Mrs. Dufek says if people could travel at the speed of light we could go from one side of Earth to the other in the time it takes to snap our fingers, and even though I’ve never left Wisconsin and I’m no Jeannie saved from a bottle on a deserted island by my very own astronaut, I can snap my fingers. I can do front flips and aerial cartwheels and climb high for the biggest apples on the tree and shoot Grandpa Ruben’s BB gun better than any boy on the alley. Mrs. Dufek never said how fast a bullet moves through the air but when I pull the trigger I hear the tink of my BB hitting the streetlamp’s glass at almost the same time. Daddy is so proud. His friends come over with KKK trading cards and heavy guns and say I can’t shoot Daddy’s .357 because it’s bigger than I am, but I know how to stand with my feet spread my arm straight my hand resting in my other hand and pretend my target is a chest. I never miss, and I never let the gun jump back and hit me in my face. She’s no dummy, Daddy says. Since I was really little he’d take me with him to the gas station in his olive Monte Carlo, and I’d get candy cigarettes or Bazooka gum, and I’d practice what Daddy taught me—how to hawk up loogies and spit from the window without hitting the car or to steady my fake machine gun and make the doot-doot-doot-doot-doot-doot-doot sound like he showed me—my lips like a big kiss and one eye closed for good aim—to shoot every —— in sight like he was taught to do in Nam. Daddy hates that they’re taking over our city. He hates a lot of things. I love Daddy so much, but I hate that he drinks and doesn’t listen and that he smashed the Monte Carlo even though I begged him not to drive the night he hit a telephone pole and hurt his head. Accidents happen, he said. I know because I tried to jump a rock on my bike and flew over the handlebars and knocked out three teeth (but could only find two and had to write a note to the tooth fairy to check my mouth if she didn’t believe me), but some things just don’t make sense. Like one night, I was outside playing baseball in the alley when all of a sudden our streetlight went out, and I got so scared because it was so dark and so quiet and then all of a sudden a loud sound like eerrrrrrr–CK! came from far away. Light travels faster than sound, Mrs. Dufek says, but blackness before a car crashes is hard to understand. I will spend years trying to reconcile the distance between so much darkness and so many impacts.

Lisa Fay Coutley is the author of tether (Black Lawrence Press, forthcoming 2020), Errata (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award, and In the Carnival of Breathing (Black Lawrence Press, 2011), winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition. Her poems have been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a Rona Jaffe scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and an Academy of American Poets Levis Prize. Her recent prose and poetry appears/is forthcoming in AGNIBlackbirdThe Cincinnati Review, NarrativePassages North, Pleiades, and The Los Angeles Review. She is an Assistant Professor of Poetry & CNF in the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. 

Artwork by Dev Murphy