Poem of the Week | January 29, 2018
Eric Burger: “Harder than Rocket Science”
This week, we are excited to present a new poem by Eric Burger. Burger is originally from Maine, and now lives in Longmont, Colorado with his wife and two children. He teaches at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where he is a Senior Instructor in the Program for Writing & Rhetoric. Burger has received fellowships/awards from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Wesleyan Writers Conference, and Writers at Work. His poems have appeared in Black Warrior Review, Harvard Review Online, Indiana Review, Rattle, Denver Quarterly, Quarterly West, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Gulf Coast, and Court Green, among others. We featured his poem “A Hanking” as Poem of the Week in April of 2010, and you can read it in the archives here. We’re delighted to feature his work once again.
Harder than Rocket Science
Weeds and machines proliferated in our neighborhood. “I want to get old and fat with you, Honeybeans,” I said. Honeybeans laughed. I held her hand. The air conditioner lumbered, moribund. A plant we had forgotten about fell off a bookshelf, scattering brown leaves. “My mollycoddled flibbertigibbet,” Honeybeans said to me. “My dessicated, drooling bugbear.” She pulled her hand away, yanked my ear playfully. A cockroach poked its antennae out of the sink’s overflow cavity. I couldn’t see this from where we sat, but he’d been doing it for days in the tiny bathroom. I knew he was there. He was part of our dotty little flow. The floorboards sagged and it was 109 degrees outside. At night, neighborhood punks threw rocks at the particle board covering the back windows. We were old and fat, wearing thick, thick glasses. We were besieged, and doing well enough.
The best relationships of my life–romantic, collegial, with friends–have all been buoyed by a kind of goofy, go-with-the-flow intimacy. When it’s really flowing, it dissipates tensions and keeps “the now” sweet.
In “Harder than Rocket Science,” I pit an older couple who have evolved an extra-dorky, exaggerated version of this intimacy–almost their own language–against a near-future America beating at their door with challenges: climate change-driven heat, various forms of economic/social decline, etc. General entropy is at them as well, and their aging bodies and falling-apart house are in the mix of challenges they face.
And the couple gets by, even if they aren’t exactly thriving. They’re making it, and sweetly, despite threats of all sorts hounding them. While it’s fair to ask whether the couple’s solution to their lives’ challenges–living small and quirky, turned lovingly toward each other and away from the world outside (even as it seeps past the door)–is the most honorable, I think there’s much to be learned from these two, and I’m fine with their oddball isolationism. They’re sweet to each other. They’re sweet in a landscape that gives them every reason not to be.
While “Harder than Rocket Science” as a title suggests that the couple’s steady, tender-to-each-other state is almost impossible to achieve, I meant it to be tongue in cheek–or, at least, more provocative (“How tough is it, really, to be like them?”) than a statement of belief. I do believe it’s hard to stay sweet, and tons harder when beastly news knocks–as it always does. But I also believe that playfulness and imagination–what my couple has in abundance–can deeply enrich human connections and help us find equanimity in a world that often seems bent on trashing it. So, please, if you’re looking for someone to give you license, look no farther. Be a kook with your friends. Be a goober with your lover. Be the zany, softhearted fool.
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