WE'RE ALIVE

It takes me by surprise to find no one at all on the track
of the rec center at my usual time around ten-thirty when usually
I’m surrounded by dozens of walking wounded, folks in varied stages
of disarray and diminishment, the Geezer Club, people walking
or hobbling or even jogging tenderly for their lives, to add a year
or so, to feel better, who knows why?  But today there’s nobody
and at first I feel elated, the whole place to myself!  I can break
all the rules, I can trek in the opposite direction, lie down and roll
if I want, take baby steps, giant steps, do the Mashed Potato, I can
sing out in dissonant hallelujahs and belch and make chicken noises,
I can spit on the floor, anything, I can do anything . . . but I figure
surely someone will show up any moment, the traffic is usually constant,
but no, no one arrives and I’m on my third lap now, and I start feeling
a bit creeped out, like that movie when todo el mundo disappears
except for this one guy who resorts to making cardboard people to talk to,
not that I ever want to talk much with anybody, but hey, you like to think
there are others, even only one other, not just your sorry, desolate self
trudging the lonely road, no Whitman procession, nobody home,
and it’s getting to me big time around the fifth lap, and the place is still
empty, and my imagination takes a nose dive and I’m thinking maybe
everybody on earth has in fact vanished and it’s just me now, for, see,
this has never happened before, never, not in decades, not even janitors
or the fat gimp Chuckie who handles the basketball court down below,
nada, nada, and so I figure they all got hit, some angel of death
sweeping through, but missing my envelope, some swift-acting virus
or finally the atomic conflagration we’ve all awaited since Hiroshima
and I know it’s crazy but I now espy slight hairlines in the track itself,
fuzzy tendrils of antediluvian vegetation sprouting from the walls,
though a smack to my forehead clears up the horrendous visions,
but still no joggers or walkers and I’m reaching for the eleventh lap now,
and I’m worried about my wife and daughters, have they too disappeared?
and my half-crippled old mother down in New Orleans, has another Katrina
swept through?  and Greg down at University BP and that nubile cashier
at Wades, and Mr. Evil down the street and Daisy and Peaches and Sweetie
and Baby, and even Banjo, the stupidest cat in the world, and my sister
and all the school children and the president and the fleeing Icelanders, 
are they all just suddenly gone?  and it’s getting to the point that I think
I have no choice but to break my stride, head for the stairwell and do some snooping
around outside, like Hume opening the door to make sure the world still existed,
look for passing automobiles, birds in flight, the garbage men
(because today is Monday after all), when at my back I hear the west wing door
creak open, and I spin on my toes and see this hunched old soul waddle in,
struggling with getting off her coat over by the racks, and I rush hastily toward her
and she sharply turns, alarmed at my pace, and I throw my arms around her
crying, “Thank God, thank God you’re alive, thank God you’re here and we’re
all still here, everything’s ok because you’re here, do you understand, I must hug
you, please forgive me, I thought the world had ended, everyone but me . . .”
and of course she thinks I’m crazy and maybe dangerous, so I back off, beg pardon,
beg pardon, I even do the little Japanese prayer thing with my hands, and I hasten
toward the exit sign and, with one last breath, cry back at her, “Oh thank you
for being here, you have saved the city, the state, the planet, maybe the universe,
thank you, thank you, thank you,” and I leap down the stairs with more energy
than I’ve summoned in about a year and want to rush outside and exclaim to all
I see that, yes, we’re still here, maybe not for long, you know how time flies,
but at this precious iota in spacetime, we’re definitely, finally alive!

 

 

About the Author: Louis Gallo’s work has appeared or will shortly appear in Southern Literary Review, Fiction Fix, Glimmer Train, Hollins Critic, Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Litro, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Texas Review, Baltimore Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ledge, storySouth, Houston Literary Review, Tampa Review, Raving Dove, The Journal (Ohio), Greensboro Review,and many others. Chapbooks include The Truth Change, The Abomination of Fascination, Status Updates and The Ten Most Important Questions. He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, The Barataria Review and Books: A New Orleans Review. He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.

