THE HISTORY OF COLOR CODING
began when Lois Lowry saw through the whale guts of time and invented the traffic light. First, the colors were combined with shapes to ease the colorblind public into an awakening. As decreed by Yahweh, apple meant stop. Additionally, banana peel signified be careful, and perfectly manicured lawn told people you are safe to proceed. Then came the slave traders. They bound their Bibles in white leather and coded any darker flesh as incompatible with the title imago dei. Some fugitive slaves slept outside, hoping the hypothermia would lighten them enough to pass. There were uprisings, protests. As more and more reformers suggested a return to the blissful grays of Eden, rioters in Detroit knocked down the first traffic light. Soon they were all coming down: jackhammered through, dragged from the backs of pick-up trucks, frozen and then cracked like bones. The resistance gathered: impressionists, emcees, kite-makers, birdwatchers, black blocs and deconstructionists, the ones who collect sneakers and stamps, the firegazers, the farmers. They knew the problem was in the coding, not the color. Wherever a traffic light was felled, they secretly took Polaroid pictures of the sparks. They preserved the photos in hollowed-out books. They waited for them to fade.
THE HISTORY OF THE PRAIRIE FIRE
And then one day, the Buddha woke up and announced that everything beloved must be burned. The ranchers burned the prairies. The symbolists and socialists burned the manifestoes. The Rastas burned one down. When the sky went dark, nobody cared. With all this flame at our command, they concluded, who needs the sun? They could make anything into light. Setting fire to rare birds and watching them do what they’d always done, but now with smoke and protest, became the national pastime. Kitten, kindling, they thought. Kinfolk, kindling, they thought. Enlightenment! they shouted, their fever-dream engulfing even the land itself. All the while, Gautama Buddha simply sat in front of the bodhi tree. Shaved-headed men stood watching him, wondering why the tree was not yet blackened, their mob continuously growing, their orange robes flickering, the racket of their breathing like loud flies, their eyebrows melting off, and the Buddha sat. The Buddha. The Buddha. A young monk named Linji ran to the creek, now a flowing bonfire. He lit a torch and ran back. The monks looked at him like a flower and smiled. They prostrated before their teacher; he sat like a statue. Then, they burned him alive, every monk throwing his robe into the blaze, some burning their hands on purpose, others holding their eyes shut, until he was pure field. Elsewhere, a woman sitting in half lotus breathed in a white hot smack of breath and forgot herself.
THE HISTORY OF STAINED GLASS
Saint Thomas Aquinas was arguably the most obese saint in the Western Church, as evidenced by Flannery O’Connor’s famous remark that he is “the ultimate grotesque” and the model for her fattest characters, and by his apparitional appearance at the first McDonald’s in Rome. However, the Twentieth Century gave him an extreme makeover. By starving his image of ink for decades, artisans have shrunk him down to a size 28 waist. Feminists speculate that he was investigated by the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Airbrush, an inquisition launched by the Calvin Klein Regime. Some priests dismiss the conspiracy theory, however, and argue that the cost of a full-size Aquinas icon is simply insurmountable for most parishes. Solidarity fasts have emerged throughout the Church: penitents pray a novena to the saint while consuming nothing but water and pickles. Aquinas’s collected works now weigh more than some of his most ardent followers. After enough prayer, they say, he illuminates their flesh as if it were wax paper wrapped around bones. O Thomas Aquinas, devourer of worlds, patron saint of the mouth, return to your natural position of eminence, that we may once again become enormous images of God.
Michael Mlekoday is an MFA candidate at Indiana University and a National Poetry Slam Champion. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Hayden's Ferry Review, Sycamore Review, Sixth Finch, and other journals. He is Poetry Editor of Indiana Review.
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