about the author

Doug O’Connor’s prose and poetry have appeared in Ayris, Quarter After Eight, The Tusculum Review, Porcupine, and the Prague-based Trafika. He lives in Hudson, New York, and attends the low-residency MFA art and writing program at the New Hampshire Institute of Art.

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A Smooth, Hyaline Thing 

Doug O’Connor

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One day, I take the planet from my father’s room. I find it inside a green felt bag filled with dice—strangely colored polyhedrals with numbers up to 20, some 8, some 4, like they were part of some complicated betting game that never lets you win. It is my planet now. It is the size of a marble—a smooth, hyaline thing. I looked that word up—hyaline. I needed a special word for my planet. Even with the night light I can see the elements—clouds like chips of ice, water that stays frozen, molecules of paralyzed humans, and always those slitted, aquatic eyes that never blink. I should say, too, that my planet is always cool to the touch.

One day, my father asks me, “Have you seen my planet?” I say no. His eyes twinkle with doubt.

One day, thoughts overtake me as I peer into my planet. I have this idea that I want to get to the bottom of things, to peel back the atom and watch as time devours itself in a lightless fury of decadence and human folly. I want the innards exposed as the outer. I ask, how can I get inside my planet? Can it be crushed? Can it be burned? It is the object of my lust. It follows me, and I follow it like a herd follows its master and commander. It is my planet and I its raw moon, the closest, closing my hand around its unbreakable body.

One day, I take it to school with me. I juggle it between my fingers as I compose a story using prescribed spelling words: vulnerable, anthro-pomorphic, truculent, galvanize. Michelle Saint-Pierre eyes my planet. Her pencil wags in front of her hard, long nose. She commits each of the seven deadly sins thinking about my planet, how she will possess it. I only grin.

One day, Mike McNally, Rooster Bodego, and Freddy Finn corner me in the weight room. I am squatting 125 pounds. My sweat is like puny planets, each their own world drooling down my flesh in clear, glistening rivulets that burst silently, softly, when they reach their endpoints down at the knob of my ankle. Give us the planet, they growl. Freddy cracks his thumb knuckle. Rooster’s grim, thin lips could tear the nipple from your eye. Mike cracks gum, the nub of his tongue flashing out his mouth, the gray gum stretched tight over the tip. They mean business. I pop the weights back into place, smack my hands together. Get your own planet, assholes. I am not a brave person. It is the planet in my pocket, rendering my bravado biblical. I have the hammer of history on my side. I have the force of tidal waves and earthquakes the size of extinctions, centuries of industrial development, massacres and genocides, the power of primordial doom right down there in my sweat pants pocket and all that energy spilling like candied magma into my speechless blood. They come at me. Three pugilists against one entire planet. Punching and groping at the surface, digging their fast graves.

One day, my face is sideways pressed into a concrete floor. A finger burns inside my ear. The short air I taste like a dry, second tongue. I take my planet from my pocket and push it into my mouth.

One day, you will be swallowed too. Like creation, only backwards, thrusted headlong back into the birth canal, your arms twisted behind your sides, the canal vacuums you back inside its swollen tight space, wetless, rejecting in its pained acceptance of you. Your torso collapses and your knees collide with your waist as your ankles and finally your feet are consumed back into the bullied womb where there is no space to breathe in the dry dark of cramped infinitude whence you came, from which no planet, even your own father’s, however small or great, can succor you.

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