about the author

W. Todd Kaneko is the author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor, 2014). His poems, essays, and stories have appeared in Bellingham Review, Los Angeles Review, Barrelhouse, the Normal School, NANO Fiction, the Collagist, and many other places. A recipient of fellowships from Kundiman and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, he co-edits Waxwing magazine and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he teaches at Grand Valley State University. Visit him on the Web at toddkaneko.com.

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Four Poems 

W. Todd Kaneko

Self Portrait as Flash Gordon
[Missing Punchline Variant]

Have you heard the one about the spaceman
caught in a meteor shower? The one about
the astronaut’s baby falling asleep?
There are too many punchlines, too many
starry smears we try to call constellations.

Have you heard about how the astronaut
said he was sorry? The one about the woman
who tried to get lost in space? Mother, girl,
wife—what we miss isn’t her designation.
We give names to planets to make sense
of where we live on Earth.

That one about the child who doesn’t talk
with his father about his mother?
That’s the joke—no one wants to be
a punchline knowing it’s all about to end.

There is no punchline, only names
we’ve invented for things that don’t exist
without names: naked quasar,
dark halo, android family.

We need a new name for the future.

Self Portrait as Flash Gordon
[Sunday Illustrations Remix]

Alex Raymond draws panels of me
with sunburst and lightning—not me

but a science fiction hero, fair-haired
and dashing in the Sunday comics.

I eat my cereal and I am the ray gun
pointed at Earth, the meteors
hurtling toward my neighborhood.

Flash Gordon fights through asteroid
storm and stardust, through supernova
to protect his planet and the lovely
Dale Arden from evil Emperor Ming

while I draw pictures of Chinese
dragons swallowing the sun.

Alex Raymond introduces Ming
the Merciless, yellow skinned, serpent
tongued, so I rub my palms together
and root against Flash Gordon

uniting hawk-men with lion-men
with men who have not yet been bred
with animals. On Planet Mongo,

as here on Earth, there are men
and there are men who are not men—

heroes with broadswords and ray guns
for whom the universe swoons

and a boy at the breakfast table
who will draw new galaxies
when he grows up, who for now
just plots the world’s destruction.

Self Portrait as Flash Gordon
[Playground Terror Variant]

                               A detonation of boys
                               across the upper playfield and
                I am not
                               one of them: the lightning
                               fist, the meteor flame challenges
     the ragged alien
                               hordes seething at the edges
                               of this jagged universe,
      the Satan head
                               invading from Planet Mongo,
                               leaving our geography cracked,
                               under thunder and jackboot.
                               There are outbreaks of
        oriental death
                               flu and invasive flower beetles
                               on the television news, reporters
        grinning down
                               on a crime scene: some Chinatown
                               ruled by opium or a corporation
        from a distant
                               war torn shore. In space
                               there is no villainy, just this
          angry planet
                               erupting into a shiver of chicken
                               bones and blood-soaked fur—
           tell me how
                               that foreign menace ripples
                               insidious beneath sallow skin and
       I can never be
                               Flash Gordon always clashing—
                               a boy points a finger at me,
    the dashing hero
                               aiming his ray gun at a yellow
                               demon perched on a scratch of lawn—
           tell me how
                               he knows I am the enemy, how stars
                               are born in sparks of strength and clarity
           I don’t have
                               coursing through a human heart, how
                               the world creates its own monsters—
   to be the monster
                               all I need is a flicker of those things
                               the world expects me to be.

Self Portrait as Flash Gordon
[Heroic Nomenclature Variation]

I write a new name on my chest, hot
for the lightning storm, furtive words
for sword stroke, beefcake for those who dare

to speak it. It’s the pectoral flex, the bulging
tricep and warrior’s conch. Gleam of rocket
fuel and stallion sizzle. Call me that glint

in a man’s eye when the rooster crows
under bed sheets, that virile burst across
the solar system for the end zone.

This name is not a tinkling of coins, not
a greasy tangle of pots and pans, not the twitter
of birds in the morning. I can swap my alien

skin for a manly tangle of flaxen curls,
spectacles for sunburst and smoky goggles.
The dictionary can’t explain how my name works

in a sentence—the syllables don’t sound right
on the lips of a star-crashed lover or dripping
venomous from the Emperor’s tongue.

No—my name no longer curls foxy in a shawl
made of ferns, no longer squirms in the toad
soaked night. It can be a heroic insignia,

radioactive where it bursts in space, seductive
where it sprawls shoulder blade over clavicle.
It reveals this heartbeat, this firefly, this supernova.

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