John Levy

A High-Speed Gun
for Peter Yovu

I was reading Great Expectations on the city bus on the way home. A gaunt middle-aged man, in faded blue jeans and an orange t-shirt, sat next to me. He had a shaved head. I had the window seat. He had a cell phone. I had a hardback book. Glancing at him with what I hoped was a “I’m a friendly person, but don’t bother me because I’m reading” semi-smile, I looked back to Dickens.

“Tardigrades can survive being shot out of a high-speed gun.”

I didn’t look up from my book, assuming he was talking into a cell phone.

“Aren’t you going to ask what a tardigrade is? Or do you know?”

I had reached a passage about “speckled-legged spiders with blotchy bodies” in Miss Havisham’s room. They were running, “as if some circumstance of the greatest public importance had just transpired in the spider community.”

“Perhaps you are hearing impaired?” he said, loudly, into my ear.

“Oh, are you talking to me?”

“Yes. I thought you’d like to know that tardigrades can survive being shot out of a high-speed gun.”

“Ah, those water bears, or as some people call them, moss piglets, are remarkable eight-legged segmented micro-animals,” I said. “As it happens, I am reading about spiders.”

Now I observed that this man had cat eye contact lenses. The vertical pupil of each of his eyes was surrounded by orange. Also, he had shaved his eyebrows off.

“I’m conducting a study on how receptive strangers are to random statements of startling facts. So far, on a scale of one to ten, where would you place yourself? With ten being completely receptive and one being downright hostile.”

I had to think this over.

Not Hammering

There were the years when almost no weekday went by when I didn’t, for at least part of the day, have my hammer in my hand. I still have the hammer, it is one of the things I bought that (1) never broke, (2) I never lost, (3) no one borrowed without returning it, (4) I never gave away. I love it. But I rarely hold it anymore. I can see it in what is called the mind’s eye. My “actual” eyes are not my mind’s eyes, I suppose.

But now I am not hammering for months on end. Months, end to end, stacked on each other loosely, not nailed together, nor glued, but I like to think of them as balanced and not needing any cohesive (nails aren’t exactly a cohesive) to form a handsome, attractive tower.

I am aware that, in English, getting hammered refers to intoxication. I have not done a survey to determine how many other languages use a different tool to allude to that chemical state induced by alcohol content. Of course there are likely many languages that employ a hammer to invoke being drunk while also specifying other tools rather synonymously.

I like a small hammer, too, for the jobs with little nails. But it is my larger hammer that I like. Maybe if I had done a lot more demolition work I might have the same affection for a sledgehammer, but I have never bought a sledgehammer. Alex, the carpenter who taught me how to use tools, owned a sledgehammer and I would use his when we were doing a remodeling job that required brute force. Although I have never been much of a brute, it is sometimes a joy to swing a sledgehammer at, say, a wall that has to come down.

You have not been hammering, yourself, for at least as long as you read this, even if you are hammered. Forgive me for pointing this out, I should not have intruded upon your privacy.

One day

in a small Greek town, when I was living in a nearby village, my car was being serviced and I was alone for hours. On one street I looked in a shop window and saw, first, a man sitting on the floor with his back to me. Then I saw the gravestone in front of him and that he was chiseling something into it. Several blocks away there was a small storefront and inside were peanuts in their shells, piled about twelve feet high further back and tapering down to about two or three feet. This window was dusty, whereas the window through which I saw the gravestone seemed freshly cleaned. As with some memories, I recall the direction I was looking. I was looking west when I saw the seated man, east into the room with all the peanuts.

Although I saw the peanuts after the gravestone, I did not think of the nuts themselves, inside the shells, as being in coffins. Nor of all the nuts under the top layer as being buried, without any gravestone to memorialize their existence. I see this paragraph as being buried under the first one and first I think, “good riddance,” and then I wonder if my adult children have ever said that even once in their lives or if it is an expression that most of their generation has found substitutes for. Now I think of how dig is the first part of digression. And how placing a gravestone entails some digging, while planting peanuts doesn’t necessarily involve any (although I have not performed either job).

The small Greek town (this paragraph has returned there, the year is 1985, and it is a sunny day) has slightly sloping streets. Or at least a few of them were mildly angled. The garage, for instance, which I had to walk down (heading west) to enter.

The part of the gravestone

that rests in the earth, the bottom of the gravestone, has no incised words. Its own shape is impressed into the earth, not an anonymous shape. No shape is anonymous.

International House of Shapes, that would not be an appropriate name for a cemetery. It would remind senior citizens, like myself, of The International House of Pancakes, which became IHOP after I grew up.

I sometimes find that when I am thinking of my late parents I write something with them in the background. They took me to the International House of Pancakes, on Bethany Home Road, in Phoenix, when I was in grade school. I remember the revolving tray (lazy Susan, which is not how I thought of it then), with what seemed like a wealth of syrups.

The one time I visited my late mother’s parents in their cemetery in Phoenix (the same cemetery where both of my late parents have their plots), it was just the two of us. It was a longish drive. The cemetery was on the outskirts of Phoenix then, though maybe now it is considered inside city limits. I followed my mother to her parents’ plaques, which were level with the earth. She either said she wanted to be alone for a little while with them or I could tell. I walked away, to the south, and stopped. It was the only time in my life so far (I’m almost 70 now) that when I looked up at the sky the blue seemed like a solid overturned blue cup, with us underneath. Vast, but neither frightening nor disorienting.

John Levy’s most recent book of poetry is Silence Like Another Name (otata’s bookshelf, 2019). He lives in Tucson.
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