The Day the Universe Learned How to Lean

by Len Kuntz

There is no wind, yet I walk at a slant. Mother says I need to straighten up, change my attitude, but she can’t know that I’m being buried alive, pulled toward the greedy ground.

Since Dad died I’ve gone crooked. I’ve even starting shoplifting, which is difficult when you’re as noticeable as me. I steal things that make the holes in the air seem less large. I favor perfumes that remind me of smoke bombs.

At school the kids say, “Here comes the cripple, Boomerang girl.” A boy named Alex Diaz hurls a ruler at me and it slices my sweater above the breast. “Almost got a nipple!” he squeals. “A nipple from the cripple.” The gaggle pumps and roars their typhoon thunder.

In English we read old-fashioned poetry. I mispronounce John Donne’s name and stutter while reading, “Love’s Exchange,” but Mrs. Fletcher won’t cut me a break. It’s a wordy poem, a hundred miles long, all the way up to the top of that canyon where Dad’s car flew from.

The poem has tricky words in it like Devil and Childish and Love’s minion. The syllables become angry bees that sting me as I swallow.

Then it’s like flatulence; I don’t even know I’m doing it until there’s a good-sized puddle between my legs. I see how dehydrated I am.

“That’s about enough,” Mrs. Fletcher says, and I think she means my hysterical classmates but she’s talking to me.


That night I paint a new galaxy. I color the stars pink and lavender and lemon meringue. I sand down their sharp edges. From a collection of the palest ones, I make metal ropes and crystal coffins. I scrunch a few thousand together to write my own love poem entitled, “The Day the Universe Learned How to Lean.”

I think about tomorrow. I won’t be going to school, but Mother will never let me skip my session. Hugh–that’s my therapist’s name–Hugh with the red, logger’s beard will want to go through all the old crap again, step by muddy step. He knows I’m hiding something. He thinks it was the car crash that put me this way, but what he doesn’t know can’t hurt me, so I’ll make myself stiff and moody. In the middle of things, I’ll ask for a soda or chewing gum.

Before I try to sleep, I wonder how old I’ll live to. My bet is twenty. Tops. I can already feel my ribs closing in, glueing up like Styrofoam in a fire. But I’m not afraid of dying. On the contrary, it has an appeal. I know I’ll find him on the other side. I’ll hunt him down in Hades if I have to. I’ll get my revenge.

Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State. His work appears widely in print and online at such places as Pank, Elimae, The Literarian and others. Every other day he shares his thoughts about life and the universe at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.

What would you like the universe to learn how to do?

I think it would be especially swell if the universe figured out how grow food in the places where there is none.


Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

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Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now OPEN. The reading period for standard submissions closes June 15, 2021. Topical Thursdays’ submissions are open year-round. Submit here.


08/30 • Andrew Warnke
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