Sarah started throwing after someone got her. Hers said “woof” and when she got up she wrote “no” and hit the first man to walk by. She was hooked. Finally no one could say “hold on” or “tell me later” or “can I call you back” as soon as she started talking. What she had to say knocked them off their feet.
It was frustrating to have only one word to say all those things no one would listen to. She made understandable attempts to say more, but her targets couldn’t make out the mish-mashed ink. For all they knew, God himself had dropped a painted rock on their head. Practice made it easier to find the one word that momentarily reshapes the world around itself. Those were the rocks everyone wanted to hurl.
The first time one she changed the world, she’d scribbled “hate” and thrown it as hard as she could at a cop. Exhilarating. She was too busy running from his partner to watch, but from what she heard he went down like a wall, flat on his face. She felt how everything shifted and it ached sadness. She swore she’d remake the world into something better.
For a while, she favored “mercy.” She threw them gently at first, but it quickly became clear that a word was only as good as the artist’s arm, and then she threw them all with a flourish, like a major league pitcher.
She wrote “forgive” for a long time after knocking out Kiri’s aunt. The old lady spent three nights in the hospital and Sarah felt awful. She sent flowers, each with their own word tied gently to the stem just below the blossom. But they didn’t work as well as rocks. Months and Kiri still won’t talk to Sarah.
When exuberant, sometimes, after a particularly good throw, Sarah says she thinks about hitting Kiri with “love,” but she doesn’t think she means it in that I want to kiss you kind of way. That one word just doesn’t differentiate between sister and lover. It says “love” and so you assume, naturally, that it means I want you, not you’re the sister I never had. She thought “sisters” might do it, but it wasn’t what she wanted to say either, and “friendship” didn’t fit well on most rocks.
While unconscious after her first throw, as target, she dreamed she stood at the podium of the UN. The assembled nations waited breathlessly for her to begin. They had been waiting all night for her to arrive and wanted to act on her advice. They wanted to hear her words but she didn’t have any. Security confiscated them when she entered. She could begin only if she could invent a language and share it with her audience. She woke confused, still babbling her first letter, her first sound: buh, buh, buh. Her head throbbed. Once her vision cleared she saw the off-white rock on the pavement a few feet away:
She stared at it like it talked, mouth open, one hand to her injured head. Her face turned red and she dug in her bag. She took a black marker, crossed out “woof,” and wrote “no.” She crawled into the hedge to wait. A couple passed, but they were looking strangely at the bushes, so she held her breath and hoped they couldn’t see her.
She KO’d the next guy: what terror and delight! She didn’t run to the car to make her getaway, she skipped and then sat there watching. He was middle aged, probably her father’s age. But bigger, taller and fatter, and he wore jeans and a blazer, something her father never did. He wasn’t like her father at all. He was just a man who happened to need pop tarts for tomorrow’s breakfast. Her “no” struck him personally. He left the pastries in the lot and went back into the store. He came out with a dozen roses and drove off.
After she hit the cop with that one “hate,” she began experimenting with different words to see the effect. She tried “roses,” but she stopped for fear of cultivating thorns. She threw a “poppy” or two, but someone flung “junky” at her. It missed but hurt just the same. She threw the names of colors. One woman bawled on picking up a rock that said “green.” A college boy cheered when he woke up next to “blue,” and a young girl kissed a rock marked “red.” Others looked confused, so she kept looking for the best word for each moment, each rock, sometimes for each target. She carried a pocket full of markers and a dozen stones in a back pack everywhere she went. Anytime she came across a construction site with rocks exposed she’d return late at night to cart away as many as she could carry in one bag.
In the end nothing compared to the idea of being laid out by “love.” You couldn’t throw it at just anybody, and you definitely couldn’t throw it at everybody. Of all words, its change seemed the most permanent, as if once unleashed the word continued to burn about the target, shaping and reshaping her. Sarah wanted to live within the grasp of a word and what better word to embrace? She asked the group what they thought, but no one remembered touching “love.” They all agreed that it sounded nice. Jordan thought it wouldn’t be fair to challenge targets with emotions they didn’t know themselves, but Sato suggested that that might be how one learned about it, by an experience. Most the group said that sounded wise, but no one volunteered to throw the first “love.” Then Mila said that “love” was listening, and Rob grunted that it was a doing-thing, not a thinking-thing. Duy asked why it couldn’t be both and everyone started talking loudly at once. They argued until one by one they wandered off looking for targets.
That’s when Sarah realized she couldn’t remake the world all by herself. That one “love” was bliss for one maybe two people, but it couldn’t strike an entire city. She could, however, hit the group. There were usually seven of them so she spent the night marking all her rocks with “love.” She carted them to the park with help from the neighbor kid, and after she chased him away, she threw a rope over a high, thick branch and tied a small tarp to one end. She filled the tarp with as many rocks as she could lift and used her own weight to haul them into the tree above everyone’s heads and mostly out of sight. She tied it so that the whole thing could be dropped with a light tug on the rope, then waited hidden in the tree.
Everybody gathered as usual. Sarah waited until they formed a small circle and started talking; she pulled the rope and everybody went down in an avalanche of “love.” When the police arrived, everybody had mostly come to and Sarah was nowhere to be seen. Kiri said no one’s seen her since, but she got walloped by a “love” three weeks ago and she’d like to think it was Sarah’s.
Darren Jackson’s recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Pinch, the Laurel Review, the Offending Adam, Bluestem, and other journals. He has also translated Life in the Folds by Henri Michaux (Wakefield P, forthcoming Fall 2014); “The White Globe,” an essay by Bertrand Westphal, which is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press in the Planetary Turn: Art, Dialogue, and Geoaesthetics in the 21st-Century; and, with Marilyn Kallet and J. Bradford Anderson, Chantal Bizzini’s Disenchanted City (Black Widow Press, forthcoming Spring 2015). He holds a PhD in English from the University of Tennessee.
They wrote words on rocks before hurling them at random passersby. “Enough” was popular, but “peace” got its fair share. Sarah always hoped for “love”—if someone were to wack her with a rock again. She wanted to get walloped by “love.” Then she could show everyone the green and purple knot and say “that’s ‘love.’”
She wouldn’t write “love.” For a while she had favored “joy!” exclamation point and all. Rob grumbled that rocks didn’t need exclamation points, that throwing them really hard was a more expressive bit of punctuation. Who wouldn’t heed the word that’s knocked him flat on his ass in the middle of Meglomart’s parking lot?
Everyone argued. But that’s why they threw. It was the only way anyone would listen. Benny was fond of saying it’s harder to ignore that one big rock glaring “war” on the blacktop than a thousand people singing Kumbaya in a cage down the street.