I May Have Left the Lights On

I may have left the lights on
in the workshop a few years back:
eight racks of glaring bare-bulbed fluorescent lights,
and as a result,
a flock of migrating geese,
navigating the rural dark of northern Colorado,
got confused,
fell out of the sky,
and hit the windshield of a Walmart truck
making a last-minute delivery of Christmas toys,
forcing the driver to swerve
into a ditch right off the frontage road
of the interstate.

He wasn’t badly hurt,
but most of the freight was a write-off
and the store never got the hip-hop penguin
that did the street dance waddle,
so when Karl Macklemore showed up,
who’d left it too late to get the one toy
his daughter wanted
(go to Walmart, his wife said,
everything else’ll be closed),
he found only empty shelves where
Pop & Lock Penguin should have been.

There was an argument when he got home.
Hard things were said,
things you couldn’t take back.
That’s it! I’m outta here, Karl said,
and he really left this time,
left the wife and his little girl Judy.

There were tears,
the worst Christmas morning ever.
But that was just the start:
on one salary, mom working shifts,
Judy missed more than a few days of classes
doing chores.
The school sent letters —
she was getting behind,
so Uncle Craig the engineer,
who lived just over in Galt and was retired,
said, I’ll teach the girl.

They met at Starbucks most afternoons
and did pretty well,
but Judy hated History,
she sneered at Social Studies,
fidgeted through French,
until Craig said okay,
I’m not much good at this stuff anyway.
Why don’t you come on out to the shed back home.
I’ll teach you how to solder.
You’re good at math and algebra.
We’ll kick around some schematic diagrams
and maybe we can work up something
for the county science fair.

She thought about the project for three weeks,
until seeing geese one night passing
in front of the moon —
a dark V and then nothing,
a dark V and then nothing,
she proposed this:
why don’t we wire the solenoid
so that when deer mice all over the world
breathe out
the change in air pressure
registers on this sensor here,
releasing the core,
and when barn owls move their eyes in sleep,
when prairie dogs jump and stretch,
all that vibration shakes the earth enough
that it trips the switch
and cycles the lights
on and off automatically.

And Uncle Craig thought for a moment
and said, that’s impossible.
Unless you calibrate the coil to account
for the minute shift in the geomagnetic field
when black bears dig at roots,
and then you know,
it just might work.

The day my nephew got back from the science fair,
a little depressed,
we asked him how it went.
He said, Okay I guess.
I didn’t win a prize.
It was that Judy with the green eyes,
inventor of the sudoSwitch.
We said, Who’s she?

He said:
She’s bat’s darling,
cousin of the winter wheat,
Spear of Science, Javelin Judy
with the jade-green eyes,
called Watcher-of-Geese,
the moon’s electrician,
house god of the deer mouse,
the one who dances on the back
of ignorance
making the sign of the sigh.
Judy, whose name rhymes
with the taste of golden currants,
the last word on the lips
of den-bound foxes
when they say fox prayers,
whose name is the only password
in the wind-stroked shortgrass prairie;
hop-hipped hare hunter,
greyhound bitch,
inventor of the sudoSwitch.

No, I said, I would have remembered her.
So this sudoSwitch, what’s it do?

I dunno exactly, he mumbled.
They say it replaces want and fear.
It saves twenty-four megawatts of shame
each year,
makes colorful truths from white lies,
smooths crow’s feet,
corrects the camber of the wheel of the law,
autotunes the music of the spheres,
raises testosterone,
lowers the bridge of understanding between generations,
generates income, deflects
incoming insults, erects
lasting love
(but consult with a doctor
for an erection lasting more than four millennia),
deflowers virgin olive oil,
magnifies fine print, prints currency,
interrupts alternating current,
gives the sightless sight,
makes the indirect direct,
talks in pigeon-elf to elves,
and turns lights off by themselves
when you leave them on at night.

I laughed.
Good luck with that.
That’s not a problem for me, I said.