Prac Crit

Things of August

by Maureen N. McLane

Essay

by Jeff Dolven

In 1962, just about halfway between us and the Great War, Barbara Tuchman wrote a book called The Guns of August. Like all the big books about that war, it worries the puzzle of how everything happened, the diplomatic fiasco, then the catastrophic stalemate in the trenches. It argues…well, things happened, back in that August of 1914, some things in some order. It turned out pretty badly. Maybe we can come back to it later.

Right now, it’s raining, piercing rain, it might even hurt if you went outside, but not really; in fact, it’s not so interesting, just the same old rain really. Less acid in it, now. Aren’t there some new regulations that have cleared things up? Or maybe it’s just the collapse of the American auto industry, pride of Detroit. Did they pass the regulations first – did that bring GM down? Or did the laws come after? I can’t remember exactly.

I have an idea. We will ditch our cars. No: we shall abandon our cars. Then we can walk out under the stars again, like our ancestors did; but we can learn their names, too, all the stars’ names. Think of all the languages we could learn if we weren’t stuck in that commute two hours a day! Our maximum velocity will be just as fast as we can walk, no, better, just as fast as the average human can walk – everybody has to walk the same. How fast does the average human walk? Remember to google that. But not right now. I’m feeling so natural.

About 3.1 miles an hour. Huh.

I do feel a little – something. The Ritalin? The Xanax? Why am I thinking all these things? The surgeon was so nice, said I could come back any time. I should make an appointment. Amazing what those guys can do. Even if you lose a leg or something, they can make you a new one out of Dacron or something. I’ve got a pair of Dacron pants, don’t I? I wonder what that’s like, to have a new leg; or lose your leg, have your leg blown off. I hope somebody is taking care of those guys. I guess they’d be out of luck twenty years ago, ten years ago, whatever – they keep making those things better. Soon you could probably run faster with a Dacron leg. Maybe you already can.

Not just the vets. Think about my sister: how long would you get to live if you had diabetes, back before there were cars? Don’t be so quick to get rid of the cars, huh? And so many women used to die in childbirth. But I still feel a little – something, weird; I can’t see those stars. I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know. Maybe if I just take a moment. Make a few notes here, a few harmonious numbers in shadiest covert hid. Wow: where did that come from? College. I don’t read enough anymore. Yeah, I think I’ll stay here for the moment. There’s a lot of bad stuff going on, covert ops, hunting people down – ISIS, ISIL, whatever it is, it’s a long way away, but still.

Just better stay here. I hope those guys knock their lights out. Keep the lights on. Something like that. Just stay put here for now and feed on my thoughts, I guess. Maybe I should read something. Who’s this, Barbara Tuchman? I’ve heard of her. College, probably. I wonder if it will make me feel better.

Things of August

by Maureen N. McLane

Not fog not hail not sleet
but rain boring
as ever the same
rain less acidic
now the Midwest has failed
and new laws prevailed.

We shall abandon
our cars. We shall walk
unadorned under stars
whose names we shall learn
in four languages, minimum.
Our maximum velocity
will be no faster
than an average human can run.
Everything scaled
once again to the body.

The body? My amplified
brain’s going haywire
not to mention
my juiced-up tits
and pumped lips. An army
of amputees marches
on Dacron prosthetics
the military should do better by.
I was nostalgic
until I got over it.

My diabetic sister’s living
and a million women past
predicted deaths in childbirth.
Good. I can’t think
my way out of this
covert. I’ll just stay
here with the soft frightened
rabbits while the hunters
storm the brambles looking
for whatever today’s kill might be.
Those hunters who fed
or still feed me.

From This Blue (FSG, 2014). Reproduced with permission of the author.

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