A is for atom bomb. B is for blacks belting blues before burial, the blood they let to give the flag its glimmer. C is for cocoon & its cognates. Cocaine, Coca-Cola, the cacophonous wail of drones filling air with wartime. D is for demagogue. E is for elephants & their semblances, every political animal laboring under some less‑than‑human name. F is for foxhole. Firefight. Fears we cathect onto men holding best intentions close to the chest as one might guilt or guns & of course G is for guns, G-men, guillotines draped in flame we dream any hellscape holds if it’s up to snuff. H is for Horsepower. I is for I. I is for individual drive trumps all concern when it comes to this business of living joyously at the edge of wit, watching half a world drown with your hands tied. J is for jeans. K is for Krispy Kreme. L is for loss. L is for loveliness. L is for lean in the cups of boys in white shirts billowing free in Mississippi towns so small, they are visible only when passing through them, like death. M is for metafiction. N is for next: next wife, next car, next life I would spend the bones in this flesh one by one to touch. O is for opulence. Opportunity. Occasional anguish but nothing compared to what I will reach when I peak & P is for Preakness. Poverty & bodies that flee it. Oh body, like a storm of horses. Oh questions we dare not ask for fear of breaking rank or losing funding. Q is for quarantine. R is for repair, Revolution, other conflicts that lack limit in any definitional sense. S is for stars we adore & reflect. T is for tragedy. U is for upper‑middle working class when the survey asks. V is for the viola my mother plays in the 1970s as her hometown collapses without fanfare. W is for Windows 98 in the public school computer lab & every fourth grader playing Oregon Trail there. X is for xanthan gum, every everyday ingredient you couldn’t identify by sight if you tried. Y is for Yellowstone. Y is for the yachts in the docks in our eyes. Z is for zealotry: national pride like an infinite zip line, hyperdrive, the fastest way down.
From Owed by Joshua Bennett, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Joshua Bennett.