by August Smith
Every cigarette shortens your life
by 11 minutes. Scientists are saying this.
They’re also saying every mango you eat
increases your lifespan by 18 minutes.
Their studies continue. Witnessing a lavender sunset
sets you forward a whole half-hour,
and streaming too much amateur pornography
knocks you back a solid year. It’s true.
More discoveries. If you’re camping,
all values are doubled—a bonus multiplier.
Heartbreak has a randomizing effect
recalculating your death day according to factors
like cloud patterns and eye color.
A warm stack of pancakes, interestingly enough,
adds 2 whole days to your life but not good ones.
Learning ukulele kills a week. No one knows why.
Things get weird. People start keeping track
of their allotments with apps and booklets.
Death days slide around like obsidian marbles.
A woman in Tulsa has arithmeticked her demise
to tomorrow and keeps sliding it forward 1 day
at a time, dangling it ahead of her like a ruby amulet.
A man in Munich claims to have achieved immortality.
He tells reporters, “Just wait and see.”
The wealthiest maximize their benefits:
skydiving over an ocean, for example,
adds 3 months. Do that twice while camping
and that’s a whole year. Funerals feature scorecards.
Phones chime 8-bit death knells.
Longevity grows glamorous and perverted.
Third-world poor are harvested for their authentic moments.
Banks openly deal in lifeforce as an ad-hoc currency.
And even still, people die. Everyone dies.
You slip, you fall, you forget.
Scientists are saying all of this. Why? Are they just bored?
Do they think they’re being helpful?
Can’t they process the horrors
of their relentless progress?
At this, even the most ardent researcher must stand up,
excuse herself, step outside for a smoke.
The Forgotten Joke
It was told to me
just as the city sank
into the flaming maw of hell.
The final joke of humanity.
The best joke. Are you ready? Okay. So.
A dirty peasant character
walks into a bar… No, a saloon. No wait,
okay, he walks up to a door
And he knocks.
And the door opens. Wait.
I forgot to mention
that he’s carrying a—uh, a suitcase.
With a dollar sign on it.
And he’s got a bronze ear, I think?
And the bell in his pocket
tumbles out. Oh, there’s also a talking rat
dressed like a police officer… or maybe like a magistrate?
So he, the rat, looks up at the barkeep, who, behind the door—
by the way the barkeep he’s got one arm
but it’s in the middle of his chest, very important,
and his face looks like Henry Kissinger, right?—
And okay so the rat, the policeman rat, or whatever, the door opens
and the police man rat looks up and says to him
the rat does he says,
“What the fuck is going on?”
August Smith is the author of nine chapbooks, most recently Empty Boat Circling. He received his MFA from UMass Boston and runs Cool Skull Press. He lives in Austin, TX. You can read more of his work and download most of his books at http://august.mostlymidwest.com.