A Journal

"I'm going to come back to West Virginia when this is over. There's something ancient and deeply-rooted in my soul. I like to think that I have left my ghost up one of those hollows, and I'll never really be able to leave for good until I find it. And I don't want to look for it, because I might find it and have to leave".----Breece D'J Pancake, in a letter to his mother. 

John Gallaher



The Little Things Will Be The Hardest To Part With


Lucky for us we don’t have to know how something works 
to be able to use it.  And so what day was it that suddenly we lost 
our ability to know what it was we were working with, when 
“let me have a look at it” became “let me call someone”?  Maybe 
there’s always been someone, maybe most of us, who doesn’t know 
how whatever it is that’s current works.  Head over heels, we 
went.  Or cartwheels, summersaults, summersets, ass over tea kettles 
we went into the future.  That person astounded by the first 
telescope or trebuchet.  Actually, I couldn’t make or fix either of those, 
I’m realizing.  It’s mostly convenient here in the first world, except 
for all those for whom it’s not, as our middle class is slipping 
into the working poor and the working poor are slipping into 
something much less comfortable.  But, even so, we all have gas 
stations in common, the last great equalizer of the people.  There’s 
the university president filling his white SUV across from me while 
I’m filling my silver SUV.  His looks a lot nicer than mine, even so, 
and I bet his heater and windshield wipers work.  I’m deciding, right 
now, the day Johannes Gutenberg used movable type printing, in 
around 1439, was the day that technology outpaced general understanding.  
Forgive me my European bias.  I could go back 400 years earlier 
if you like—400 years!—to China, in 1041, when movable clay type 
was first invented.  “First invented” not quite the oxymoron it seems, 
as Gutenberg had a much better publicity team.  Still, it’s a pretty 
straight-forward invention.  As with most things, marriages, say, 
or children, or the value of your home, it will appear as it appears, 
not as it is.  So how are we to have general assumptions?  I generally 
assume that the sudden inability of my kitchen faucet will be beyond 
my ability to repair.  Drive over!  And if the car breaks down, make 
yourself a new one.  And if you need gas, start digging.  Last year, or 
maybe two years ago, Natalie, around eight or so, when we asked her 
to clean up her room, by asking, “Who do you think is going to clean 
this up?”  Replied, “The workers will do it.”  So we all change our names 
to Workers, and cross our fingers that this light switch knows what 
it’s doing.  I can pride myself on my acoustic guitar, until I break a string, 
as all stories are scary stories.  At least they are if you dwell on the 
“ever after” or cat gut part.  And sometimes it has to be you.  You have 
to be enough.  Luckily a second time, there are still some things out there 
that we understand the workings of, just ask my level back deck, 
until I get distracted by my toothbrush while brushing my teeth, 
and it’s back to square two.  When the world ends, how will I 
brush my teeth?  What about shampoo?  Soap?  Toilet paper?  I’m 
not always serious, but I seriously hope things don’t come to that.  




