ISSUE 1 · FALL 2008







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Copyright © 2009

Nik De Dominic

A Problem in Words


A white Ford Econoline Passenger van is traveling eastbound on I-10 from Los Angeles to New Orleans at 85 MPH. Wait, the color is unimportant. Say, black. The driver Jim, a young man with a heavy foot, will bound up to 105 when traffic is clear, but is often bogged down, traveling closer to 56 MPH.  The van is full of penguins. However, the mean speed is 85.  This is all you have to worry about, penguins and velocity. If the total mileage between LA to LA is 1899 miles, how long will it take Jim if we sit on the highway, a red gingham blanket sprawled out for picnic that spans between breakdown lane and median? Do you remember when that man killed himself during afternoon cartoons? Corn cobs wedged in the grill of the van will slow airflow if Jim doesn’t yield to our schoolyard games, hopping from scotch to scotch and chewed up bar napkins. Elmer’s glue on our stuck together finger tips, our construction paper hearts. Var: Maybe he stops if I lie down underneath his front tires at Exit 31b, Lake Charles, and you steal his back rims, metal sparks flying from the gravel, his rotors grinding into the asphalt, the penguins squawking in the back. Do Penguins even squawk? If the van can be black, let Jim be Kim, the other woman I’m in love with. The birds are gone, and you are in the passenger seat. I’m hitching. Would you stop? She won’t. I wouldn’t and you never had control of this vehicle. I am sharpening a knife on wolf hide, picking penguin from my teeth with yellow beak. The road is clear. Roll down the windows—the loss of penguins removed the cool. This is the problem of loose associations. Remove a term, and you must remove another term to balance the equation. Here, your comfort suffers. I say, I love you; you say, elephant shoes. If X, then Y. You say, I love you; I say, Pert Plus Shampoo. If X, then Y. Pad your brow with gingham handkerchief. Things have contracted. If not the heat, then the humidity.  The other woman is gone; it is only you. Jim and I are lying in the kudzu ditch along the highway, our limp bodies covered with foliage, and you forgot your glasses. If I say, I love you, then you can’t say, ditto. Here, balance the equation: if you say, I love you, then I say, didgeridoo. If Jim, Kim, and I are drowning in Lake Charles, then you are the only one with floaties. Differentiate and solve for time of arrival, reduced to its simplest term. 


Hint: The penguins were never important.