As melting snow.

At flat-line
He is surrounded by doctors,
Nurses, technicians, a pastor.
His parents say they can’t bear to see him
Like this,
So they wail
One room over.

A senator
And a banker
Speak at his funeral.
Four F-16s do a flyby.
“It was in his will,”
The boy’s attorney

I visit him in the graveyard,
Usually around 4 PM;
A time when nothing wants to get done
His plot is a botanical marvel
Tended by a platoon of gardeners
Gargoyles and angels
Mill about
Like lonely guests at a party
Where the music sucks
And the drinks are watered down.
At the center looms a marbled citadel,
(Placed by cargo helicopter)
With declarations in fourteen languages
And the boy’s face sintered on.
He looks off to the distance
Like some baby-faced ruler
Observing a kingdom that’s his,
All his.

As I’m about to leave,
The sun strikes rock
Just so —
And for a moment, I see
My face
Reflected in his tombstone.

On the way home
I walk past the county fairgrounds.
Men unload concession stands
In jumbled bundles,
And teary blocks of ice
The size of Port-A-Potties.
Next comes the tools:
Hydraulic hammers, mechanized machetes,
Laser-guided torches, scoped nitrogen hoses.
And lastly a podium
With a winter-themed banner
saying , “WINNER,”
Strung by steel cable.

I wish the boy were with me
So i could get a second shot
At answering his question:

I believe we are all blind ice sculptors
Chiseling away at ourselves,
Clipping our tics, tempers, and tells.
Fixing those joys that jut out
Just a smidgen too far from the rest.
Remolding form and contour,
The trajectory of our lives,
The twists and contortions
We make
 To fit into compartments -
Claustrophobic and scarred -
All the while knowing full well
As we sweat, sweat, sweat:
We will soon be puddles
And seeping into the ground.

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