I emailed, and I’m sorry, the phrase: Run it up the flagpole—
ignorant of its meaning, its etymology, why I clicked send,
or who even opened my brain to lull this idiom in. How
does the reciever complete said task? Which pole? Why
run? How hard? “Received language” is, these days, received
language. I think it comes from Lewis, or Orwell. Tell me
then where this one started: the neck of the tooth,
besides inside my dentist’s mouth, when she was wrist
-deep in my smile? It gave me pause—which is a phrase
that gives me pause. At Gramby’s 84th birthday dinner,
I found in the bottom of my pint glass a badluck
penny, and she said, So that was what that was.
I adore any moment our mutterings pause
us. Sometimes speaking at all is like playing
the kind of game where you’re not sure
what the game is until you’ve won or lost.
Were you lovers? he more than whispered. Yes,
we were lovers, she said because the words
had just been handed over and she wanted
them unhanded. In elementary science texts
especially, there’s a linguistic tic that never fails
to still me. The abyssal layer of the sea is eleven
and a half football fields deep—as if eleven
and a half fields is knowable, vertically. Organisms
no larger than a pinpoint. Fish brains fifths of corn kernels.
That far down it feels like having a pickup truck
parked on every square inch of your body. Come on,
I was only just recovering from Don’t climb inside the art
-work when the tour-guide urged careful steps, as the next
piece was made in a loose medium. LOST DOG, says the flyer
I pause my walk to read, DO NOT GIVE CHASE. I see,
mentally, a man running, impossibly, up a flagless
pole, a pug under his arm like a pigskin. My boyhood
best-friend had this jokey catchphrase, his slogan—
You’re not the only one. It’s tattooed on my foot.
I thought the others would follow suit, but maybe
the phrase never halted them as it has me. A Wiki
-pedia article for Martha, the last known passenger
pigeon, says, She died at 29, with a palsy that made her
tremble. A screenshot, which is the digital pause,
makes that passage my desktop background for eleven
and a half months. I yell to Erin, These chips are coated
in dill dust! and something raps in my chest. Something
needs receiving. Something right outside my window.
It’s a jogger, some wicking slick dude holding down his pulse
like he’s trying to pause himself, plus he’s on a call, talking
through bluetooth. Fuck it, run it up the flagpole,
I hear, ear pressed to the glass, see who salutes.
Tyler Barton is a cofounder of Fear No Lit, home of the Submerging Writer Fellowship and Page Match. His chapbook of flash fiction, The Quiet Part Loud, was published in 2019 by Split Lip Press. His short stories appear in Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, Gulf Coast, Subtropics, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. This is his first published poem. Find him @goftyler or tsbarton.com
Artwork by: Ricardo Elisiário
Ricardo Elisiário is a freelance photographer and writer for hire. To find out more about this Lisbon-born wifey-lover, visit his website (rmelisiario.com).