COMPUTER FREAKING

for the late Walker Percy

So I’m having another computer meltdown
and finally give up because I’m a moron
and drive over to the Geek Squad for the third
time, and today, after waiting in line an hour
I connect with this black dude
about middle aged and sort of heavy and surly
but he knows what he’s doing, what relief!
and as he starts to load backup files
onto my machine we get to talking
and he teaches me a lot of arcana
about viruses and worms
and all the evil diseases in cyberspace
and I notice that he’s a character
straight out of Walker Percy, a brilliant technician
(but self-taught, not MIT) who still uses the word
“ax” for “ask,” and it’s endearing to me
because I’ve always liked “ax,” use it myself,
and then he says, “Ax me, you can find
anything you want on the internet
so you don’t have to be a moron no more,”
but I frown, “Well, you gotta understand
the patois . . . it’s the words,
the geeko words that fail me and really
I AM a moron,
attention deficit order you know, which
I didn’t know I had until they identified it,
but now I’ve got it and what can you do?”
He shakes his head, “Ax me, they invent
all that shit . . . look at me, I got bipolar,
meaning I’m sad some days and way out
on others, and I figure dat’s the way
most of us is, I mean, are . . . catch my drift?”
I love the man and eye up the other skinny,
pale-faced geeks with disdain: babies,
scrawny, ill-nourished, maybe genius babies,
but they don’t know half what my man knows
and he taught himself, and so after a few hours
of loading files, half of which are lost,
I carry the machine out to my car
and have a vision of the pure blue screen
of Word Perfect 5, and then another
of my old Brother electronic typewriter,
and still a remoter vision of the cast iron
Underwood monstrosity from my mother,
the carbon paper, fuzz clogging “e” and “b,”
the sticking keys and correct-o ribbon,
and, man, I think, such lousy visions,
nothing like Lame Dear or Black Elk,
pathetic, techno visions, and I remember a picture
of Nietzsche typing on this horrible thing
that looked like a medieval torture device,
some sort of rotary job, and figure
surely it had something to do with his migraines,
and way before, Dickens scratching it out
by candle-light or back to the days
of goose feathers and poke berry ink
and backwards forever, chunks of coal
and ochre on the Altamira cave walls . . .
and my anxiety mounts while driving home,
the preposterous equipment on the back seat,
hard drive, operating system, Java, memory cards
. . . what the hell are they, how do they work,
who spawned them into existence,
why did I not have a vote for simplicity
and user-friendly admittance?
Am I seeing the light or has it become darker,
the car sodden with malaise (Walker, do you hear?).
Someone puts a gun to my head:
RAM, OS, JAVA, Cisco routers, external memory
or lumps of coal and red ochre – you must choose.
Give me the fucking chunks and that cave, man,
I’m a moron and I like moronity and it has never
set me adrift in the circuitry of panic.
And at a red light I close my eyes and pray:

“Hail Mary, operating system of us all, blessed
are the entrails of thy PC, and the fruit of thy womb,
Geek Squadron.”
And so, Walker, it’s back to you, for you always
drew the bead: you said, “The greater
the technology, the greater the horror.”
Yes, I vote, yes. And you fretted over the
rise of technicians, specialists, especially medical,
into whose dry, chalky palms we deliver ourselves
and bequeath our sovereign selves to become
“organisms in an environment.”
You picked up that bayou wisdom by osmosis,
you, diagnostician, caught the baleful,
inexorable drift. And another vision comes
as I accelerate onto the interstate: all of us
crucified, tacked like mangled golems
on a vast, charred, smoking Moloch
of motheboards.




About the Author:
Louis Gallo was born and raised in New Orleans and now teaches at Radford University in Virginia, where he lives with his wives and daughters. His collections of poems include THE TRUTH CHANGES, THE ABOMINATION OF FASCINATION, THE PRIVATE CONFESSIONS OF DIABLO AMORICUS WISHBONE, WITNESS and SHADOWS. His novels include THE SECRET SURVIVOR: A NEW ORLEANS FARCE and BREAKNECK: A KATRINA FUGUE. Three collections of short stories are also available--DEAD BY TUESDAY, WEDNESDAY MORNING and THE YEAST OF REVELATION.