In Retrograde

A week ago I spent a whole day
in the same building: only moving through
three floors, carrying papers to class
then to a meeting. The tiny brass bell
on my belt-clipped key fob made its usual
tinkly sound, but I never noticed how
my car key got detached or where
it must have fallen. Not until I made
my way to the parking garage and tried
unsuccessfully to pull the driver's side
door of my car open did I realize
it was lost. By then it was dark,
since we'd just come off Daylight
Saving Time. A nearly full
moon was in the sky, reminding me
of how I'd overheard some people talking
about Mercury being in retrograde: which
is to say that the planet, observed
from Earth, seems to be moving in
reverse direction. If you believe
what's mostly an optical illusion, this
apparently causes spasms of misfortune:
as if the swift messenger of the gods
himself has tripped; and, limping,
is unable to convey messages of good
fortune or the souls of the dead
to the underworld. Maybe the universe
is peeved at the inconvenience—
its favorite courier lagging behind,
bungling deliveries. So it becomes
the favorite scapegoat for everything
that goes wrong: the refrigerator's busted
light bulb, the broken-off engagement,
the check that bounces. The yelling
match, the slammed doors, the tears
and fast-food bingeing. The nerve
snapping at the slightest hint
you too must somehow be at fault.

 

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