Volume 24, Number 1

Two lectures on geography

My father said the world was flat to start an argument;
my mother took him at his word to prove him stupid.

In a rare outing, he brought us to the aircraft plant
to show off where the money was coming from
and his time was going.

My mother cheered the Berrigan brothers
and booed the air show while he led me inside
a room without ceiling or corners or walls.

This was the gray sulfuric chamber
of our mutually assured destruction,
the universe inside the single atom,

and he boasted his stewardship,
from an elevated platform,
of its vertical planes.

But it was a flat boast
into meaningless air,
without sound and scent

and color and light
and, I knew to the bone,
dangerous heresy.

I’d been drinking on the sly already.
Now I knew what drinking was for.
I needed the swig he took

before he drove us home
and again for the kids my mother said
his planes were killing

on the other side of her world.

—Mary McLaughlin Slechta