The Hokey-Pokey

An enormous army-green helicopter squats on the roof. We pass through the hokey-pokey checkpoint, revolving in a kind of dance with our hands above our heads, praise the Lord. That’s what it’s all about. Then echoey corridors, the squeak of new boots. Craning my head to peer through a skylight, I see HONDURAS still etched into one of the battlements. I know I have nothing to fear, but keep my thoughts to myself in any case, sitting in silence at the desk I’ve been issued, or dividing up an enormous baked squash with a butter knife as if it were a pie, as if it were a circle only temporarily stretched out of shape. The orange meat crumbles as the blade passes through. Nobody here can eat another bite. The busboy fumbles with something under his fatigue jacket & my mouth goes dry: in another moment we will be filled with shards of metal and foreign flesh. If I’m lucky, I’ll live out my life with fragments of the enemy lodged in my side. I will turn myself around.

Note: According to the OED, hokey-pokey (or hokey-cokey in the UK) comes from hocus pocus, the all-purpose conjuror’s formula dating back to the early 17th century. The nonsense Latin is popularly believed to derive from hoc est (enim) corpus (meum), “this is my body” — the words spoken when the priest elevates the consecrated host, marking the moment of transubstantiation. An 18th-century abbreviation of hocus pocus gave us the word hoax.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t know any of this when I wrote the first draft.

6 Replies to “The Hokey-Pokey”

  1. Your piece reminds me of something in popular music (sorry for the association . . .). The Who has a song (“Black Widow’s Eyes”) about a guy who falls in love with a suicide bomber the instant before she denonates herself.

    Whew. The moment does capture the imagination.

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