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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 1: January 2020
Ekphrastic Poem: 205 words
Author’s Note: 157 words
By Robert L. Dean, Jr.

What Is the Frequency,


a gift of fire: speaking in tongues, painting by Steven Schroeder

a gift of fire: speaking in tongues
(acrylic on cardboard, 2018)

Copyrighted © 2018 by Steven Schroeder. All rights reserved.

We fiddle with the tuner knobs of our brains,
touch-drag the scrolling iPhone screens 

of our hearts, and still we can’t find it. We tap
the probes of our inner oscilloscopes, tinker with

psychogenic sonar transponders, try to sound the depths
of souls in passing, the fathoms of the unfamiliar.

Primary colors dance across the cones
of our retinas, yet our circadian rhythms

are out of step, our clocks chime only discord.
We bombard each other with subatomic particles

of hate, jealousy, greed, colors not on
the wheel of good fortune, wonder why

the system fails us, create straw men,
lie in wait for them on the darkened streets

of our inner selves, are surprised when
our victims turn out to be our attackers,

when the Kenneth we believe responsible
for it all looks like us in a mirror,

and still we do not know the frequency,
cannot find the common ground,

ford the stream, bridge the chasm,
calm the tremblors along the fault lines

of ourselves. And so, we repeat the question
ad infinitum, shout it from the rooftops,

while standing in the gutters of our lives,
fingers in our ears, refusing to believe that

Kenneth is the frequency.

Author’s Note:

On October 4, 1986, CBS news anchorman Dan Rather was attacked by two men, one of whom repeatedly shouted “Kenneth, what’s the frequency?” Eight years later, a North Carolina man shot and killed an NBC stagehand. When the shooter was arrested, he admitted to the earlier attack on Rather. He claimed to be a time-traveler from the year 2265 with a chip implanted in his brain and that NBC had been beaming hostile transmissions into his head for years, and that Rather resembled the Vice-President from his own timeline, Kenneth Burrows. Nothing is known about the supposed second man.

Sources include the Wikipedia entry for Dan Rather, Kenneth, what is the frequency?; and an article by Bill Demain in Mental Floss (12 March 2013), What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?, about the R.E.M. song by the same title. Demain’s article also gives more information about this strange incident, especially the elements of time travel and Kenneth Burrows.

Steven Schroeder
Issue 1, January 2020

is a visual artist and poet who was born in Wichita Falls, grew up on the high plains in the Texas Panhandle, and now lives and works in Chicago. He earned his Ph.D. (1982) at the University of Chicago and spent thirty years moonlighting as a philosophy professor at universities in the United States and China. He has been painting for more than 50 years and writing poetry for nearly that long.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Portfolio and additional details

Books and links to scholarly publications

Learning to See Nothing: New and Recent Work on Paper and Canvas by Steven Schroeder; exhibition catalog, Eleanor Hayes Art Gallery (Kinzer Performing Arts Center, Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, Oklahoma; 4 September–18 October 2018)

Robert L. Dean, Jr.
Issue 1, January 2020

is the author of the poetry collection At the Lake with Heisenberg (Spartan Press, November 2018). His second book, The Aerialist Will Not Be Performing, ekphrastic poems and short fictions after the art of Steven Schroeder, will be released early in 2020. His writings have appeared or are forthcoming in Chiron Review; Flint Hills Review; Heartland! Poetry of Love, Resistance & Solidarity; I-70 Review; Illya’s Honey; KYSO Flash; MacQueen’s Quinterly; Red River Review; River City Poetry; Shot Glass; The Ekphrastic Review; and the Wichita Broadside Project. His work has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net anthology award; he was a quarter-finalist in the 2018 Nimrod Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry; and he read at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival and the Chikaskia Literary Festival in 2018.

Dean has been a professional musician and worked at The Dallas Morning News. He lives in Augusta, Kansas, and serves as Event coordinator for Epistrophy: An Afternoon of Poetry and Improvised Music held annually in Wichita.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Hopper and Dean: Interview and poems in River City Poetry (Fall 2017).

Metal Man, ekphrastic poem inspired by a 1955 photograph of Dean’s paternal grandfather in the Boeing machine shop; published in The Ekphrastic Review (28 July 2018) and nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Windmill, ekphrastic poem inspired by Dean’s maternal grandfather; published in KYSO Flash (Issue 11, Spring 2019) and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. This poem is among half-a-dozen of Dean’s ekphrastic works published in KYSO Flash (Issues 11 and 12).

Llama, 1957, ekphrastic haibun inspired by Inge Morath’s photograph A Llama in Times Square; published in The Ekphrastic Review (13 January 2018).

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