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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 3: May 2020
CNF: 502 words
By Robert L. Dean, Jr.

Crapshoot in a White Coat


Einstein’s eyes twinkle from the wall of my doctor’s office. He wasn’t there when I walked in. I chalk it up to railroad embankments and relative frames of reference. Though I’m confused as to which of us is on the train and which, the embankment. It’s just the two of us at the moment as the nurse has exited and the doctor is yet to enter, but the way Einstein eyes me from the very corners of his sockets, brows raised, white hair floating upwards into the Pollock-like star field of paint splatter in which his head drifts, warns me not to ask who is observer and who is observed.

“Al,” I say instead, “why am I here?” He doesn’t answer but his perpetual smile perpetuates a bit. This is absurd of course, as it’s not really Einstein I’m addressing but a painting hanging on a wall in an examination room in which, though I’ve visited this doctor many times before, I’ve never been. I want to ask Einstein about this—where has this room been all this time? And what is Einstein doing in it, popping up out of nowhere like that? What is the link between my doctor and Einstein? Which of them is the embankment? The railway car? And where does this leave me? Does Einstein observe the doctor observing the patient (me), or how does this work, exactly?

Einstein pulls his violin out of the case—I don’t know why I haven’t noticed it before, except maybe that this is only a portrait of his head, no body attached—and plays a Mozart sonata, his eyes remaining somehow still fixed on me out of their corners.

And then I know what it is I need to ask, that one burning question that only Einstein can answer: “What will it be like when the aneurysm in my abdomen explodes?”

For this is the one fixed point Einstein and I have in common. There is no getting around it, no question of who or what is moving relative to what or whom. We both have triple A’s, and Einstein has already been through what is waiting for me. What is it like to feel the universe inside you expand, knowing you cannot possibly contain it? How much pain will this Big Bang unleash? If I approach the speed of light, equal it, exceed it, can I escape? Flicker like a quark or a photon into an alternate universe, a different spacetime continuum, where death is uncertain, improbable even?

Einstein lights his pipe, miraculously still playing the violin, as if he has sprouted multiple arms, become a Vishnu or the Buddha of Uncertainty, the corners of his eyes still fixed on me, saying nothing, saying everything.

The doctor pays no attention to Einstein when he walks in. Perhaps the doctor is on a different train, a different embankment. He gives me a diagnosis, a prescription, leaves. Einstein’s eyes follow me, like cast dice, out the door.

Robert L. Dean, Jr.
Issue 3, May 2020

is the author of two books: a poetry collection, At the Lake with Heisenberg (Spartan Press, November 2018), and The Aerialist Will Not Be Performing, ekphrastic poems and short fictions after the art of Steven Schroeder (Turning Plow Press, 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 and 2019.

Dean has been a professional musician, playing bass for, among others, Jesse Lopez, B. W. Stephenson, Bo Didley, The Dallas Jazz Orchestra, and the house band for the Fairmount Hotel Venetian Room. He grew up in Topeka and Wichita, Kansas before spending 30 years between Los Angeles and Dallas, where he worked at The Dallas Morning News. He now 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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