Bob King

Meme Machine

Meme Machine: /noun/ Nothing More Than Cogs & Gears That Produce Cultural Replications, Fanciful Flights, and Losing Battles for Long-Term Evolution, Unless You End Up Under Glass in the Natural History Museum

Hey Holden, there’s more to a cliff
than its edge. There’s an entire field
of kids running around behind you
that you could be running with,
remembering what it’s like to stay
in the moment. So here, young man,
take off that bulky overcoat & silly hat
and spread them near the edge & watch
the sun slowly descend over the distant
hills, the starling murmuration morphing,
your anxious brain for once quieted
by that fluid mobius strip of birds,
symbolism exploding before your eyes:
they’re a sheep flock now a gently flowing
river now a lion charging across the cloudless
savanna of the sky after an antelope, & now
a metaphor of a metaphor of a metaphor.
High functioning anxious people are
the type of people you want around
in an emergency, even if anxiousness
is hard to live with in nonemergency
situations. Which are most situations.
The quietness evasive. Like happiness
in a Chekhov play. You see, most of life
is a battle between your genes’ battle
to be selfish & self-replicating, to ensure
their own survival, and those same genes
weighing how much they need to cooperate,
as if state-required auto insurance,
or a C’s-get-degrees student—What’s
the bare minimum I need to do to get by?

for if your genes don’t work in concert,
then they are nothing more than
a lonely cello playing in an otherwise
empty & drafty barn, a fallow field
visible through the rotted planks,
the lack of radiance not dissimilar
to a Chekhov play. Our brains still
possess an incredible capacity: they
can observe, orient, decide, and act
in .4 seconds, which means in one
second, we can observe, orient, decide,
and act 2.5 times. My Corolla now spinning
on the ice on I-77 North and, Oh look,
there’s a Northern Cardinal asleep
on a dark pine trunk, its head-bob-
fighting-to-stay-awake barely perceptible
through the again-snow-flurries, not
unlike a butterfly in a James Wright
poem, and in these cold distances
of the afternoon that JESUS SAVES
billboard is new, and now, 180-degrees
from the direction I should be pointed
is the tractor-trailer that’s going to end
me, and all the while my foot is going
from the gas to the brake & back, hands
are turning into it or out of it—I forget
which is which but thank god for the
thick-foil-wrapped Honey Baked Ham
perched on my neck possessing some
kind of muscle memory, allowing my
hand-over-hand clockworking around
the steering wheel, reacting before
my consciousness is even conscious
of action. BTW, that’s the OODA Loop,
that .4 second cycle of observe, orient,
decide, and act, and loop loop loop.
Oh, believe me I know: we’re not always
interested in knowing how things work,
until things don’t work, and then we only
want an explanation as to why it broke,
but then we usually just want it fixed
without getting into the nitty-gritty,
save the cost. Did you expect emotional
repair to be affordable? If we unpack all
our body’s cellular membranes & lay them
flat, they’d cover the area of 151 football
fields. That’s almost 750 blue whales—
Hey, I speak whale. Lemme try humpback
or 900,000 large-sized-but-flattened
Amazon boxes, or almost 8 million
uncrumpled & unwaxy Taco Bell taco
wrappers. With extra Fire sauce. Always
bring the heat. We belch in the general
direction of the metric system. Proof
we’ll never stop fighting the bloody
Redcoats. When really confused and
we’re sure no one’s looking, we still
sometimes count on our fingers.
There was one sperm. One egg.
One just-healthy-enough pregnancy.
And only one way you were birthed.
But there are daily hundreds of ways
to live and thousands of ways to die.
Sure, we had zero consciousness—
absolutely zero consciousness—
of the world prior to birth, but through
reading-fueled imagination, we can still
stroll through 1703 London in our tweed
waistcoats and smoke handrolleds, await
East India’s latest calico shipment, & sip
the newest exotic tea in a window seat
as we listen to Newton’s volatile, weekly
prognostications and revolutions at
the Royal Society down on Fleet Street.
We’ll pound mugs & fists on the tabletops
when we disagree with him & sometimes
even when we agree. And after our
consciousness switches off for the final
time, we’ll have no idea who the future
world-changers will be. We’ll miss all
those next great ideas. And we won’t
be the wiser for it. But that doesn’t mean
we act with impunity or nihilism or
callousness. We can care a little less
without having to care about anything
and everything. It’s called empathy
management. You should try it sometime,
without ever losing sight of who you are.
Who you’re becoming. Enjoy becoming.
There are still some of us that still
care that you care as much as you do.
Will you take some advice from a stranger?
Will you take my hand? There’s an escalator
around back. It doesn’t need to be a tragic
fall, this tough transition. We can talk
along the way, maybe learn something
from each other. Maybe produce something
elegant. Or we can just move in silence,
our elbows occasionally, accidentally,
comfortably bumping each other, as we
stroll in this stay-in-the-moment silence.

Inspired by The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951), “Lying in a Hammock…” by James Wright (1961), Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov (1898), Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins (1998), Finding Nemo (2003), and The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World by Edward Dolnick (2011).

Bob King is an Associate Professor of English at Kent State University at Stark. He holds degrees from Loyola University Chicago and Indiana University (MFA, poetry). His poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review, Narrative Magazine, Muleskinner, Allium: a Journal of Poetry and Prose, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Northwest Review, Quarter After Eight, and Green Mountains Review, among other literary magazines. He lives on the outskirts of Cleveland with his wife and daughters.