Terri Muldoon

Summer Fiction

Your 2020 Summer Reading List: Joe Milazzo’s ‘Extramundane’

We figured the late 90s Bedhead song would be a good inspiration for a short story.

We figured we might make a vow. We figured we could seal ourselves in accountability with the aid of an old laundry bag and its drawstrings. We figured we needn’t check if our phones were set to Dark Mode, or vibrating only, or still searching for wifi, before we condemned our voice and data plans. 

We figured this was not upcycling, either of the laundry bag, our phones, or our attention. We figured this was also how Mother Goose villains coped with unwanted cats. We figured two of the saddest words in the English language, especially when handed over to child sign makers, are “Free Kittens.”

We figured some might argue what we did was kind of Oedipal. We figured we’d counter by saying we weren’t into weapons-grade irony, or going eyeless, or sticking metaphors with empurpled price tags. We figured if you made him holler, Tiresias would admit only a negligible difference between menses and prophecy. We figured we preferred muted methods for telling time. We figured gender is just a prude’s way of surveilling. We figured the idea that there are 810 distinct personality types only feels like an overestimation. 

We figured we’d studied Proverbs 1:20-33 backward and forward, until our petitions had turned hoarse. We figured we weren’t alone in stockpiling tent poles. We figured campfire guitars jangle a language as dead as Latin. We figured “highway robbery” antedates “daylight robbery,” but the latter usage is more obsolete. We figured the expression “shitkicker” had literally had its moment. 

We figured we might rebrand Dallisgrass a cash crop. We figured no way could we afford exhausting our supply of Catan expansions. We figured unfashionable athleisure was still worth renouncing. We figured perspiration is sweeter than precipitation.

We figured we’d be making a world like the way it never was but should have been: let cohesion be commensurate; let rainbows be arrows; let shadows be suns; let astronauts be comets; let halos be crowns; let chokeholds be hoedowns; let hemlock be lemonade; let gardens be regimes; let “free” never be synonymous with “bailout”; let the human microphone  be feedback unfiltered; let animals be animals.

We figured the creeks would run clear again someday. We figured that, until then, nothing could keep gun show season from descending upon us. We figured that, until then, we would model new forms of nobility while comparison shopping for bowie knives at Vikon Village. We figured if we have the technology to airbrush a face on a t-shirt, surely so, too, an apron. We figured that, until then, one could write a book of verse if not make a loaf of poetry. We figured that, until then, no pact, no sack, no life hack, no DM-ed link could ever stem the chug-chug-chug-a-lugging of our internal monologue.

We figured that, until then, we could dedicate a lifetime to drafting a post to one of many Facebook groups populated by amateur town historians. We figured some chartered member would recognize the old, long since painted-over mural if we described it. We figured it had faced the eastbound traffic on Young Street, a portrait of a young man, feathered—maybe lanky—hair, downy mustache, shirt open on his throat, his aviator sunglasses a screen, its aspect ratio true to the vertical scroll of the pre-Reunion Tower skyline. We figured that, round these parts, the sky will always be our ocean. We figured our little society’s buoyancy depended upon something other than the offsetting of opposing thrusts. We figured only collective wisdom could flesh out the image’s exact coordinates, triangulate it in reference to Ashburn’s Ice Cream, Skillern’s Drugs, Shanghai Jimmy’s. 

We figured maybe we had daydreamed too hard about a time machine, calibrating when we should have been engineering. We figured 1 minute and 47 seconds into the past cannot be long, but it might be construed as far. We figured we must proceed from the understanding that durability, like any ideology, is finite by nature; that the green of the GO button will dim a little with each press. We figured the comments of a total stranger could show us ourselves in that fictional citizen’s persistent vision. We figured misremembering is a pentimento. We figured self-reflection refracted through itself might magnify so much that it ends up bending beyond any perspective. 

We figured we no longer owned instruments with which to amplify our asking. We figured that, until then, there was something to be said for convincing the world that we’d experienced what we’d seen—if only we could pin down the right words. We figured that, until then, there was something to be said for taking a deep breath, diving deep, clawing at loosening this iron cinch. 

We figured we would try again after all, fail again, try again, fail, try, try, fail, try, black out, come to, black out, come to, fail, try, try, try. 


Joe Milazzo is the author of the novel Crepuscule W/ Nellie and two collections of poetry: The Habiliments and Of All Places in This Place of All Places. He is an associate editor for Southwest Review, a contributing editor at Entropy, and the proprietor of Imipolex Press. He lives and works in Dallas, where he was born and raised.

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