John Gallaher: When They Give You Advice [...], In a Landscape: XLII, & When You Stand Between Two Mirrors [...]

When They Give You Advice, Consider the Source

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Today I’m practicing my inner calmness. I have meetings
after meetings, so I’ve decided it’s a good day for inner
calmness. The trick is to disregard what’s unimportant
and to focus on what’s important, and then to disregard
that too. Or something like that, in the mountain, not a
mountain, back to mountain, progress of enlightenment
kind of way. But what of the helpful, necessary even,
distraction, that completes our thinking, this addition of the
new, the unexpected? Is that part of it too, or is that also
something to disregard? And so here I am, already somewhere
south of inner calmness. Letting go is necessary to peace
of mind, I’ve heard. Then we say “Ohm” and nod at each
other like we know what we’re talking about, but we all know
we don’t have a clue what we’re talking about. Is remembering,
or imagining “things I should have done and the people I
should have done them with” helpful as a lesson, as a learning
experience, or unhelpful, as a nagging “what could have been”
tugging at your attention? An itch. A broken wire in your
brain? I should have kissed you. I should have kissed your
mouth, right? “Friendship Is Magic” is the title of a My Little
Pony movie the kids are watching because nothing else
was on. But there are so many kinds of magic, I tell them,
you might as well say friendship is science fiction or an
evolutionary adaptation. We moved every three years or so
when I was young. It always seemed it was a new school,
new kids. I’m sure some of them were friends of mine.
But that’s not really the point, either. I remember almost
four years in Birmingham, and we did all of high school on
Long Island. I guess I had about as much magic as anyone.
I stayed the night at Joey Henderson’s once. They had
a big family and drove around in a van. For inner calmness
you are to describe and discuss the proper relationship
between the abstract and the concrete. Stuffed animals
are one’s first friends. The rest gets pretty tricky. But we’re
to have hope and a winning smile. Then there was the time
my first father-in-law was hitting my head against a sink. I
remember thinking stay calm. “Stay calm.” Am I supposed
to remember that? Am I supposed to forget that? I’m feeling
a bit untethered. And sometimes music overwhelms me.

In a Landscape: XLII

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I changed my mind. I was going to stop writing this poem, but now
I’m not, because I heard someone say, in the hallway earlier,
that she had changed her mind, and it seemed a lovely idea, the way
it struck me, to “change one’s mind.” I’d like to do that. Presto
Change-O. We decide with our attention what has meaning
and what doesn’t. So now, continuing is what has meaning,
and how Natalie’s telling me a story while I’m sitting here, deciding
to keep writing this, about an alternative to the Santa story, as we’re
getting near Christmas, where a girl flies around giving presents. She
likes her story better, as she’s a girl, and the idea of flying is such
a good one. We all have these dreams where we fly. Looking up
“flying dreams” just now, I’m asked the question, “If you have
a flying dream, ask yourself what you’re flying over.” And that,
it goes on to say, will lead you to what the dream means. “See
the gate agent,” as they say. And then, “WARNING:
the gates are closing and will not open again.”
It’s final stuff, as Neko Case has it, that heaven will smell like an
airport. And how they call them “terminals.” I saw a picture
of farmland and trees taken from the air recently, and it resembled
sheet music how they spread out in lines. I had an idea, looking down,
that we’re living across a large score. Flights of fancy, a trill, to the latest
brilliance of the waves. And to continue the thought, as I’m interested
in continuing thoughts, often, when I’m flying, and sitting between
the engines, I swear I can hear music, sometimes quite loud, orchestral
and oscillating. I’ve heard other people can hear that as well. So it’s not
just me. Sometimes I can hear it in the pipes when I’m in the shower
as well. It’s beautiful, flying, looking down. Last winter, I flew
from Austin to San Francisco, and for most of the way the 737 kept
fairly low. Low enough to pick out cars. It reminded me of being a kid,
and all those dreams where I’d get to reach down and pick cars up,
and draw new rivers with my finger. My father was a pilot. I loved
flying with him, and I went every time I had the chance. It was always
small planes, and we kept low over the fantasy towns of the west,
the one-stops, single-lights, under a sky that’s always blue, in the day,
and at night the lights were in squares and stars, and never to be finished.
What’s not to love about this world then?

When You Stand Between Two Mirrors, It Looks Cool, But Really Doesn’t Mean Anything Special

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“Here begins a vast and unfinished inquiry” is another secret
hovering over every point we get to. Take the old standby
conversation of “what would be the best way to die”
that we trot out when we find ourselves in mixed company
and we feel light and death a long way off, a conversation
of solace, as if we had a say in things, as if things listened in
and could take a hint. I remember a story I read years ago,
another of the sci fi stories through which I formed my philosophy
of life, where this old actor in the future was reprising a role,
but now actors were robots, so he was playing with an all-robot
cast. He was the only one alive on stage. And he had this idea
to make it the end, his final exit and fuck you to the state
of things. So he put a real gun in the robot’s props, so that
when the robot shoots him at the end of the play, he’ll go out,
literally, with a bang. It will be his desperation and his
triumph. But then as the play unfolds, he slowly changes his
mind about the play unfolding to his death. And there is also
good in the world. There are simple things that at moments
such as these become everything. I want a glass of water. I
want that gum, what was it called, you know, that gum
we all liked as kids? But he’s an actor, you know? The show
must go on. So there he is in the final act (the final act!),
having to feed the robot actor the line that the robot needs
to be able to shoot him. And we’re in this play too (right?), as
the play is the thing. And here are your lines. Here’s your cue.


FICTION: Lisa Beebe, Karl Harshbarger, Lauren Johnson, J. Robert Lennon

NONFICTION: Matthew Gavin Frank, Deborah Thompson

POETRY: Melissa Barrett, Thea Brown, Lauren Camp, Sampurna Chattarji, MRB Chelko, Patrick Culliton, John Gallaher, Ricky Garni, Meghan Lee, Kristen Orser, slp, Meghan Privitello, Megan Pugh, Amelia Salisbury, Matt Shears, Raena Shirali, Dolsy Smith, Avni Vyas, Elizabeth Whittlesey, Nicholas Wong

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