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John Gallaher 

Your Innocence Will Not Protect You

There’s no nostalgia like this shirt, whispering “1977” from the drawer,

late at night, to ease my sleeping.  It’ll only mean trouble for you,

that kind of nostalgia: canted shots and cigarette commercials.  

Like a polite citizen as an authoritarian comes to power, saying it’ll be

short, ineffectual, like these things always are.  It’ll make us laugh

in twenty years!  I guess it usually does.  I mean, everything’s a cycle,

and we make Attila the Hun jokes, I think, who was a man born

into the world to shake the nations, the scourge of all lands, who

in some way terrified all by the dreadful rumors noised abroad

concerning him, that kind of nostalgia.  Call your mother from a pay

phone or imagine calling your mother from a pay phone, even if

you have to imagine a mother. Best if you have to imagine a mother,

then you know you’re really onto something.  Better still if you have

to imagine a pay phone. Everything’s always catching up to now,

with a turned-up collar and looking for the union label.  A splash

of the new.  A pre-future nostalgia.  Silver disco spacesuits nostalgia.  

Maybe we’ve forgotten how the future’s supposed to work, how we’re

supposed to want to get to it. The romantic notion of us sitting here

that they’ll imagine someday. They’ll be thinking how quaint we were

or something, how backward probably, and someone will get misty-eyed,

imagining walking among us. It’s like being the best person in town

at Rubik’s Cube.  You could’ve had a shot at TV, if this were 1977.

But now look at you.  Now you get to call it art.  The kind of purity

uselessness affords.  It’s your innocence and it will not protect you,

but the point is as the point always is, that all victories are temporary,

how in the dinosaur movies the point is there’s always a bigger

dinosaur, or in the logic movies, there’s always a language game that’s

difficult to translate, like saying “not too little, not too much, but

just right” in Sweden and you’re still not getting it, because there’s

always a way you’re not getting it.  Thank you, Goldilocks. There’s

the closeness you want with other people vs the closeness you have.  

At any moment Rubik’s Cube could make a comeback.  It’s poised,

as the future is poised, with hula hoops and how the wind gave the flags

a little extra whip when TV had a closing time, when they’d tuck it

into striped color bars and sing to it.  Duck, maybe, or maybe you’re

supposed to step out in front of it, as a bus coming at you, or the rapture.  

In My Secret Language These Words Make a Glorious Music

About change the young are never wrong.  Hurricanes and Easter

baskets, lovelorn, and the story is how to process pain, thinking, well,

OK, is this a parachute or streamers above me?  Or both, neither,

or what was it that made tomorrow so different, so special?  

Think of this as your cue. And about the young, change is never

wrong.  I lost the thread, I think, or maybe there wasn’t a thread,

maybe more like a stray hair or some straw.  Maybe because

we thought there was someone on the other side or maybe because

there was someone on the other side.  It all depends on who’s

throwing the show at you, or was it just that we had something

to prove?  These trees are blooming like they have something

to prove.  It’s not about the game, it’s about the practice, they say.

Or I’m having them say, because it’s the kind of thing I imagine

a coach saying, and I want these trees to do well.  I also want

the grass to do well, actually it’s the grass I’m thinking of

predominantly these days, as I reseeded a strip along the curb

in the front this year and we’ve had so little rain and so much heat.  

They say this could be the new normal, the way that Natalie’s upstairs

practicing juggling a soccer ball.  Maybe that will be the new

normal as well, with some Poly-Fil and Day-Glo paint.  Daily

practice, like how, using the correct theory, you can calculate

the relative probabilities of various outcomes.  But you need

the correct theory first, and second, the ability to calculate,

to take various things into account regarding change and the young.  

The world doesn’t belong to us. But it equally belongs

to no one else either.  We cannot help. Is that the right name

for it?  “Help”? Or does anything have its right name or its true

name?  All of us are left at some point, as a shadow being cast

from the new condominiums is left.  The barn fire continues,

as that’s the highlight of the tour, with all its fathers and presidents,

and the little porcelain horses, hand-painted to resemble terror.  







For the rest of the afternoon I’m going to live a more meaningful life.  

Because I’m tired of always being at a loss, always running to catch up.  

Not really running, though, more like standing at the window watching

it rain.  If only this one thing were different, I could think, then things

would be OK, where it’s always something else but always one thing,

how one day you have to say “I want this to be the thing I’m good at”

and hope that others think you are as well, because there are many things

to do in the world and failure is a rotten way to spend your life.  

Maybe clean this place up. Sure.  The walls suddenly shining, or else

the walls are better than they were, or else the walls are beyond repair.  

Suggestions for your group name or your band name or something

you’re saving for a cat or daughter applaud, how we slayed “Latin Lovers”

on trivia night.  “Let’s have a clap!” we say at the presentation

on A Brief History: the Whole Story, and how every wave is a salute.  

“All games are language games,” they proclaim, the roar of silence

screaming or bombs screaming, the sweat of the brow and the bright

structure they’re wanting to hide the sounds of, of resistance, fighting,

where one plants the skein of boredom through works of fiction.  

It’s a continual problem, this attempt to make peace with yourself.  

Preach it, self, we say to the mirror, and the mirror says you are standing

in your bathroom naked, dripping, and talking to yourself.  I’m

being tough, I think, like whistling in a graveyard, but the truth is I can’t

whistle.  Not even one of those airy fake whistles.  There are a lot of things

I can’t do.  And more that I can kind of do but not well.  Like this,

for instance.  I’m already feeling I’m not getting my feeling across,

that this is less than chit chat, which had its first known use in 1605

as a repudiation of chat, having a chat, because this world is crumbling,

and our meanings are less than meanings, chit meanings, as chit sounds

like shit, and that seems about right to me, code name: massacre of

the innocents, code name: they’re praising horror, pronouncing it “honor.”  

In a sick age, it’s sprouting everywhere at once, screaming “beauty.”  

Gallaher - Secret Language
Gallaher - Aspirational
John Gallaher.jpg

John Gallaher's forthcoming collection is Brand New Spacesuit (BOA 2020). He's the author of, most recently, In a Landscape (BOA 2014). He lives in rural Missouri and is the co-editor of The Laurel Review

Read an interview with him discussing his work as a visual artist in this issue.

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