2 poems by Bob King

The Ambient Sounds of Assurance

I imagine picking up a seashell,
pressing the conch’s heft against
my ear even though there’s no real
beach near, but its coiled & empty
cavity seals with my canal & my
attention zoom-locks into focus
as I hear the hollow ocean woosh
with such intent that my eyes close,
everything else falls away, & even
the world stops spinning for one
two three. Then slap. Hands clap—
I startle-snap out of it, rotation
resumes, & back here back home
I actually hear, antennae attuned,
a crotchrocket unzipping across
the east-west interstate a mile south
of where I’m Midwest sitting on
my summer night garden patio
& the distant bike fades & slow-fast
buzzes like a mosquito bothering
my ear & the brick oven brick house
windows are still open & I don’t
want the A/C on yet because
we’ve been waiting all year
to have a little climate sweat
on our forearms & its mechanics
ruin nature & her peripheral noises
& it’s been night for a few hours
with only a few left & most are
asleep & finally everything’s calm.
Everything is calm & there are
faint illegible words & music
coming from the garage speakers
& now playing is that song that
played all the time in college &
I danced & it wasn’t awkward
& god if only all those people then
could know now how I appreciate
them even still, a record of my
memories only stored in my brain’s
fading folds. All this technology
today & yet we-meaning-NASA
sent a bleeping record player into
space. Given, it was with a gold-cast-
not-vinyl-cut record, but still. So,
if you could have ninety minutes
of your life be represented, recorded,
& blasted out to space: songs,
chants, incantations, mourning
doves or puppy litter whimpers
or horses or whales or humid
summertime crickets, or that
barely perceptible background
hollow-bass moon hum, thrumming
deep in your chest, in your throat
like movie theater surround sound,
murmuring as it rises, crescendos
just behind the hulking alabaster
clouds impersonating sultry silent
airships, which hour & thirty minutes
would you record & send? From
blues-bending Blind Willie Johnson
to “Hey Jude” to Peter Gabriel Plays
Live to Rachmaninov 2 to Nirvana
Unplugged to wait. Just wait. Lemme
go first. Please let me go first: my
wife’s laughter. No. Seriously. That’s
it. That’s all I’d send. Just Bridget’s
lilting laughter in a modestly opaque
with Monet greens-blues-purples
blown glass apothecary bottle—
a neatly corked memory capsule
whose potent contents could be
easily dispensed in the tiniest of doses
so that it never actually ever runs out.

Inspired by Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan (1977), The Interstellar Age: Inside the 40-Year Voyager Mission by Jim Bell (2015), and ‘Fabliau of Florida’ by Wallace Stevens (1923).

‘We’re Taught to Faun Over Authority and Turn Upon the Vulnerable Outside It’

Quoted from Christopher Hitchens’ Hitch-22 (2010)

There’s an 89.4% chance that the place you slept
for your first 500 nights determine which god
you believe in. We’re not talking Zeus, Bucko.
Though, if we’re talking Mykonos 2500 years ago,
okay Zeus. And my buddy George once joked
he’d teach his kids the sun was, in fact, Apollo’s
chariot wheel streaking across the sky. But raised
in a place that’s like 90% Irish Catholic, a former
source of pride, I do wonder how close to Buddha
I’d be today if born at the base of a Far East
Mountain. Mountains sing, after all, & one
of the only facets of the Vatican I still appreciate
is the music, which still makes me feel closer
to the fantastic heaven even if heaven isn’t
a thing anymore, but the feeling of hope still feels
most like awe when it’s divorced from shame.
Shame is only one teaching method, but you
don’t realize that until you realize that, but even
then it’s best to keep your mouth shut, especially
if you live again inside the Venn diagram of where
belief overlaps family. So much emphasis on roots.
Perhaps not enough on branches. As when
a tree discovers she’s meant to be a violin &
her notes, now liquid architecture, evaporate
like rainbow mist above the frozen forest
cathedral that was once her home. No greater
joy than realizing the “you are here” red pin
on the map can move just by wearing out
a library card. Look, likely, you really don’t care
what I believe, nor I you, as we’re not married
& don’t pay each other’s bills. I’m just saying
Earth is 4.5 billion years old, Homo sapiens maybe
350,000 years old, & the cognitive faculties
in the slab of meat above our shoulders only
kicked in 70,000 years ago. Then there’s this dude
who walked Earth 2,000 years ago—that’s like 60
seconds ago in evolutionary scale, & yeah
60 seconds ago, this dude enters the room
& starts sorting winners & losers, wings
& pitchforks, & within seconds this entire
institution erupts, codifies some great ideas,
but then spectacularly markets & bureaucratizes:
taxes, collects, hoards, colonizes, inquisitions,
demonizes, whitens & masculinizes, & yeah
that’s a little bit presumptuous toward the billions
of folks outside of our little-oh-this-is-the-singular-
definite-point-of-view Venn circle. Maybe I’m
saying too much. But I beat myself up about
how often I’ve not spoken up, afraid of getting
beat up, how respect for authority is used as a ruler-
across-the-knuckles-encourager for not speaking
up. Politicos don’t have a monopoly on fascism.
We’re raised not to speak up to small injustices.
But small injustices accumulate. Fester. Exclude.
And treating people decently is a moral obligation,
no matter the god you believe in, if any at all—
morality doesn’t need a deity. It only needs
imagination. And once you learn how,
reading up for others is a moral obligation,
not just a motto nailed to the building’s ornate
architecture. In the end, thinking up might
end or make difficult other relationships,
but congratulations now you’re an adult
& once you know/learn better, the responsibility
is there. And likely, any consequences of speaking
up wouldn’t be as apocalyptic as you’ve conjured
in your mind anyway. Dinosaurs never tried
to crucify other dinosaurs across the sea,
contentedly smoking their cigarettes
a continent away, as if in a Far Side comic.
We needn’t seek or encourage or inflict
extinction. It’ll find us because we’re living
inside an explosion. So, yeah. Extinction
will find us. Naturally. And it’ll be okay.
Really. It’ll be okay.

Inspired by Christopher Hitchens’ Hitch-22 (2010), Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (2017), & The Far Side by Gary Larson (1979-1995).


Bob King is an Associate Professor of English at Kent State University at Stark. His recent poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming from Drunk Monkeys, JAKE, Paddler Press, Aôthen Magazine, The Purposeful Mayonnaise, Spare Parts Literary Magazine, The Viridian Door, Ink Sweat & Tears, Alien Buddha Gets Rejected Anthology, Bullshit Lit, The Red Ogre Review, Unlikely Stories Mark V, The Dillydoun Review, Emergence Literary Journal, Narrative Magazine, Muleskinner, & Allium: a Journal of Poetry & Prose. He lives on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife & daughters.

Image created on Stable Diffusion 2- 1