Midnight Feature by Conor Scruton

It was the year we heard bombs
each time a plane came close
or kids set off fireworks—

we waited for the bedroom walls
and breath to come apart in our lungs,
to forge space between subatoms.

Sitting at the top of the hill
you noticed the cars on the lake bridge
seemed to materialize from the fog

out of the nothing that lay in wait
on the other side of the bay.
We fell then into nuclear-age fantasies,

to escape to a hand-picked planet
or attach our brains to a wavelength
fired blank into the cosmos.

Little would probably be different there
from where we’d end up—
like a Twilight Zone episode

where the protagonist blinks a few times
as if to clear the clouds from his sight
but can’t tell he’s been brought

into a territory totally new
and past his understanding:
it begins all too normally—

the man, black-and-white-eyed
in his wool business suit,
says goodbye to his wife,

his children eating cereal.
On the way to work, he turns on his headlights, and,
squinting just beyond the camera

to show the audience how low visibility is,
he tunes to the radio news to hear
a famous physicist has gone missing nearby,

with no notes left from the final experiment.
Suddenly he looks up and realizes
he has no idea

when he emerged into clear day,
but he finds himself in a strange town
not unlike the one he expected.

He keeps calm for now,
although the viewers know better—
we’ve seen this one before.

He picks a place to park on the street
leans out the window
and looks around, searching for a landmark,

his thumb dumbly recognizing
the comfortable grooves of his house key.
Not sure why he can’t understand

quite what has changed
in the violet sky
or the quiet building faces,

for a second he remembers
an idea a professor once told him, or tried to—
that the universe is not what we view

at any given moment,
but we sit in the future still
doing our best to parse the old light for clues.




Conor Scruton is a poet and translator living in Milwaukee, where he teaches English and researches ghost stories. His work has appeared in Salamander, CutBank, Whiskey Island, and other journals.



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