KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 1: Fall 2014
Micro-Fiction: 386 words [R]


by Christopher Merrill

Erosion is the greatest threat to the stability of this island. Once as large as the imagination itself (galaxies, universes), now it fits snugly in the palm of your hand, its coastline having been eaten away by tides of a mysterious origin. Yet the population is exploding, and with shortages of food, water, and housing the clerics’ prohibitions against contraception only anger the dispossessed—to say nothing of their edicts on the future of complex numbers and natural history, which frighten the elites, bewilder the scribes, and comfort the families of the sick and dying.

To quell the unrest, the authorities have created a bureaucracy to chart the weather, employing a sizable portion of the work force. Equipped with thermometers and wind vanes, field-workers fan out across the island at daybreak and do not return until dusk. They send back hourly readings to statisticians who record and interpret their findings, which are broadcast everywhere; scrutinized by scholars, these statistics are the source of continuous debate. For time, like the coastline, has also shrunk, causing the seasons to change without warning; every solstice and equinox, of which there are more than a dozen a day, must be accounted for; the work is endless.

Scientists cannot determine if the weather and corresponding tides are a function of the planet tilting in a new direction, of a change in the orbit of the moon, or of fallout from a secret military experiment gone awry. How to account for the sudden emergence of spring after a summer-like drought—the new shoots sprouting in the cracks of the sidewalk, the erratic behavior of the swans circling the pond in the last park, the river overflowing its banks? Why is the autumnal division of fruits certain to succeed any shift in domestic or foreign policy? And where does winter figure into the calculations of the media, which have reaped enormous profits from the crisis?

Thus from hour to hour the road crews do not know whether they will need to repair potholes or plow snow; commercial jets stay in holding patterns all day long; the inversion never lifts. And the clerics? They have enlisted the homeless to keep track of who does what, when, and where. You, for example. Where are you supposed to be now? Why are you still here?

— From Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories, edited by James Thomas and Robert Shapard (W. W. Norton & Company, 2006); reprinted by author’s permission

Christopher Merrill
Issue 1, Fall 2014

Has published six collections of poetry, including Watch Fire, for which he received the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets; many edited volumes and books of translations; and five works of nonfiction, among them, Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars and Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain.

His latest prose book, The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War, chronicles travels in Malaysia, China and Mongolia, and the Middle East. His writings have been translated into 25 languages; his journalism appears widely; his honors include a Chevalier from the French government in the Order of Arts and Letters.

As director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, Merrill has conducted cultural diplomacy missions to over forty countries. He serves on the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, and in April 2012 President Obama appointed him to the National Council on the Humanities.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Christopher Merrill: A Good Time for Prose in Rattapallax (30 March 2014): includes an introduction by poet Idra Novey, an interview by poet Becca Mara McKay, and four prose poems by Merrill

A Letter to Michael Kaiser About Cultural Diplomacy in The World Post (updated 29 May 2013)

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