The wind in the west blows across the Sioux prairieland, bending the wheat stalks at their waists. Nelson Elling lies beneath the swaying stalks, and from where he’s sprawled the wheat fields are dusted in a purpling haze. It is dusk among the Pasque. Woodlily and purple asters and a single long-billed marsh wren trills out a low quick newsboy call hello hellohello hello! It floats over the turning trees, and turning, zips down into the cloud of wheat. Nelson opens his eyes. The bird flies through the wheat, knocking down the stems as it passes. hello hellohello hello! At the dinner table, Nelson erects a wheat field of bottles and shoots it down with a rubber wren.
Mother said I could not go to the fair because she feared fire and danger and tourists and so I, as a woman and thus a wearer-of-skirts, am most susceptible and therefore cannot see the White City on my own but that is alright because my teacher taught me something I will show you now. Set up a wheat field of sugar cubes. Build it structurally sound, five rows of five columns for a base, and build up. Build it with a balance such that one removed cube would not topple it. Build it to rival the structures outside, the Catherine Wheels and electric crowds and the whole city, gleaming, across the water. Build it like Chicago itself, prairie born and gleaming white. Then, with a weapon of your own choice, knock it down cube by cube; dismantle the girders with a single marble and whatever you do, don’t look outside.
He told himself he would ask her to a show tonight but he chickened out. What girl could win out over a game of Wheat Field was a girl he’d never know, so he went, down to Bridgeport where the Sox lorded over and the blight left no man’s train of thought. The buildings crumble into curbs and then conjoin again as the roads stretch the city southward. The gods out here are the mayors and the liquor store owners and the men playing their saxophones from their fire escapes.
“Play ball!” Carl Elling yells, rolls a baseball across the low, wood table, and knocks over a pyramid of wine bottles. “Winner drinks ‘em.”
He told himself he would ask her to a show tonight but he chickened out. Where was she? Across the Chicago River up to the north side, maybe, up by Belmont and Ashland with a man who is Interested in Stocks and Bonds and has written her no poetry, he thinks. What kind of poem is this? Roll. Collapse. Explode. He shoves up his sleeves. The bottles clang like steel bells across the darkening night.
When I think about how I will die it usually has something to do with this new train system they’re trying out in Chicago. I can read my own headlines: Man, 22, Killed Under a Train Bent On Smiting Him Good and Dead. When I think about how I will die my brain misfires and the entire train is balanced on my chest, pressing my lungs flat. I stay alive long enough for the little old ladies on the Brown Line Train to step off the platform onto solid ground. When I think about how I will die I often picture my dying-self summoning up my last thoughts, my most essential self slipping out through some phantom hole in my abdomen region. For some reason, I always imagine I will imagine the same day. It’s October. The trees are already gold and the markets in Rogers Park are already filled with peddlers, selling new wares, new coats; all the delis piling their wares out under the cold hard sky. One man, Marcus Elling, who sold me my favorite coat, says come over! Come over! He hands me a ball, filled with something to make it heavier, far heavier, and Marcus has set up a tower of bottles and I shoot it and they all fall, wham, across the cobblestones of Devon Avenue.
Tell me not to do it and I won’t. My course is set. But there are always ways of veering off it. A man walks down the highway alone, no money in his pockets and his shoes in his hands. Off the side of the road, a car lies in a ditch. He walks over to the car and falls into the ditch, trapped by the car. Not to say the way out from a collision course is the best. My mother is living on Belmont and I will stay with her, I think. I’ve been on my way out since I left your hands.
Picture this: an aisle, a clearing of wheat. But instead of a field, put it indoors. Stalks on either end, but they aren’t stalks, they’re small moats. Instead of bottles, some small white cones. A triumphantly heavy ball. Something to demolish everything you’ve wished were demolished or could be demolished, all with one swinging crane-sweep of an arm lift, speeding to collision like molecules spiraling into their subatomic parts, quarks and noise and bits of plastic exploding in the small space. Picture this: the power to create and destroy.