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Planet Unflinching

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by Kelly Cherry

It used to be an axiom that an object cannot occupy two positions at the same time, but now, of course, one may argue that in cyberspace it is possible to do just that. Perhaps someday it will also be possible to occupy the same position at two different times. At the dinner table, there between your two brothers, with your father and mother at either end and your mother's quietly hysterical twice-divorced sister seated next to you and plucking the corner off her paper napkin by increments, you will be both ten and seventeen. At ten you will eat your slice of ham with the slice of pineapple on top and your canned green beans and instant mashed potatoes and try to understand how there can be a God if he packs people off to hell like a Nazi routing trains to the Holocaust, and at seventeen you will have on pink pedal pushers and a sleeveless pink shirt with three-quarter sleeves that dips in at the waist, and you will feel so sexy, so ready for something to happen -- without understanding that this is what you feel, that this is why you can hardly be bothered to eat and can't wait to escape into your room and make a wish on the first star you see tonight from the dormer window that has a built-in bench in front of it. When you leave the table and enter your room, night will be nudging the window but not yet inside. Things happen when it is time for them to happen, you know. Or maybe not; maybe that is a sentimental notion, an instance of wishful thinking. But is there any other kind of thinking? How much really hard thinking, how much really cold logic, is there in this world? Maybe somewhere else there is a world where reason is never as soft as a bed, flat as a stale beer. Woozy as a woman who, to ease her back pain, has been washing down codeine all day with sips of the bad-tasting beer. The woman thinks she would get up if she could think of a good reason to, but damned if she can find a good reason. It would mean giving up being where she is, and who knows if where she would be would be better or worse. She could find herself in another world, and it might, I suppose, be a world unlike this one, where no taint of desire afflicts argumentation, where predication is not stained by untested assumption or hidden agenda. We will call this world Unflinching. On Unflinching winds reach hurricane speeds, and extremes of temperature occur with night and day. A green leaf is a rare example of moderation, a compromise between breath and poison, a pragmatic adaptation to circumstance. Unflinching is quite a world. People say it's a place they would like to visit, but most of them concede that they wouldn't want to live there.

 


Kelly Cherry's most recent book is The Society of Friends (U of Missouri Pr, 1999), which won the Dictionary of Literary Biography Award for a Distinguished Volume of Short Stories.  She is currently Eminent Scholar at the Humanities Center at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, as well as Eudora Welty Professor Emerita of English and Evjue-Bascom Professor Emerita in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

 

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