Why I Love Old TV Shows That I Didn’t Love When They Were New



This morning, driving in to work, a white cat crossed my path.  
Where’s the saying for that?  Where’s the bright superstition 
that now everything’s going to work out just fine?  The Grammy’s 
are back and then the Grammy’s go, zip zip, and Yippee Ki-Yay, 
like near earth meteorites.  Every season it’s the season.  So 
the experiment is to think of five things that have changed in our 
society since 1950, then to choose one and tell us about who’s 
been affected by this change.  Finally, how does this thing 
make people anxious.  In 1950 you could open any magazine 
and see a black & white print ad describing how the original 
97-pound weakling transformed himself into Charles Atlas.  
That’s about as far as I get before getting sidetracked by a guy 
at the lunch counter carrying a pair of stilts.  I realize, and mention 
to Natalie, eleven now, that I’ve never seen anyone carrying stilts 
before.  It’s unremarkable, as most first things are.  And Charles 
Atlas, by the way, was born Angelo Siciliano in 1892, and died 
while jogging in 1972.  My current anxiety, looking at this 
advertisement from 1950, where “They Used to Call me Skinny” 
and “Give Me 15 Minutes a Day, And I’ll Give YOU a New Body,” 
is imagining some vault where all the catchphrases of the past 
are stored.  Better, I think, would be one of those hotels out of time, 
the ones you see every now and then on TV or a movie, or pop 
songs from the 70s, which would all be there too, where the sound 
is a little too clear, the colors a little too bright, and everyone 
who ever was is sitting around talking about salad.  It’s the idea 
behind Mt. Olympus as well as Mr. Olympia, the kind of things 
that can make a thirty-year-old feel old.  “Who loves, ya, baby?” 
the bald guy says over his salad, to you, and then commences 
telling the story of how the lollipop was there to help him quit 
smoking, while out in the hangar, they’re making a lead balloon.  
Turns out it’s possible.  Who knew?  And in our folklore, angels 
have become Martians only to become black helicopters and then 
back to angles.  It’s a safe ride home, a good joke, that kicks 
a little sand in your face, but in the fun way, so that you have 
a story to take back to the pool.  Golf soon, and wouldn’t that 
be nice.  Sure.  And last night I woke to find myself lying there 
with my hands crossed over my chest.  Who even sleeps like that?  



We Also Wait As Waiting’s What We Do Best



Currently I’m waiting for my cousin to call, who’s down 
in Texas with my father who’s recovering from a heart attack.  
My father is currently having a fight of some sort 
over his recuperation/physical therapy care with his doctors 
and nurses and physical therapists.  I’ve no idea 
what the disagreement is, but as one who’s had disagreements 
with my father in the past, I have this fear that things 
aren’t going to turn out well.  “A setback” is currently 
what I believe we’ll end up saying back and forth.  Doctors 
make rounds, little solar systems of attentiveness, several 
at a time, and sometimes with several more, a kind of 
travelling show.  I think it’s Doctor Martin’s day, but I’m not 
sure.  My father, my cousin told me the other day when we met 
on I-35 as he was heading south and I was heading north, has 
long talked about becoming a patient person.  “Letting it 
roll off my back,” he said to Bill and Sue a few months ago, 
right before going off, a real blow out, on SPEED TRAPS!, 
as they drove past a police car which had pulled someone 
over.  Today, though, I’m not talking much with anyone.  
I got some coffee, shoveled some snow, fed the kids (who 
have a snow day).  And now I’m at work.  I’m sitting here.  Still 
sitting here.  Let’s see.  I’ve several pens to play with.  I could 
color coordinate my colored butterfly clips.  Make rainbows 
over the files.  So how often do we have real conversations?  
The ones we wait for like this?  What do real conversations 
look like?  What are they about?  In the play Wit, the lead 
character dies of cancer, which you pretty much know 
from the beginning, so I don’t really feel like I’m spoiling it 
for you.  As they often say: if knowing the ending spoils 
the show, it wasn’t good art anyway.  That may be.  And 
knowing she dies at the end doesn’t stop the end from 
hitting you.  My dad was dead for fifteen or so minutes a couple 
weeks ago.  Now he’s not dead.  It’s all where you decide 
to stop telling the story.  Right now I’m imagining I’m sitting 
on a great vista: open rolling hills with lines of green trees 
along a hidden creek, maybe even a river, cows in the distance.



For several years I carried my wedding ring from my first marriage on my key chain as a reminder, until someone stole my keys, likely to get the ring.  So then I couldn't drive until I got a copy made.  I guess that was a double lesson? 


John Gallaher is the author of, most recently, Your Father on the Train of Ghosts with G.C. Waldrep (2011) and the forthcoming In a Landscape (2014), both from BOA Editions. He's also co-editor, with Laura Boss, of Time Is a Toy: The Selected Poems of Michael Benedikt (2014).